THE TOWN OF HILLSDALE
Hillsdale is the fourth from the north and third from the south in the eastern tier of towns of the county.
It is bounded on the north by Austerlitz, on the east by the Massachusetts line, on the south by Cowpoke and on
the west by Claverack and Ghent. Its superficial area is 26,699 acres. This town was originally a part of the Van
Rensselaer patent, with the exception of a narrow strip on the eastern side, which, until the final settlement
of the boundary question about 1790, was under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. At that time there were a number
of settlers on this strip, to some of whom the State surrendered its claim in 1793.
Apart from the valley at the foot of the Taghkanic mountains, which extend along the eastern boundary, and one
or two short and narrow vales, Hillsdale is a territory of hills; nearly all of these are tillable to their summits.
From the summits of some of these Taghkanic peaks extended views of varied scenery may be obtained. Within the
bounds of the town are the headwaters of several small streams, the Copake Creek, the Claverack Creek, Roeloff
Jansen's Kill, and tributaries of Green River, which flows across the northeastern boundaries of the town. There
are no lakes or ponds in the town. An artificial reservoir, used to store waters for the mills in the eastern part
of Claverack, lies near or quite on the line between that town and Hillsdale. The Green River is the only stream
of importance, and is noted for the purity of its waters, and their peculiar sheen, which gives the stream its
The soil is remarkable for its variety, being made up of loam, gravel, clay and disintegrated slate and limestone;
on the whole it produces good crops of the ordinary cereals, and particularly of grass in some portions. An excellent
quality of iron ore is found in the eastern part the town, and quartz, bearing traces of the precious minerals,
is also found.
Previous to 1782 Hillsdale had been a part of Claverack. In that year it was organized as a district, and in 1786
it was made a town. The records of the town previous to 1847 have been lost or destroyed, therefore it is impossible
to give any history of its government before that date, except such as may be gleaned from the few living whose
memory and knowledge, transmitted by ancestors, enable them to relate scattered bits of early history.
Settlement began in this town probably as early or earlier than 1750. The southern portion was first peopled by
immigrants from Massachusetts and Connecticut, while the northern part was settled by the Dutch. The following
list of names of early comers was gathered many years ago and has been preserved, and while it probably is nearly
a full list, it is quite impossible at this late day to name the locations selected and settled by them. To preserve
the names, and point to ancestors of many families of today, the list is here inserted:
There were families named Showerman, Blackman, Kinyon, Fregers, Everts, and Sharts. Prominent among the early inhabitants
were Martin Krum, Flisha Hatch, James Shepard, Jeremiah Shaw, William Orr, Isaac Spalding, Joshua Whitney, Archibald
and Robert Lamont, William White, Joseph Morehouse, Jared Winslow, Isaac Hatch, William Tanner, Nathaniel House,
M. D., James Bryan, Gaius Stebbins, Abel Brown, John Pixley, John and David Collin, Parla Foster, Refine Latting,
Quincy Johnson, Caleb Benton, M. D., Azariah Judson, John Higgins, William Higgins, Benjamin Birdsall, Ambrose
L. Jordan, Abraham Overhiser, Henry Loop, Augustus Tremain, Isaac and Silas Downing, John P. Becker, Christopher
W. Miller, Harry Truesdell, Samuel Mallerv, Oliver Teall, John Tremaine, John Tyler, Charles McKinstry, John Wager,
and families named Hill and Bartlett.
