Saugerties hamlets and cultural geography

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We all know our address. It’s a number. There’s also the number “20” that represents Saugerties to visitors that come here on the Thruway. If you’re coming here from, let’s say, San Francisco, you get directions from Google Maps that follow many numbers on their respective roads right to the mailbox of your destination.

The assumption that roads lead you back home or someone can find you as a number on a public road or even that you can freely travel from home to some place and then back again is the basis of cultural geography. This way of sharing the land as roads has been used by a whole people for this purpose over a very long period of time. Roads are a cultural addition to the idea of geography.

Recently there has been a flurry of interest in early maps. The Library of Congress has put more and more fine examples from its collection on the Internet. One very interesting one is from before the Revolution: the 1749 Evans map. There are even earlier ones but they are less detailed in their depiction of the land and pathways that cross over it. Our interest in maps is the Saugerties area, which is pretty much uncharted territory on early maps.

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Audrey uses censuses often to “map out” generations of families. The actual location of where a person resides at a particular time gives you confidence that you have the right person for a name you are studying. Matching the same person in birth and death records is trickier than you may think. That’s when knowing the location a person lived comes into play. Maps not only orient the search for this but sometimes are a primary source.

The earliest maps of Saugerties that are close to accurate are the wall-size maps of Ulster County from the 1850s. They have recognizable road courses and even names of nearby landowners. These maps have selected street layouts of population centers around their ornate borders. A small village of Saugerties is represented in the border of the 1853 Tilson and Brink map and is a major feature with a directory of businesses on the 1858 French’s map.

This mapping of the village has a very early start. A large-size printed map was made in 1851 when it was the village of Ulster. That map almost precisely followed the 1827 survey made by John Kiersted in its plan of the streets and lots of Livingston and Barclay. Any address in the village is precisely known because nothing much has changed from this original plan.

In the Beers Atlas of 1875 the village is even more precisely plotted, occupying separate spreads for the north part and the south part in the book’s pages. But things are a bit more sketchy when it comes to the town. Though it is upwards of twenty times the land area of the village, it is given but a single spread.

Fortunately, within the following decade the federal government began the geological survey program and some of the first studies were done in the area of Saugerties. The topographical maps of the Mid-Hudson region produced first in 1893 give not only the roads but indications of the locations of houses along them and between them.

The most interesting thing we get from the 1875 Beers Atlas is its division of Saugerties into hamlets. The full town map has these boundaries and there are separate detail studies of their commercial centers on other pages. Since this period of time is one of population growth in rural Saugerties, a lot of what is indicated here can be firmed up in business directories and in the church and school records of the community within the hamlet borders.

This is very important because as the 19th century moved into 20th, these same hamlets grew into centers of employment as boarding houses and resort colonies became the mainstays of Saugerties’ rural economy. This remained the case right into the 1940s when studies of the effects of closure of the last railroad passenger depot of the original four that supported this industry in Saugerties were done. The destinations of Saugerties became one of the principal reasons the first stretch of the Thruway was dubbed the “Catskill Thruway” in its promotions— as a reassurance.

The same names of the hamlets found on the town of Saugerties map in the Beers Atlas were used in promoting these destinations during this resort era. From this association the names are still in popular use today. People live in Blue Mountain or High Woods or Flatbush and often say they live, for instance, on High Falls Rd. in Quarryville. Land surveys and deeds used the hamlet location in their legends and property descriptions right up to the 1950s.

So as we move into the 21st century, the question that surfaces continually among the new arrivals runs something like, “Am I in West Saugerties or Daisy?” There is rarely a hamlet center anymore that has shopping, a school, or a church so the question is more one of cultural geography significance… what the traditional boundaries are.

In 1875 the boundaries of the hamlets were placed because they represented a post office address area and because of that they outlined election districts and school districts and tax districts. Even after many of the post offices were consolidated, the other distinctions stayed.

I like to remind people of the history of their neighborhood, which is what a hamlet pretty much represents now. It is very easy to enhance interest in a landmark one passes every day or lives in. People want to feel there is something they can relate to as part of their home environment.

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The accompanying map shows the boundaries of the hamlets as they are taken from the 1875 Beers Atlas map of the town. The lines are made precise by following the same natural features, like streams, as on the original and, where property lines were followed, the outline follows the current parcel map of the town. This is probably the closest way to experience the idea of cultural geography without leaving your chair.

Get familiar. These hamlet locations will be popping up in every aspect of Saugerties history we’ll examine in this column. They will be referenced, for instance, with the Laflin powder mills or the Bigelow bluestone yards coming up. It is this cultural geography that we will use to make you feel right at home with history.