History of Cornwall, NY
From: The History of Orange County, New York
Edited by: Russel Headley
Published by: Van Deusen and Elms
Middletown, New York, 1908
TOWN OF CORNWALL.
THE first view of Cornwall is not attractive. Two rugged hills rise before us, their sides not even clothed
with virgin soil, for the loose soil sends down sand and boulders to the street below. They are separated by a
rocky ravine, at the bottom of which runs a brook, scarcely visible in summer's drought, but fed in the spring
by the melting snow from the hills, becomes a torrent that sweeps away bridges and roads that form its banks. A
narrow highway has been cut at the base of each hill, but merges into one road just where the stream is spanned
by a pretty stone bridge.
There were still many hundred acres and those were divided into large farms where cattle, horses and small stock
were raised in great quantities. Orange County milk and butter had become famous and Cornwall contributed her full
share. Not only the products of our own neighborhood but those of the other counties reached New York by the way
of Cornwall landing. A friend recently gone from us, Miss Maria Conser, who was a child at that time, gives the
following graphic description: "How we children liked to stop on our way to the old schoolhouse to watch the
loaded wagons drawn by three mules abreast lumbering over the rough roads. We were frightened when we met the droves
of cattle. The tossing of their wild horns sent us scrambling upon the stone wall until they had passed. Hours
would elapse while tubs of butter, forests of hoop poles, cows, calves, sheep and lambs were placed on board of
the night boat. The passengers went to their berths but alas, for their hope of rest; the lowing of cattle, the
bleating of lambs and the noise of the crew forbade sleep. About midnight a lull would come; the boat gliding through
the softly murmuring water made sleep possible."
Those who visit Idlewild today and note the miles of gravel walk sweeping where the vista that opens is most
beautiful: the rare trees brought from many lands, the acres of lawn, smooth as velvet, the profusion of flowers
that meets one at every turn, the luxurious mansion crowned to its eaves with blossoms and vines, can hardly realize
the wild grandeur of the scene that appealed to the poet soul of N. P. Willis, and drew from the owner, Mr. Daniel
Ward, the question, "What do you want with such an idle wild?"
Among all the houses opened for guests the Mountain House stood first, from the fact of its position twelve
hundred feet above tide water in the heart of pine woods, where the visitors found health as well as recreation.
The building itself was also attractive. In the early sixties Dr. Champlin, who had been traveling in the East,
saw some marvelous cures performed on consumptive patients by the use of kourmis.
While we are in the mountain we will stand for a few minutes on Round Top, the home of the late Miss Hussey. Near us is a small chalet, consisting of three rooms with a cedar rail portico in front. Here for sixty years a woman, refined, cultured, and of marked literary ability, dwelt alone. There came a break in her seclusion, when in 1861 she entered the army as a nurse, where she remained until the close of the war; She was a fine raconteur, and many a story of those days entertained her visitors, and she had many, for she and her romantic home attracted nearly everyone who came to Cornwall. She kept a visitors' book, and there were 5,000 names in it before mine. In 1876 she, with two other, ladies, Miss McClean and Miss Hayes, edited the first newspaper printed in the town, but it was not a success after the first year, when she abandoned it. She received a pension from the Government, and died about four years ago.
E. P. ROE.
As we have been dealing with personal history, a modest residence with large grounds suggests another name, that of E. P. Roe, the novelist. His childhood was passed in Moodna and the home and surrounding scenery in the background of the picture drawn in "Nature's Serial Story." He studied in Williams College and then entered a theological seminary, but in 1862 resigned to become chaplain in the Harris Light Cavalry. He participated in several engagements, but on being appointed Hospital Chaplain, was granted a furlough, came home and was married to Miss Sands, who accompanied him back to the seat of war. He retained his position until the close of hostilities, when he took charge of the Presbyterian Church at Highland Falls. He visited Chicago after the fire, and that suggested the plot of "Barriers Burned Away." The success of this was phenomenal, several editions following in quick succession. Feeling he could reach a larger congregation by his pen than by his voice, he resigned his charge and came to Cornwall. His mornings were spent in his garden, where his success in fruit raising equalled that in literary work. The afternoons in his study resulted in volume after volume being given to the public in quick succession. His books sold well and his royalties were large, but through the misfortunes of others he became financially embarrassed and sold the royalties of his then published novels for $30,000. He still found ready sale for all he produced, which soon enabled him to liquidate his obligation, and the "children of his fancy were his own again." But the strain told on him, and in 1887 he went to Santa Barbara for rest and recuperation. There he wrote "The Earth Trembled," a story of the Charleston earthquake. He returned in 1887 and began his last work, "Miss Lou," which was never finished. In August, 1888, he was reading aloud in his library, when he was seized with sharp pains in his heart. Two physicians were summoned, but failed to give relief and half an hour after his first attack, E. P. Roe was no more. After his death several gentlemen, among others Mr. Thomas Taft, Mr. Valentine and the Rev. Lyman Abbott, consulted as to what shape a permanent memorial to him would take. A Roe Memorial Park was decided upon, the location being near his home on the side of Round Top, bounded by the Boulevard. It consists of a little more than two acres and is heavily wooded. None of the trees have been disturbed, only the underbrush cleared up and paths made through the grounds. At the top is a large boulder and on top of this was placed a bronze tablet, on which was engraved two branches of chestnuts with their foliage and burrs, some open. Above this is inscribed: "In Memory of Edward Payson Roe," and under this, "Near to Nature's Heart." The tablet was unveiled on May 30, 1894, with very impressive ceremonies and was presented to the village.
