History of Monroe, NY
From: The History of Orange County, New York
Edited by: Russel Headley
Published by: Van Deusen and Elms
Middletown, New York, 1908


THE territory comprising the present town of Monroe is part of the Cheesecock Patent granted by Queen Anne, March 25, 1707. The Cheesecock tract was surveyed by Charles Clinton, father of George and James Clinton, and grandfather of Dewitt Clinton. His field book, the original of which is in the. possession of Hon. MacGrane Cox, of Southfield, N. Y. (Mr. Fred J. Knight, Civil Engineer, of Monroe, N. Y., having a copy), contains much information and many intercsting incidents of the early history of this section.

The town was set off from the precinct of Goshen in 1764 and named Cheesecock. This name continued until 1801, when it was changed to Southfield. On April 6th, 1808, it took the present name Monroe, in honor of James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States.

In 1863, the town (like ancient Gaul), was divided into three parts by the erection of the three towns of Monroe, Highland and Southfield, which division was the same as the present towns of Monroe, Woodbury and Tuxedo, except that the then town of Monroe embraced a small portion of the present town of Woodbury.

In 1865 the three towns were dissolved and the whole original territory restored to the town of Monroe. In 1889 it again underwent the Gaelic operation resulting in the creation of the present towns of Monroe, Woodbury and Tuxedo. Monroe contains an area of 11,500 acres, Woodbury 23,000 acres and Tuxedo 5o,000 acres.

The history of this town was written by Rev. Daniel Niles Freeland, who was the beloved and scholarly pastor of the Presbyterian Church from 1847 to 1881, and his volume of two hundred and fifty pages, entitled "Chronicles of Monroe in the Olden Times," is a history of the town up to 1898.


Monroe has in recent years, because of its rugged beauties, its beautiful lakes and mountain scenery, its high altitude, pure water and healthfulness, and its proximity to the Metropolitan district, become a favorite resort for the people of New York and nearby cities, and has made very rapid growth. It is the lake region of the county and located on the crest of the mountain divide, the village being the highest station except Otisville on the Erie Railroad between Jersey City and Port Jervis. There are four beautiful natural lakes, located from one to three miles from the village, namely, Mombasha, having an area of 340 acres and an elevation of 860 feet, from which Monroe village gets it water supply; Walton Lake, having an area of 125 acres and an elevation of 720 feet, from which Chester obtains its water supply; Round Island Lake, ninety acres in area and 660 feet elevation, upon the eastern bluff of which Mr. W. M. Haight's beautiful Cedar Cliff Inn is located, and Cromwell Lake with an area of fifty three acres and an elevation of 740 feet. There are a number of smaller lakes which add to the beauty of this region. Among them should be mentioned, the Mountain Lake recently built to the east of the village, with an area of twenty acres and an elevation of 55o feet, and Lake Winape, a most charming mountain lake near Mambasha Lake, with an area of eleven acres and an elevation of 760 feet, just completed by Mr. George R. Conklin. The construction of other lakes is contemplated.

The village of Monroe is in the pass on the mountain crest, the waters from the northern part of the village flowing northeast into the Hudson near Newburgh, and from the southern part of the village flowing southeast through the Ramapo, which rises in Round Island Lake, into the Passaic River.

Eager, in his early history of Orange County, with prophetic vision, saw the beauties of this section. He wrote as follows: "These are the Grampian hills of Orange. While this elevated range is severed by many deep glens and valleys, the Alpine heights hold within their rocky crests, ponds and lakes of pure water, which glitter like diamonds in the noontide sun. Rude and forbidding as this region of hills and rocks and mountain crags may at first sight appear to the eye of a superficial observer, yet, to the true lover of nature in the exhibition of her noblest works, and to the practical mind of the really utilitarian, for a thousand purposes, the whole is well arranged and unsurpassed by anything of the kind in the county. Here are found without stint or measure, granite, mica or isinglass stone, and every quality of iron ore, with other minerals, treasures of present and future wealth to the nation. As early as 1778, during the war of the Revolution, the great chain passed across the Hudson at West Point, was made from the mineral of this region. In this respect as regards quality and quantity, the county of Orange stands unrivaled by any other in the State.