Prominent among those whose family records are obtainable were the brothers John and David Collin, who came from
Milford, Conn. The family was of Huguenot descent, the grandfather of the brothers above named having been forced
to leave France because of religious persecution. This grandfather, Paul Collin by name, and his wife, Judith Valiant,
were the parents of John (1), who was married to Hannah Mervin. He was the captain of a sea going vessel, and was
lost on a voyage in 1746. John (2), his son, came to Hillsdale before the Revolution and settled in the western
part of the town on a farm known in later years as the Higgins place, remaining a few years and then removing to
the eastern side, where he spent the remainder of his life on the farm now owned and operated by Mrs. Janette Collin,
widow of John F. Collin, jr., great grandson of the pioneer. John (2) served as captain in the militia during the
latter part of Governor Tryon's term and also under Gov. George Clinton. One of his sons named Anthony was in the
Revolutionary army, was captured by the enemy and died in captivity in 1777, at the age of seventeen. John (2)
was followed on the homestead by his son John (3), and he by his son John Francis (4). The latter was a thorough
business man, prominent in all public affairs, and served as representative in Congress in 1844. Another son of
John (3) was Henry A., who served six terms as supervisor, and who removed to the West in 1856. Hon. John F. Collin
had two sons, John F., jr., and Quincy, Jr., a Methodist clergyman who removed to California. John F., jr., succeeded
to the old homestead, where he lived until his death a few years ago, and the farm, as above stated, is in the
possession of his widow.
David Collin settled on the farm now occupied by Leroy Hunt; he was a lieutenant in the colonial forces during
the French war. He resided a short time in Dutchess county during the Revolution where his house was attacked and
plundered by a band of robbers, presumably tories, while he was tortured nigh to death. David died in Hillsdale
Another early settler, who left a praiseworthy record in both public and private life, was Quincy Johnson, who
came to Hillsdale with his parents, William and Jane Johnson, from Bridgewater, Mass., before 1800. His oldest
son, Wesley Johnson, was a missionary in Africa, and was connected with the establishment of the colony of Liberia
in the capacity of physician; he devoted his time and money to establishing an educational institution there, and
was ultimately stricken with malarial fever and was forced to return to his home in America, where he died at the
early age of thirty one. Quincy Johnson died in Hillsdale in 1878, at the age of eighty eight years, leaving two
sons, William L. and John Q., both of whom are now dead.
William Jordan, a veteran of the Revolution, with his wife, Ruth Ferris, came to Hillsdale soon after the close
of the Revolutionary struggle. He settled on the farm now occupied by his great grandson, W. A. Jordan, the property
having continued in the possession of the family from the time of its purchase by him. He was known as "Major"
Jordan, a complimentary title bestowed upon him because of his military experiences. He died in 1833. Of his sons,
John lived many years in Claverack, finally removing to the town of Palmyra, in Wayne county, N. Y., where he died.
Daniel and Benjamin also removed to Palmyra, where they spent their days, dying at an advanced age. William remained
in Hillsdale near his father's home, where he lived a worthy life and died there. Abram was a physician; he married
Catherine Mesick of Claverack, in which place he settled about 1815, and practiced his profession until 1852, when
he retired, dying in 1855. Allen became a lawyer, and after practicing for a time in Hudson, removed to Illinois
in 1848. Ambrose L. Jordan, whose career shed more lustre upon his native town than did that of any other of her
citizens, was born May 5, 1789, read law and at the age of twenty three began practice in Cooperstown, where he
remained some years. In 1820 he returned to Columbia county, where in both public and private life he was one of
the leaders. He died in 1859. (See the chapter "Bench and Bar" for a biographical sketch.)
Martin Krum, a native of Germany, came to Hillsdale about 1745, and purchased a large tract of the Van Rensselaer
lands, some eight hundred acres. The homestead where he lived and reared his family is now occupied by Merwin Becker
(son of Moses) and his mother. Martin Krum had seven sons and three daughters. The original farm was divided into
several tracts and sold to different parties. The old residence, erected a number of years before the Revolution,
remained in possession of the family until 1835, the last occupant of the name being Martin H. Krum, who removed
to the western part of the State. It is not known that any of the name now reside in the town, although there are
descendants of his through his daughters and those of his sons who remained in the county, the name having become
extinct through marriages.
Peter Becker came to the town, it is believed, before the Revolution; be this as it may, he was married in 1780
to Mary Southard and from that marriage a numerous family has sprung. He had a son, John P., whose wife was Elizabeth
Clump, and one of whose sons was Philip, who died recently; he was the owner of a saw and planing mill on the Roeloff
Jansen's Kill, and served two or more terms as justice of the peace. His mill property was destroyed by the floods
consequent upon the memorable cloud burst described later on.