Another name very dear to Cornwall, but one almost forgotten by the present generation, was that of Colonel James Duncan. He was born at Cold Springs, but his parents moved here when he was a small boy, and settled on a farm a little out of the village. He graduated from West Point in 1835, and was appointed Lieutenant of the Fourth Cavalry. In 1838 he perfected an arm of the service called "The flying artillery," and this first brought him into notice. During the Mexican War he rose from the rank of Lieutenant to that of Colonel. He received the appointment of Inspector General of the United States Army, and during one of his visitations at Mobile he contracted the yellow fever and died there in 1849. His body was brought on and buried near his home, but some years later it was removed to the cemetery at West Point.
That part of the town known as Canterbury was probably the first portion settled. Old records give names of
path masters who resided here previous to the Revolutionary War, but seemed to have left no descendants. As far
back as 1820 we have the name of John Chadeayne, one of whose sons, Mr. Henry F. Chadeayne, was the father of our
present supervisor. The early physicians all located in that end of the town. Dr. Tobias was the first one of which
we have any record. Dr. Clinton came next, and then Dr. Elisha Hedges, dying a young man in 1824. The house where
he lived was occupied until recently by his daughter. His successors were Dr. Heaton and his son in law, Dr. Gough,
and they cared for all the sick in the radius of many miles. But as the population increased there was found work
for others, and Dr. Beattie came to us and died among us in his eightieth year. Dr. Thomas Heaton also lies in
one of our cemeteries, one of the most beloved and trusted of doctors. He was a grandson of the first one of that
name. Dr. Hotchkiss represented homeopathy, and at his death was succeeded by Dr. Bergen, to be followed by Dr.
Chandler of that cult. Beside the latter we have Drs. Winter and Bowdish, of the upper village, and Drs. Shirk
and Bayard, of the lower one, at present with us.
As early as 1830 means were taken for fire protection in Canterbury, and each man who contributed $2.50 could become a member. The names of the first trustees were Nathan Westcott, Elias Hand, W. T. Cocks, Geo. Marriott and John M. Gough. Soon others joined it, and it was created a body corporate under the name of the Canterbury Fire Company. A hand engine was purchased at an expense of $125. About 1836 a second hand suction engine was purchased in New York, but as the population increased they realized how important it would be to check any serious conflagration, so in October, 1869, a meeting of property owners was held, which made arrangements for purchasing a lot and engine house. A committee was appointed who finally bought the premises where Hunter & McClean had their market for 2,000. A new engine was bought and called Highland Engine No. 1. During 1905 a very tasteful brick building costing $5,000 was erected. There were sixty members in good standing and many applications for membership when a vacancy occurs. The same year, 1869, that the engine was purchased in Canterbury, a similar project was started at the Corners, and a subscription paper was sent out, but failed to get any definite pledges, each person approached being unwilling to be the first to sign. A public meeting was called, and thirty five young men responded, each promising to give five dollars. In a few days nearly $700 was secured, and Messrs. Titus, Wiley and John McClean went to New York to see what could be obtained for their money. Steamers had been introduced into the New York and Brooklyn districts, so they found an article that suited them in Engine Goodwill 4 of Brooklyn and it was bought and shipped on the Orange County for Cornwall. They had no house, but procured the use of Carswell's barn. A company had been organized with Wm. J. Quigley, foreman, John K. Oliver, assistant and John McClean, Jr., secretary. A charter was procured in 1870, March 3oth, in which A. E. Mattheissen, Stephen Gillis, Hamilton Salmon, David Clark, Jas. Hitchcock and E. H. Champlin, constituting themselves a body corporate, under the name of the Storm King Engine No. 2. Another subscription was solicited, which met with such a generous response that a lot was purchased and a two story building erected on Duncan avenue. The dues of members supplemented by entertainments, furnished their rooms and met their expenses, but in 1900 they surrendered their charter to the village corporation and were henceforth a public charge. A lot was bought on Main street and a handsome building costing $6,000 was erected. They have a reception room, pool room, and public meeting room, and a large space down stairs for their engine house. Their charter allows only sixty members, and there are always candidates waiting for any vacancy. A company was organized at the Landing and some hundred feet of hose purchased, but it soon disbanded. Last year a hose company was formed on the heights for fire protection.