"The time will come when these hills, mountains, deep glens and sparkling lakes, shall be the descriptive themes of some native bard, who like Scott or Burns, caught up in spirit and wrapped in poetic fire, will harmoniously weave them, one and all, into the thrilling lays of the lowland and mountain muse. The time will come, when these elevated heights of dreary aspect, these hills overhung and darkened with vines and forest trees, and these lakes of picturesque beauty, unknown to the common mind, decorated with the wildest garniture of nature, and visited by the wing of the wild bird, shall be associated in the minds of our children's children with all that is pastoral, pleasing and heroic. True, Monroe cannot be made equal in agricultural beauty to other more charming localities, and wave with a golden harvest; for though her hills and mountains may be denuded of their vegetable ornaments, they cannot be leveled down nor driven over by the ploughshare; yet the time will come, when every nook and corner throughout the broad and variegated mass shall hold a freeman's cottage, teeming with life and highland cheer, whose tenants, honest and hardy, will sleep amidst the thunders which rock them to rest, and the lightnings that play around and gleam up their mountain dwellings."

The Rev. Mr. Freeland in writing of its mountains says: "As the mountains were round about Jerusalem," so are the mountains round about Monroe. On the east are the Highlands, like the mountains of Moab, seen whenever its citizens look toward sunrise. Ten miles of rock ridges, with many a peak, defend them on that side. Only one or two passes give access in that direction - one over Bull Hill, the other up to the Stockbridge Hotel. Either of these could easily be defended against an enemy. On the south are Forshee Hill and the Southfield Mountains. On the west, the Belivale Mountains and Sugar Loaf, standing like a sentinel, overlooking the valley below. Schunemunk guards the northwest. It has a bastion on the eastern corner. High Point is a weather signal tower to the observing. When it wears its night cap late in the morning, it indicates falling weather; when the cap is early doffed, it betokens a serene day. The black rocks loom up from the mountain top, and from their summit a wonderful scene presents itself. The eye sweeps the entire horizon; taking in the Catskills, Butter Hill, the Fishkill Hills, Bull and Pine Hills, Mount Bashan, Sugar Loaf, Belivale and Goose Pond Mountains, with lakes, farms, mines, mills and villages galore. The Devil's Racecourse lies on the northern slope of old Schunemunk, but the visitor needs none of his counsel or company, for he who climbs these steeps can find sweeter communion nearer to the heart of nature.

"One other landmark is Bald Hill, very clear to us because at its foot we first hung the crane. Here we toiled and studied, and here the sunshine lingers in our memory longest and our children fell asleep. It is the Acropolis of the village."

And in writing of its valleys he says: "Soils of great fertility were laid down here; yes, brought from distant hills to furnish slope and meadow. Here are alluvions of great depth and good grain lands; but the town is best adapted to grazing. The grasses, like those of the Blue Grass region of Kentucky, contain just those elements which yield fattening and milk producing qualities. Had the mountains of Monroe been only a mass of rock, like some parts of Scotland, they might have been abandoned to the heather and become great solitary sheep walks; or if they had been only picturesque vales and quiet nooks, there would have been a temptation to some lord of the manor to make it his park and country seat. Heaven had a better destiny in store for it, hence mingled rocks and soils so as to invite the plow, scooped out the water courses to attract the loom and forge, hid away such materials as would bring hither the herdman and artisan, the abhorrence of lordly pretension and elegant leisure. Monroe, from its very physical constitution, was predestined to be the home of honest toil and frugal industry. In the vicinity of what was to be the greatest city of the New World, and on the route of its best approaches from west to north, wealth and prosperity ought to be its sure reward, and doubtless will when the wisdom of men is able to master the situation."


But the growth and development of Monroe depends not alone upon its picturesque mountains, beautiful valleys and charming lakes, which attract so many city people, who are fast dotting the available lake and mountain sites with charming villas and country homes, beautiful inns, hotels and boarding houses, for the village itself is becoming one of the most progressive and bustling of modern towns. Its growth during the past five years being much more rapid than any other village of the county.

Monroe village, incorporated in 1894, with a population of 781, now has about 1,200. The incorporation was due in a large degree to a disastrous fire occurring in November, 1892, which showed the necessity of fire protection.

On July 31, 1894, a vote on the question of incorporation was taken, resulting in favor of incorporation 111 for, and 45 against. On August 21, 1894, an election for officers was held. Henry Mapes was elected president; George R. Conklin, Gilbert Carpenter and Henry Morehouse, trustees, and J. Lester Gregory, treasurer. On August 28th the Board organized as a board of water commissioners with Gilbert Carpenter, president. At the election held November to, 1894, to vote for waterworks, there were fifty eight for and fifteen against the proposition. The board of water commissioners took the necessary steps to acquire water for the village, and the village of Monroe is largely indebted to this first board of water commissioners for its splendid water plant which is contributing so largely to its development.