About 1750 three brothers named Overhiser came from Germany to this country. One of them settled in Delaware county,
whence a son of his, Abraham, removed to Hillsdale in 1810. He had nine children, one of whom, Barnett, succeeded
his father in possession of the farm; upon his death it passed to his son, Ambrose L., who died a few years since,
when the property was sold and bid in by the latter's brother in law, Mr. Hoffman, who now occupies it.
Families of Indians, remnants of the Stockbridges, remained in the town after settlement began, and one family
lived here long after the whites had made their homes. The last representatives of these original owners of the
soil, known as Paul and Phebe, where here until 1810, when they removed to the western part of the State.
Among other pioneers were Henry Speed, William Schutt, Eli Rood, Parla Foster, John Jones, William White and James
Shepard, who were all veterans of the Revolutionary war. Parla Foster was a prominent Methodist, and also kept
an inn at Hillsdale.
The manufacturing industries of Hillsdale were more numerous in the first half of the century than they are today.
Saw mills, grist mills, with an occasional carding and fulling mill, and a tannery or two comprised the list. It
is of record that in 1813 there were eleven grist mills, ten saw mills, four fulling mills and four carding machines
in the town.
On the site of Wheeler's saw mill, which was washed away in the flood of 1888, stood one of the earliest grist
mills; a saw and grist mill were early on the site of the saw and planing mill of Philip Becker, also destroyed
by the flood; a mile and a half above the latter were a saw and grist mill; and also one at Harlernville. These
were all operated during the first years after settlement, but as the timber was cleared from the land the saw
mills were no longer needed, and as good roads were constructed by which grain could be transported away and flour
and other mill products brought in the grist mills, too, lost their importance as necessary adjuncts to the new
country, and were gradually abandoned. Most of these mills were of a primitive character, consequently the sum
of their products was limited to the wants of the settlers.
There were three fulling mills on the Roeloff Jansen's Kill, and two carding machines in the vicinity, all in what
was then called the Collin neighborhood. The disastrous flood of 1888 destroyed what was remaining of them at that
Refine Latting had a tannery a little west of the village, the first in the town. The first blacksmith was Jared
Winslow, who had a shop at Green River.
The first post office was established about half a mile west of Hillsdale village, and Refine Latting was the first
postmaster, also keeping a tavern.
Drs. Nathaniel House and Caleb Benton were the first physicians. Dr. Abraham Jordan practiced in the town and was
widely known and successful; he was an army surgeon in the war of 1812-15, and spent his last years in Claverack.
Thomas K. Baker, the first lawyer in the town, came in 1820, and after a few years removed to Western New York.
Russell G, Dorr followed him and practiced in the town until his death.
On the morning of July 23, 1888, a terrible cloud burst occurred, covering the territory of the southern part of
Austerlitz and the northern part of Hillsdale. Over twelve inches of water fell inside of an hour, making of the
streams destructive torrents which carried ruin and devastation throughout their courses, though the loss of life
was confined to that of one man at Craryville in the town of Copake. Every mill and building abutting on the streams
was swept away, even those near the most insignificant rivulets. The money loss was comparatively heavy, particularly
to the farmers, whose growing crops were practically destroyed.
In early days there was a promise of the iron industry proving a valuable acquisition to the productions of the
town. At North Hillsdale, now a straggling hamlet near the east center of the town, a bed of ore was discovered
in 1864 on the farm of Rutsen Hunt. While hauling stone across the field, the wheels of the wagon, cutting into
the soft soil, turned up a brown earth, that, upon examination, proved to be an excellent quality of iron ore.
A lease of the premises was made to some New York parties, who opened the bed and worked it for a time. In 1867
the lease was transferred to Edward T. Haight, of New York, who pushed operations for some years, but the long
haul necessary to bring the ore to a point where it might be utilized so increased the cost of the smelted product
that the business proved unprofitable, and the works were abandoned, and no ore has been taken from the bed for
at least fifteen years. The first work done was by the "open cut" system, but later a shaft was sunk
and galleries extended into what appears to be an inexhaustible bed. Mineral paint is also found, of an excellent
quality, in the imediate vicinity of the mine, but nothing is being done with it at present.
