History of Milan, NY
From: General History of Dutchess County
From 1609 to 1876, Inclusive.
By Philip H. Smith
Published by the author 1877


MILAM was formed from Northeast, March 10th, 1818. If Comprises the western portion of that tract of land origionally owned by the Little or Upper Nine Partners. Why it bears the name of an ancient city we cannot tell. Its surface is a hilly upland, broken by the deep valleys of the streams, Roeliff Jansens Kill crosses the northeast corner. Jacksons Corners is a post village situated on this stream. Rock City so named from the rocks which crop out in the adjacent hills and along the streams lies near the Rhinebeck line. Here are two saw mills, and a grist mill. Milanville and Lafayetteville are post villages near the center of the town. There are two small bodies of water in the southwest part of the town, each of which is called Mud Pond.

In 1760, Johannes Rowe bought of Robert Livingston, nine hundred acres north of Lafayetteville, and located upon it. Much of it is still in possession of the Rowe family. Maltiah and Macey Bowman settled at Lafayetteville. One of the first substantial houses put up here is still standing, and was occupied by the firm of Bullock and Bowman as a store.

When the Bowmans came, the country was all woods in which wild beasts and wild Indians roamed. John White and Jeptha Wilbur located near by; the latter built a grist mill about a mile northeast of Lafayetteville. Timothy Briggs entered upon a section north of Wilbur. John Pells settled a short distance below Jackson's Corners. Near the east line of the town were John Hicks, Robert Martin and Joe Mott, old settlers, who braved the dangers of the wilderness in their efforts to provide themselves a home. John Link, Garrett Holsopple, Jacob Rhyfenburgh, Jacob Kiliman, John Fulton, John Stalls, John Feller, John Hopeman, Zachariah Phillips, Alexander Teats and Andrew Frazier were old settlers in the north part of the town. They were mostly Germans. The last two named lived to be one hundred years old.

Near Jacksons Corners was once a cluster of log huts, known as "Straw Hudson." The huts were thatched with straw, which gave rise to the name. The interstices between the logs composing the houses were plastered with clay. Apertures were left to let in the light, and for want of glass, a little oiled cloth was substituted. The fireplaces were large enough to hold a load of wood of moderate size. The lower part of the chimneys were built of stone, laid in clay; the upper portions were generally made of wood. The coals were drawn out upon the hearth, in which their potatoes were roasted, and before which their johnny cake that staple of the early culinary department was baked, on a board. At that time it was no uncommon thing to see the children at play barefoot on the ice.

The old couple from whom the writer obtained these particulars were firm believers in witches and ghosts. Near this place, in former times, was a haunted house. In one of the chambers a couple of lads went to bed one cold December night, and just as they had comfortably settled themselves for a good nap, they were disturbed by the presence of something hovering over them in the darkness Pretty soon the apparition grasped the blankets covering them, hauling them upon the floor. The act was accompanied by a noise resembling that of a brass kettle rolling upon a hard surface. As soon as the boys could muster courage they recovered their blankets, and again betook themselves to sleep. But again the apparition returned, with the same result as before. This was repeated at intervals during the whole night, which so bothered the boys that not a wink of sleep did they get before morning.

They also mentioned a witch, who flourished in the "good old times of yore." A friend went on a visit to her house one evening, taking with her a little child. The witch asked leave to take the child in her lap, to which the mother consented. Presently the babe began to cry. Nothing would avail to induce it to stop, and the mother was forced to return home. The child continued to cry during the whole night, at times violently; but the next morning it fell into a gentle slumber. It was thought that the witch had wrought a spell over the child which caused its fit of crying. This witch afterward fell into a quarrel at the dinner table with her spouse; his ire was aroused to such a pitch that he threw a knife which, entering a vital part, put a period to her existence. He then threw her upon the fire, where she was burned to a crisp. Her end was a source of much rejoicing to the good people of the vicinity.

But if the old settlers were troubled with witches, a means was provided whereby their evil machinations might be effectually avoided. This was by employing what were then denominated "witch doctors," who were reputed tc have great skill in such matters. Their remedies did not consist of useless drugs, or in prescribing unwholesome courses of diet which constitute the practice of other classes of physicians, but in the more reasonable and efficacious observance of certain rules, which the witch doctor would prescribe. Sometimes under his direction the witch's designs might be circumvented by strictly refusing to lend anything out of the house for a certain number of days. Sometimes the same desirable results could be brought about by repeating certain talismanic words, or by nailing a horseshoe to a specified part of the house. Some of these doctors are said to have acquired great wealth and notoriety in the practice of their profession.

A society of Methodists was formed in this town about the year 1790. Their house of worship was situated near the present M. E. Church, not far from Milanville. It was a large square building, two stories high, and was never painted. A Quaker meeting house, built about the same time or previous, stood near it. This was said to have had high posts and a short roof in front, with a long roof in the rear, extending nearly to the ground. It is asserted that Robert Thorn, a staunch old Quaker, used to go to this old church, with no companion but his dog, and sit during the stated hours of worship. This was after the congregation had been almost depleted by deaths and removals. A second church was built near the site of this, but both structures have been removed. There are two M. E. Churches and a Christian Church in the town, in addition to those already mentioned.

Robert Thorn built a mill about two miles west of Lafayetteville, which is perhaps the oldest in town. Buck's mill, in the southeast part, is an old established concern.

The Lafayette House, situated in Lafayetteville, was built about the time of the visit of the Marquis Lafayette to this country, after whom it was named. This was an important place of business before the railroads were constructed in this vicinity, it being on the thoroughfare leading from Millerton, Antrim, and other points to the river.

Jacob Stall was at one time an extensive real estate owner in the vicinity of Jacksons Corners, to whom the place owes much of its growth and prosperity. A considerable portion of this and the adjoining town of Pine Plains is held by leasehold tenure, which has exerted an influence detrimental to the growth and prosperity of the towns.

Previous to the Revolution, Lieutenant-Governor Clark acquired title to large tracts of land in this vicinity. At the breaking out of the war he espoused the cause of the Crown, and soon afterward embarked for England. His son came over and assumed control of the property, and professed to be a Whig. At the close of that struggle, the Colonists having been victorious, this son claimed the land, and was allowed to retain possession, On making his will he saw fit to dispose of much of the land in such a way that his heirs have not yet been able to give a clear title. It has therefore been mainly occupied by persons holding leases, sometimes for life, but more generally for periods of but one year. Of course a tenant has not the same incentive to improve the land as he would have if owner of the soil; as a result the farms are greatly impoverished, and many places are nearly worthless. Many of the houses are badly out of repair, and hardly tenable, and the vicinity wears an aspect of neglect and desolation. The barns and outbuildings are not unfrequently thatched with straw, with doors broken from their hinges, all bearing the impress of age. In a few cases the tenant makes a good livelihood; but in the majority of instances he can barely provide subsistence for his family, to say nothing of rent. Sometimes, rather than leave the place, the tenant will mortgage his stock, in the hope that something will turn up in his favor; but he not unfrequently finds himself at the end of the year stripped of his goods and turned into the street. On the other hand, some unprincipled tenants will not scruple to raise something on the farm, turn it into cash, and move into other parts before the landlord comes around after the rent. This system is greatly prejudicial to all parties concerned.

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