The village purchased from the Sterling Iron & Railway Company the right to raise the dam and store additional water at Mombasha Lake. This lake affords one of the purest and finest water supplies to be found in the State. About one mile of 14 inch pipe and two miles of 10 inch pipe bring the water to the center of the village with a head of about 250 feet, and distribution is made with 8, 6 and 4 inch pipes. The water was turned on October 10, 1895. No fire has since extended beyond the building in which it originated. The cost of the works was about $46,000, which is probably about two thirds of what it would cost at present, owing to the increased cost of labor and material. The works are now not only self sustaining but are producing a comfortable surplus, and it is estimated that in not many years the plant will pay for itself and will then produce sufficient revenue to light and keep in repair the village streets, a splendid example of municipal ownership of public utilities.

The town of Monroe has no bonded indebtedness and the village none other than its water bonds, except that Union Free School District No. 1, which includes the village, has issued $4,375, on account of the purchase of a seven acre school site on a commanding height overlooking the village.

The Warwick, Monroe and Chester Building and Loan Association has been a potent factor in Monroe's development. It was organized in April, 1890.

Standard Lodge No. 711 F. & A. M., instituted at Chester, N. Y., June 3o, 1871, was, with consent of the Grand Lodge, moved to Monroe in 1884, and has a membership of 180.

The Monroe National Bank, U. S. No. 7,563, although in its infancy, is a flourishing institution. It was chartered by the Treasury Department January 8th, 1905 and it was opened for business, March 1st, 1905.

Monroe has a very excellent fire department. The Mombasha Hose Company was organized July 24th, 1895, and the Mombasha Fire Company, April 5th, 1898.

The Orange and Rockland Electric Light and Power Company, which furnishes light and power to the villages and communities in the eastern end of the county, is located at Monroe and is now erecting a very large plant. The Newbury Foundry Company is also located here.

Monroe has a fine telephone system, an athletic association, and is now putting down cement walks in the village, and it is confidently predicted that it will be the leading center of the eastern end of the county within a short period.

A Methodist society existed in the neighborhood of Monroe prior to 1839, the M. E. Church at Oxford (near Quaker Hill) having been built some time before, but in the year above mentioned Matthew B. Sweezy deeded to the Trustees of the recently organized M. E. Church of Monroe the land upon which the church now stands. In the following year, 1840, the church was built. The first board of trustees was the following: Stephen Post, Isaac Compton, Jeremiah Knight, Thomas D. Tannery, John King, Samuel Smith and Peter Ball. Others who served the church in its early history as trustees were Jonathan Mapes, John S. Gregory, Matthew B. Sweezy, Solomon W. Esray, Townsend Mapes, Job Mapes, William Hudson, George K. Smith, William Johnston, Martin Konnight, Daniel Secord, Nathan Strong and Walter Roberts. John S. Gregory was elected trustee in 1843 and served in this capacity until his death in 1905, a period of sixty two years.

The Rev. Mr. Bancroft is said to have been the first minister. Others who followed him were the Rev. William Van Duzen, Rev. A. C. Fields, Rev. Mr. Newmans, Rev. J. H. Hawkshurst, Rev. Mr. Blake, Rev. Mr. Croft, Rev. N. Messiter, Rev. D. D. Gillespie.

Matthew B. Sweezy was chorister for a time. There was no organ in the early days of the church, but the congregation was frequently led in singing by the violin and the violincello, though there were some who objected to the use of so ungodly a thing as the "fiddle."

At first the Monroe church was a part of the circuit under the charge of a pastor and his assistants. This circuit in the early days comprised; besides Monroe, the churches at Highland Mills, Washingtonville, Craigville and Turner. Finally, Monroe and Turner comprised the charge, and this relationship was dissolved in 4895.

In 1875 it was voted to enlarge and repair the church, and the pastor, Rev. David McCartney, and Mr. H. H. Lawrence, were appointed a committee to solicit subscriptions for this purpose. Their efforts were successful and the church was remodeled, and stands today practically the same as they left it.

The church has reason to hold the memory of Mr. James Smith, Mrs. James Smith and Sara Smith, their daughter, in lasting remembrance, as they respectively left substantial legacies to the trustees of the church, to the Ladies' Aid Society, and to the Sunday school, said legacies to be held in trust for their use.

The church has a Sunday school and Epworth league. The superintendents of the Sunday school during the last twenty five years or more have been Franklin Bull and Orville Eichenberg, the latter having held the position for the last nineteen years.

The first available records of the schools of the town of Monroe are dated January 7, 1819. These are receipts given by the trustees of several of the school districts for State moneys received from the commissioners of common schools. These moneys were for the benefit of their respective districts and were in all cases small, the apportionments ranging from eight to twenty five dollars. At this time the town's educational interests were in the hands of three commissioners of common schools. The incumbents of these offices in the town of Monroe in 1819 were Israel Green, Lewis H. Roe and George Wilks.

