First Friday festivities at Highland Landing Park

Early 1900s view of Highland Landing with the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge (now Walkway over the Hudson) in the background. (Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society)

Early 1900s view of Highland Landing with the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge (now Walkway over the Hudson) in the background. (Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society)

Accessible Hudson River frontage is scarce in Ulster County, where high forested bluffs rise right up from the water along much of the Hudson’s west shore. But the Town of Lloyd has Highland Landing, a strip of flat land at the water’s edge, with a few houses, one restaurant and a public park. The Bob Shepard Highland Landing Park is just a few years old and still in development. But you can launch a boat there (no charge), drop a kayak in the water, play on a long green lawn, fish for stripers or just relax and watch the river flow by.

Under a new policy, the Bob Shepard Highland Landing Park will stay open until 10:30 p.m. on the First Friday of each month from May to September, so visitors can enjoy the golden glow that fills the sky at sunset and the silver reflection that spreads across the water under the rising moon. To celebrate the first First Friday, the Highland Landing Park Association will sponsor a potluck picnic on May 1, starting at 6 p.m. Everyone is invited to bring a dish to share and a beverage (non-alcoholic) to enjoy while listening to music by Mark Reynolds and Kathen Cowan.

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Relaxing at the park in the evening, lulled by the sound of lapping river water, it is easy to imagine Highland Landing as it was before the Europeans came: a quiet spot where Esopus Indians fished. Highland’s own poet laureate in the 1940s, Warren Sherwood, imagined their connection to the Hudson in his book, Poems of the Platt Binnewater:

 

It’s an eery, watery old place,
The River front, . . .
The Indians came down to it, ages ago,
And speared sturgeon in the Magaastramis,
(The “Long Reach” of Henry Hudson)
And cast nets for shad and herring.

 

From fishing grounds for Native Americans to today’s public park, Highland Landing has played various roles throughout its history. By 1754, the shoreline was a largely uninhabited outpost of the New Paltz Patent. That year Anthony Yelverton, a Poughkeepsie businessman, paid heed to an early call of “Go west, young man,” and rowed across the river with his family, his goods and equipment for a sawmill to settle on the west side. As well as the mill, he opened a brickyard and a store and started a ferry service, rowed by slaves, from the Landing to the east shore. Yelverton and his few neighbors stuck it out there during the Revolutionary War when cannonballs (recently unearthed) bombarded the site. His house, just steps up the hill, still stands: the oldest wood-frame building in the county.

When peace came, Yelverton’s Landing began to grow into a bustling community. In the early 1800s it was important enough to get its own post office and a new name, New Paltz Landing, later updated to Highland Landing after the Town of Lloyd separated from New Paltz in 1845. By the late 1800s, warehouses and factories had risen up at the water’s edge facing stores, homes and at least one saloon across a road to the west.

Most importantly perhaps, the Landing was a transportation hub. Ferries crossed the river on regular schedules from 1771 to 1941, with an estimated 250,000 passengers a year stepping on or off the ferries at Highland Landing during their last years in service. Cargo ships carried local produce from the Landing to New York City and brought back manufactured items. Passenger boats stopped at the Landing en route between Albany and New York City. Beginning in the 1890s, a trolley line carried customers to the river from New Paltz and transported boat passengers westward to visit the Shawangunk resorts.

Ironically, transportation also contributed to the demise of the Landing’s commercial center. In the 1880s the West Shore Railroad sliced through the Landing, replacing all the buildings on the west side of the street. The railroad added a touch of glamour to the town when President Franklin D. Roosevelt got off the train there to cross the river, and special sightseeing trains slowly transported passengers along the shoreline to watch crew races on the Hudson. But, constrained for space, businesses and homes migrated up the hill to the hamlet of Highland, where there was room to grow and roads for increasing motor traffic.

There was little commerce left at Highland Landing in the 1930s when a petroleum terminal took over the property where warehouses once stood. That operation closed in the 1990s, but the hulls of the oil tanks scarred the shoreline for several more years. Only Mariners’ Harbor Restaurant was left to draw people to the river until 2008, when the Town of Lloyd purchased the property where tanks had stood. The park officially opened during the Hudson/Fulton/Champlain Quadricentennial in 2009.

The First Friday sunset gathering & potluck at Highland Landing Park on the Hudson takes place on Friday, May 1 from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Access to Highland Landing is via River Road, which is the eastward extension of Vineyard Avenue in Highland, or Mile Hill Road, which branches off Haviland Road just east of Route 9W. For more information about First Friday, call (845) 255-7742 or visit www.highlandlandingpark.org.

First Friday potluck picnic, Friday, May 1, 6-10:30 p.m., free, Bob Shepard Highland Landing Park, 42 River Road, Highland; (845) 255-7742, www.highlandlandingpark.org.

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