Public schools were established soon after the Revolutionary War, and each village had its schoolhouse and teacher, for at least the winter months, and as the instruction was confined to the three R's several private schools were started, but were only moderately successful. The earliett of these was that of Madame Rutkai, the sister of the famous Hungarian, Louis Kostuth. Mr. Alfred Roe taught one in Canterbury for a time and in the spring of 1853 purchased the Fowler Griggs property, where he conducted a boarding and day school for young men. It was very successful, but in 1863 he gave it up, entered the ministry and joined the army at the chaplain of the Eighty third Volunteert. In 1877 he again came to Cornwall and opened a school for young ladiet, following the Harvard standard, but the patronage did not warrant its continuance and it was cloted in the third year. Dr. Ledoux succeeded in founding a permanent institution. While he was pastor of the Presbyterian Church, he was taken very sick with typhoid fever, and at times was delirious, and then spoke only French, it being his native language. Mr. McCreery, the New York merchant, who was boarding in the neighborhood, was looking for a school for his sons, and after the Doctor's recovery arranged with him to receive his boys into his family. He soon had as many as he could teach, resigned his living, purchased a tract of land on the Heights, and began a most successful career. He sold out to Mr. Cobb, who after a few years sold in turn to the present proprietor, Rev. Charles Stone.
Down to 1869 our public school was taught just long enough every year to obtain the public money, and then some one would continue it as a private enterprise for three or four months. But in that year, some of our summer residents, including E. A. Mattheissen, Chas. Bellows. Mr. Solomon, Stephen C. Gillis, James Dunn, Mr. Hitchcock, James Courser, John McKibben and Dr. Vail. formed a board of education. A lot was purchased from Mr. Hitchcock near the Corners, and a substantial building erected. The school was opened on May 24th, 1869, with Mr. Williamson as principal, Miss McClean and Miss Frances Marvel as assistants. There were then about 8o pupils. In 1896 it was found an addition was needed and a large building was erected across the front at a cost of $8,000. There are fourteen teachers in the building now, and one in the annex on the Heights, and the census of this year showt 500 children of school age. The training school under Mr. Aldrich, turns out wonderful work for boys and girls, and the sewing clats in charge of Miss Murray, which has only been established a year, shows how little hands can be trained. The present board of education consists of Mr. Townsend D. Wood, president; Mr. P. Bevins, J. J. Hall, Louis Belton, Carlos H. Stone, George Mailer, Jas. H. Ward, John Noe, and Harris Cox.
VILLAGE OF CORNWALL-ON-HUDSON.
The village of Cornwall-on-Hudson was incorporated in March, 1885, the first officers being: Thos. Taft, president;
trustees: Wm. Fogarty, Charles W. Clark and Oren Cobb; treasurer, H. N. Clark; collector, Charles E. Cocks, and
clerk, Daniel E. Pope.
A small building on one of the side roads was used for many years, after it was evident the days of its usefulness as a schoolhouse was over. In 1905 the people voted to raise $30,000 for a new schoolhouse. A lot on Willow avenue was purchased, and a building, complete in all modern appliances has been the result. There are twelve teachert under a most efficient principal, Mr. Woodworth. Both this and the one at the Corners, are high schools under the regents.
VILLAGE IMPROVEMENT SOCIETY.
The Village Improvement Society was organized in 1900, when a public meeting was called in Mattheissen Hall.
