In 1811 our 35-year-old nation had a population of 7.2 million spread over 17 states. In Europe, Napolean, his empire at its peak, prepared for his ill-fated invasion of Russia. Beethoven began work on his seventh symphony in Bohemia. Three years later he’d be totally deaf. The German Coast Uprising, the largest slave revolt in American history (measured by the amount of slaves who took part – over 200) took place in Louisiana. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” author Harriet Beecher Stowe, whom Abraham Lincoln called “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war,” was born.
And in New York’s Hudson Valley, the town of Saugerties was established.
Before that, the area that would make up the town was considered part of the Kingston Commons, which included the communities that sprung up around the Kingston Stockade.
Having swelled in population since the original Dutch and German settlers took up residence, Saugerties petitioned the state for self-governance, which was granted in April of 1811 On April 5, the first Town Board meeting was held at the home of Christian Fiero and the town was incorporated. John Kiersted served as the town’s first supervisor.
The town has created a Bicentennial Committee to coordinate events to mark the occasion. These will include exhibits at Saugerties Historical Society, musical events and art exhibits. The pièce de résistance will be an anniversary gala on April 15 at the Lazy Swan Golf and Country Club Village.
“We want to provide as many activities as we can to showcase our heritage,” said Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton.
Precise dates aren’t available for all events because many are still in the planning stage.
Two exhibits are planned for the Kiersted House Museum: the first will include a plethora of old maps and photos of Saugerties, showing the transformation of the town over time and highlighting the town’s industry, businesses and residents; the second, “Voices Unstilled by Time,” focuses on the influence of the storied Kiersted family.
April 10, the Saugerties American Legion Post will host a reading set to music by local author and veteran William Payne, whose book, “The Veteran in a New Field,” tells the story of a young Irish soldier who returns to Saugerties after the Civil War to find himself immersed in a murder-mystery. The reading will be set to Civil War era songs performed by The Veterans in a New Field group.
A special religious service will coincide with an exhibit on the history of Saugerties churches, and this year’s annual stone house tour will focus on homes built in the town’s early days.
Other events include the return of Old Timers Day, an overnight encampment by the Third Ulster Militia and a baseball tournament with a 19-century feel.
Bicentennial banners in the town and village and displays at the information booth on Route 212 and Ulster County Tourism will make visitors aware of the festivities.
“We’re still planning and pulling things together, but it’s going to be a great year,” said Village Historian Marjorie Block.
On April 27, 1677, New York’s Colonial Governor Edmund Andros signed an agreement with the Esopus Indian Kaelcop, chief of the Amorgarickakan Family, to purchase the land which is now Saugerties. The price was a blanket, a piece of cloth, a shirt, a loaf of bread, and some coarse fiber.
The first settlers were Dutch. In its early days, the Saugerties area was a major supplier of grain. Early Dutch settlers established mills – including Barent Cornelis Volge, the “Little Sawyer” who gave Saugerties its name.
The population got a boost in 1710 when a group of German refugees from the war-torn Rhineland-Palatinate region near the French border settled in West Camp. After seeking refuge in England, the Palatines were dispatched to the Hudson Valley on an economic mission.
“Queen Anne was in desperate need of tar to build her navy,” said Block. “But, it was the ultimate wrong decision because when they arrived here, they found the wrong kind of trees.”
Common Palatine last names include Snyder, Fiero, Kiersted, Valk, Myer, and Hommel.
When incorporated in 1811, the town contained only 40 houses and most families operated farms. That soon changed when town was transformed from the sleepy home of Rip Van Winkle to a bustling industrial center thanks to the enterprising Henry Barclay, who came to Saugerties in the 1820s with the intention of creating a planned industrial community. Barclay purchased a huge tract of village land from Livingston and built the first paper mill on the north side of the Esopus (now a construction site for a new hotel/convention center), and the Ulster Iron Works on the south side of the creek, near The Mill senior housing, which at one time was an envelope factory operated by the Sheffield Paper Company.
The population rose sharply over the next few decades, driven by families moving to the area in search of work. These immigrants found no shortage of jobs. Barclay alone employed over 300 men in round-the-clock shifts.
The town was known for its industrial innovations. The double-puddling, hoop-making and cold-rolling processes used to smelt iron were developed at Ulster Iron Works. Paper-making was revolutionized with the invention of the endless web paper-making machine.
The borders of the town haven’t changed since 1811, though many new hamlets sprung up over that century in proximity to businesses, eventually totaling 17. The village, first incorporated under the name Ulster, remained the most heavily populated hamlet.
“People had to live where they worked then,” said Town Historian Audrey Klinkenberg.
Glasco was named for and formed around a glass making company in the area. Klinkenberg says the hamlet got its name from a large sign that read, in part, “Glass Co.” Quarryville developed around the nearby bluestone quarries. Malden became the site of a busy shipping port as well as a thriving ice-harvesting business, while Glenerie featured brickyards and white lead production.
Other Hamlets included Daisy, which is now known as West Saugerties, Asbury, Barclay Heights, Blue Mountain, Canoe Hill, Centerville, Flatbush, High Woods, Katsbaan, Mount Marion, Pine Grove, Saxton, and West Camp.
“There’s so much heritage here that people aren’t aware of,” said Block. “We’ve moved forward so much, that it’s nice to have a chance to think about where we’ve been.”