There are other deposits of iron ore in the southwestern part of the town, one of which was discovered by Caleb
Prescott some seventy years ago. The northernmost of these beds was worked for a time by the "Hillsdale Iron
Mining Company," but since 1874 there has been nothing done there. The bed is now owned by J. H. Ireland of
New York. There is another bed on the lands of A. W. and W. Mitchell, south of the above described, which was opened
as early as 1800, but was long ago abandoned. Cheap transportation when the market demand for iron is flourishing,
might make these mines available, but as it is, their wealth must remain undeveloped.
There are five post offices in the town of Hillsdale, as follows: Hillsdale, Harlemville, Hillside, North Hillsdale,
and Green River.
Hillsdale village, situated about three miles from the State line, and a station on the Harlem Railroad, is the
most important village in the town. There has always been a considerable business done here in the the way of supplying
the surrounding country with articles of necessity. It is impossible at this time to obtain information of all
of the merchants and tradesmen who did business here in the early part of the century. In 1835 Philip Becker built
a furnace here, a small one, devoted to making plow castings and such custom work as would naturally be wanted
in an agricultural community. The great flood of 1888 carried away the building, including all the patterns and
machinery, while owned by Cornelius Vosburgh. What remained of the property was sold to W. A. Mallery, who rebuilt
on a site opposite the railroad station, where the same business is carried on by W. A. Mallery, jr., under the
name of the " Hillsdale Plow Company." In conjunction with the furnace, Mr. Mallery has a custom grist
mill, erected since the flood. The only industry of recent incorporation is a milk bottling plant, which purchases
the milk from the farmers and ships the same in bottles to New York. It is owned by New York parties, and is a
convenience and source of immediate revenue to the farmers, who receive about $1,500 monthly.
The principal merchants and business men of the village at this time are: Freeman Pulver, general store, who has
been in business since 1869; estate of J. Dimmock, general store, began in 1879, and L. W. Conklin, in the same
business since 1897. H. W. Holmes has a hardware store, and Henry Cornell a drug store. Bullock & Herrington
are dealers in lumber and coal, and William Coon carries on a marble yard. There are two hotels, the Hillsdale
House, kept by H. P. Sweet, and the Mt. Washington, run by G. B. Sweet. The present physicians are Drs. Henry Cornell,
who is eighty years of age and retired from practice, H. G. Westlake and Emmett Niver. The present postmaster is
S. D. Zeh, who succeeded R. L. Cannon, Freeland Pulver, Dr. H. Cornell and J. H. Bentley. Considerable hay and
rye is shipped from this point, though much less than formerly and since the agriculturists turned their attention
The little village of Harlemsille is in the extreme northwest corner of the town. It has a population of about
one hundred and no manufacturing interests. Its business is confined to a hotel, a store and a few shops.
Green River, in the northeast part of the town, formerly called Green River Hollow, is but a hamlet with the shops
usually found at such points.
North Hillsdale is a straggling hamlet near the eastern boundary of the town, which, at one time, when the iron
mines in the vicinity were being operated, had considerable business, but has very little now.
Hillside, formerly known as Murray's Corners, like the other hamlets of the town, has its importance mainly in
the fact that it is a postal station.
The annual town meetings are held at Hillsdale, but general elections, by districts, at Hillsdale, Green River
After the erection of this town from old Claverack, in 1782, provision was made in a primitive way for the education
of the children of the pioneers. In course of time rude school houses were erected, which were superseded in later
years by others of a better class, wherein children were taught by more systematic methods. The town was divided
into districts, but the unfortunate loss of the town records, before mentioned, renders it impossible to give any
information of their number, boundaries, or the number of children attending school. In 1860 the number of districts
in the town was eighteen, and there were at that time nine hundred and seventy nine children of school age. Through
the changes of later years the number of districts has decreased to fifteen, and the last report of the superintendent
of public instruction gives the whole number of children attending school in the town as three hundred and twenty
six, taught by sixteen teachers. The value of the school property is given as $7,275. The town received of the
public money $1,887.90 and there was raised by tax $2,915.38, making a total of $4,802.38 devoted to the support
of the schools.