Dr. Harrison was chairman, and introduced the Rev. Lyman Abbott, who explained the object of the association, which
was that each one should pledge themselves to take care of their premises, and use their influence to abate anything
that would detract from the beauty and order of the village. Nearly everyone present agreed to become a member.
The following day a meeting was held and officers elected. Mrs. Lyman Abbott was chosen president; Mrs. Seaman,
first vice president; Mrs. Hunter, second vice president; Mrs. Furey, secretary; Miss Laura Currie, corresponding
secretary, and Mrs. Dr. Harrison, treasurer. A handsome loving cup was purchased to be given to the person who,
in the estimation of the judges, should show the best kept garden for the year. Anyone who should win it three
years in succession would own it. Mrs. John Noe held it the first year, Mrs. Milton Couser the second, but the
three following seasons it was held by Mrs. John Noe, who then became its permanent possessor. Almost the first
work done by the society was offering ten cents a hundred for the nests of the tent worm. Seventy two thousand
were brought in by the school children, with the result that while the neighboring villages lost hundreds of trees
the place was free from the pests. Trash cans were placed in different parts of the village, and thirteen hundred
posters were removed from trees, fences and telegraph poles.
In 1877 Mr. John Lee, author of stories of the Hudson, started the Cornwall Mirror, but he died within the year. He was succeeded by Mr. Snelling, who changed the name to the Cornwall Reflector. Mr. Pendell succeeded him as editor, when the title was changed to Cornwall Local, the name which it retained when it passed into the hands of the present proprietor, Mr. Goodenough. Three or four efforts have been made to run a second village paper, but they have all proved a failure. Mr. Morehouse started the Courier, which passed into the hands of Creswell McLaughlin but it came to grief. It was resuscitated in 1905, but only lived a year.
With the introduction of the mountain water into the village, it was hoped that with the fine freighting facilities, manufacturers might be induced to settle here, but such has not been the case. Several applications have been received from outsiders, but when negotiations reached a certain point, they have been quietly withdrawn, and it has been surmised that some of the wealthier neighbors object to the class such work would bring among them. The stream known as Murderer's Creek, and later on as the Moodna, at one time had several factories along its banks. The late John Orr's flour mill is still in business, and about a mile from Canterbury is a settlement known as Firthcliff. In 1869 Mr. Broadhead had a large woolen mill there which after a few years, passed into the hands of an English carpet company. These brought many of their skilled employees with them, and they in turn induced friends and neighbors to come out, so that one corner of the town is an English village. The home works are in England, but the proprietors frequently cross the Atlantic to visit their factory here. Still farther down the stream are the mills of John Orr, at a railroad station that bears his name. A piano factory, owned by John E. Ryder has disappeared, and as the brook nears the Hudson, it passes through a valley which was once filled with homes of the work people employed in the Valley Forge paper mill, owned by Carson & Idea, and the Leonard linen mill. The latter stopped during the war, but the former under different owners produced some material, until a freshet tore away bridge, dam and race and forced the stream into another channel that left the building practically without water.
Mr. Ruttenber gives a list of 172 volunteers who went from here during the Civil War, but he has omitted three names, Frederick Lamb, Wm. Couser and George Chatfield. Emslie Post contains the names of some of the surviving on its roster, and on Memorial Day they decorate eighty graves of comrades who have passed over to the great majority. But there are others who sleep on Southern battlefields, and still others who passed from the weary anguish of the hospitals to the "low green tent, whose curtain never outward swings." Captain Thomas Taft is probably the youngest surviving veteran; and among the revered names of those "who came not back" stand Captain Silliman, Major Cromwell and William Emslie, who died in Andersonville. Through the efforts of Mr. Charles Curie, of Idlewild, a soldiers' monument has been erected in the village.
NEW YORK MILITARY ACADEMY.
One of the institutions of Cornwall is the New York Military Academy. In the '70s it was a large boarding house, capable of accommodating two hundred guests. The grounds cover a large plateau, skirting a ravine, and was called Glen Ridge. It was owned by Mr. James G. Roe, brother of the novelist, who when the boarding business failed in Cornwall, sold to Colonel Wright, who opened a boys' school. He was succeeded by Mr. Jones, who has enlarged the already capacious buildings. There are always over ioo young men and boys in the institution, and a large corps of capable teachers. The discipline is secured more by rewards than punishments. The pupils, when visiting the village, are always quiet and gentlemanly. Officers from West Point train them in military tactics, and it is marvelous what a proficiency they attain in a few months.
[Continued in Cornwall Church History]