There are eight church organizations in the town.
The First Baptist Church of Hillsdale, at Hillsdale village, was organized May 28, 1787. The organizing members
were James and Phebe Martin, Caleb, jr., and Anna Woodward, William, jr., and Rosanna West, Ambrose and Joanna
Latting, Griffin and Anna Wilde, Ruth Jordan, Esther Terry, Lucy Loop and Sarah Martin. The first church building
was erected by Ambrose Latting, who agreed to put up the building and finish it on the outside, and wait for his
remuneration until the society was able to pay for it. Under this agreement the building was completed in 1798.
Another meeting house was erected some time between 1792 and 1802 (it being impossible to learn the exact year).
In 1803 there was a division in the First or East church, and the seceders became possessed of the structure just
mentioned. Soon after the First church united with the Methodist in erecting a meeting house in the northwest part
of the town; this was sold in 1841 or '42. The second house of worship in the central part of the town was a union
affair owned in connection with the Methodists. This was torn down and the present edifice erected. The present
valuation of the meeting house and parsonage is $4,000. The society was incorporated in 1848, and in its one hundred
years of existence has seen long periods of prosperity, at one time its membership being nearly two hundred.
The Second or West Baptist Church of Hillsdale grew out of a secession of thirty five members from the First church
in 1803. It took possession by agreement of a meeting house erected by the First society after 1792 and before
1802. The building was erected by Refine Letting and is still used. The society was incorporated in 1833. In 1854
a new church building was erected at Martindale Depot.
The Presbyterian Church of Hillsdale was organized in 1831. The first meeting house was built on the present site
in 1832 at a cost of $2,000, repaired and remodeled at a cost of $1,800 in 1850, and in 1877 another remodeling
and repairing was had, costing $1,700. The parsonage was erected in 1857 and cost $1,600. The present value of
the church property is estimated at $5,000.
The German Evangelical Lutheran Church was born of a division, in 1870, of St. John's church in Ghent, one part
locating near Harlemville where a new society was formed under the title of "St. Immanuel's," and where
they built anew church in 1873, costing about $1,800. The society was incorporated in 1871.
The Hillsdale Methodist Episcopal Church was the outgrowth of meetings held as early as 1807 by Rev. William Swayze,
who, in his " Narrative," published in 1839, tells in a graphic way the story of his experience here.
He succeeded in organizing a class of thirty members, which continued to worship in private houses until 1811,
when a meeting house was built on land donated by Parla Foster. It was a rude, unfinished structure, with slab
seats, and stood on the hill near the site of the present school house. This building was used until 1845, when
the present church was erected at a cost of $3,000 exclusive of site and foundation. It has been repaired once
or twice. Parla Foster gave a lot for a parsonage in 1836, on which a house was erected; this was burned and another
one built in its place. This was occupied until about 1875 when Mrs. Flavia Bristol presented the church with a
new house (with lot) - the house entirely furnished adjoining the church, taking the old one in exchange.
North Hillsdale Methodist Episcopal Church was formed some time between 1810 and 1815, no records being found to
verify the date. The first church building was erected in company with the Baptists. In 1837 the present structure
was erected and dedicated in the fall of 1838; it cost $3,500. In 1859 it was repaired and enlarged at a cost of
$1,500. It was incorporated in 1838 as the " Wesleyan Chapel of North Hillsdale."
The West Methodist Episcopal Church of Hillsdale was formed as a class in about 1835. The house of worship was
erected in 1851-55 at a cost of $2,100, the lot being given by Milo and Amanda Bissell. The society was incorporated
Harlemville Methodist Episcopal Church was the outgrowth of a class formed in 1822, when the first meeting house
was erected on lands donated by Stephen Richmond. It was a union church, owned partly by the Baptists, and was
known as the " Downing Church." The society was incorporated in 1854, and a new house of worship was
built at Harlemville, which cost about $2, 500.
There are several cemeteries in the town, many of them dating from the earliest days of settlement. One, called
the Hatch burying ground, at Green River is one of the older ones. The following, taken from the rudely carved
slabs, badly worn by the elements, will give an approximate date of its dedication as a burial place:
" Mrs. Isabel, wife of Mr. Elisha Hatch, died July 23d, 1767, in her 43d year."
" Mr. Elisha Hatch, died April 15th, 1770."
"Mary, wife of Mr. James Steveson, died Jan. 1st, 1783."
"Lieut. Willard Shepard, died March 2d, 1784."
The North Hillsdale Cemetery was incorporated in 1865, and was the outgrowth of a small burial ground set apart
by the Van Rensselaers for that purpose. Frequent additions have been made to its area and it now contains four
acres or more of land, finely situated for the purpose.
Near Hillsdale is the cemetery of the Hillsdale Rural Cemetery Association, a body incorporated in 1865. Its grounds
cover five and one fourth acres, and are neatly laid out and fenced, and kept in good condition.
Hillsdale Lodge, No. 612, F. & A. M., was instituted in 1867, and is in a prosperous condition.
The population of Hillsdale as given in the census reports from 1825 to 1892 has been as follows: 1825, 2,389;
1830, 2,446; 1835, 2,266; 1840, 2,470; 1845, 2,374; 1850, 2,123; 1855, 2,194; 1860, 2,552; 1865, 2,142; 1870, 2,083;
1875, 1,879; 1880, 1,939; 1890, 1,554; 1892, 1,495.
The following are the names and date of election of the supervisors of Hillsdale from the organization of the to
1786-90. James Bryan.
1791-99. C. McKinstry.
1800-08. Samuel Mallery.
1809-11. Ebenezer Soule.
1812. B. Williams.
1813-14. William Tanner.
1815-16. J. C. Olmstead.
1817. Edward Bagley.
1818-22. J. Morehouse.
1823-24. William Jordan, Jr.
1825-27. J. Morehouse.
1828. Amos M. Knapp.
1829-30. J. Morehouse.
1831-32. Henry Loop.
1833-34. Quincy Johnson.
1835-36. Samuel Judson.
1837-43. John F. Collin.
1844-45. A. A. Spickerman.
1846-47. Joseph P. Darr.
1848-51. Henry A. Collin.
1852-53. John H. Overhiser.
1854. Henry A. Collin.
1855. William P. Stickle.
1856. Henry A. Collin.
1857. Ralph Judson.
1858-59. Joseph P. Dori.
1860-62. Stephen B. Barteau.
1863-64. Austin Morey.
1865-66. John H. Overhiser.
1867-68. Peter B. Hollenbeck.
1869-70. Henry Cornell.
1871. Charles H. Downing.
1872. George M. Bullock.
1873-74. Alfred Curtis.
1875. Rutsen Hunt.
1876. John Q. Johnson.
1877-78. Allen Sheldon.
1879. Grosvenor S. Knox.
1880-82. Lorenzo Gilbert.
1883.89. Joel G. Curtis.
1890-93. Hiram W. Johnson.
1894-98. William H. Gardner.
1899-1900. George M. Bullock.
The town clerks have been as follows:
1786-1846. Records destroyed.
1847.48. Thomas K. Baker.
1849-50. John T. Snyder.
1851-52. Edgar M. Knox.
1853-54. Charles Crow.
1855. George L. Palmer.
1856-57. Nicholas C. Tyler.
1858. William P. Mattison.
1859. Henry Cornell.
1860. William H. Jenks.
1861. George M. Foster.
1862. William Foster.
1863. A. Frank B. Chace.
1864. Theophilus Dimmick.
1865. Henry Cornell.
1866. Martin H. Garner.
1867-68. De Witt N. Rowe.
1869-72. Grosvenor A. Knox.
1873-74. John C. Hubbard.
1875. Freeland Pulver.
1876. M. D. Van Tassel.
1877-79. Levi Zeh.
1880-81. Claudius Lambert.
1882-84. Howard N. Cornell.
1885. Grosvenor A. Knox.
1886-87. William E. Scales.
1888-89. Gay C. Sweet.
1890-92. R. L. Cannon.
1893. Harvey P. Sweet.
1894-96. Emmett Niver.
1897. Frederick H. Gimmick.
1898-1900, William Mallery, jr.