In 1843 the office of town superintendent was instituted, thus doing away with the board of three commissioners of common schools. The duties of this officer were probably the same as those exercised by the board which he had taken the place of. The first person to hold this new town office was Joseph R. Andrews, who had been a member of the last board of commissioners of common schools. The office of town superintendent ceased to exist in 1857, when the office of school commissioner was created. The new official assumed the powers of licensing teachers, altering school district boundaries, etc., while the care of the school moneys from the State was given to the supervisor of the town.

The office of town superintendent was held for a short time by Morgan Shuit, and afterward for a period of about ten years by Archibald Campbell, whose term was concluded in 1857, when the office was abolished.

In 1819, as they did in subsequent years, the commissioners reported the text books in use. This list varied little for many years and was given in the following order: Webster's Spelling Book, Murray's Grammar, Johnson's Dictionary, Scott's Lessons, English Reader, American Selections, American Reader, Columbian Orator, Daball's and Dilworth's Arithmetic. Later on a new and inexperienced board of commissioners enumerates the above list with one exception, and concludes with the information, "all of which are American selections."

The commissioners of common schools in 1819 rearranged the boundaries of the school districts of the town, and recorded these boundaries somewhat definitely. The number at that time was thirteen, but since that date the number has been changed many times and their boundaries have frequently been altered.

Of the schools of the former town of Monroe four have become union schools, having high school departments, viz: Central Valley, in February, 1895; Monroe, in December, 1896; Turner, in May, 1902, and Tuxedo, in December, 1902.

District No. 1 is the district that includes the village of Monroe. Though it contains practically the territory of District No. 1, as recorded in 1819, its boundaries have been materially changed. The Rev. D. N. Freeland says, in his history of the town of Monroe, that the first mention of a school in this neighborhood is of one held in the Presbyterian church building at Seamanville. After that a log school house was built just west of the church. The old stone school house on the road to Mombasha followed, and this in turn gave way to another built a few rods further south. In 1857 a two story building near the Presbyterian church was constructed and this was made to answer the purpose until 1884, when the building now in use (1907) was erected at a cost of $40,000. This building has now become too small and the people of the district have purchased, during the past year, a new site just north of the Episcopal chapel, containing nearly seven acres, at a cost of $5,000. They have also appropriated the sum of $40,000 for the erection of a suitable building, the foundations of which are at this time completed.

Of the persons serving the district in an official relation the following have rendered the longest continuous service: Henry Mapes, as clerk, thirty four years; George R. Conklin, trustee, twenty years; A. B. Hulse, trustee, fifteen years.

The school of District No. 1 was admitted as a member of the University of the Stare of New York December 17, 1896, having been created a union school the preceding year. The following are the names of the trustees appearing upon the certificate of admission as petitioners: Eugene McGarrah, George R. Conklin, L. H. Marvin, Solomon Fairchild.

The present board of education is: Fletcher B. Brooks, Solomon Fairchild, Millard Mapes, Frank F. Griffin, and Clarence S. Knight. In addition to the usual work of a board of education, this board has the additional responsibility of building a modern school house.


Many changes have to be recorded in the thriving village of Tumer, in the eastern part of the town of Monroe. By common consent the name has been changed from "Turners" to "Turner," and this seems to be a most reasonable change.

No longer do the trains of the Erie Railroad Company sweep majesticcally into the depot, there to stand impatiently while its hungry passengers regale themselves in that famous restaurant founded by Peter Turner. The now common, every day dining car attached to nearly every train, has crowded out that famous business. The large brick building was destroyed by fire and the restaurant moved to the wooden building on the opposite side of the track. This property is now owned by the Ramapo Mountain Realty Company, but is fast falling into decay. One end alone is used as a depot. Below the hill stands the famous grist mill which receives its power from the village pond near by. Across the street from the mill stands the old hotel of stage coach days, now renovated into a modern hotel, known as "Silver Fox Inn." This property and the farm connected therewith are owned by the Ramapo Mountain Realty Company.

The old smithy, where Cortland Rumsey's hammer caused the anvil to ring, has long since become a business house. The village blacksmith, J. B. Hallock, has built a modern shop near by and causes the same old anvils to ring as hearty and strong as ever.

The little old stone school house where our fathers learned their "three R's," is now a dwelling and a magnificent school house stands on a hill overlooking the entire village. There, four learned instructors hold forth, where a few short years ago one was sufficient.

The few rambling houses that constituted the little village of a few years ago have given way to modern dwellings and business places, constituting a thriving village of some eight hundred people; all busy and prosperous.

Surrounding the village on every hillside stand the beautiful summer homes of some wealthy New Yorkers. Among these are the homes of W. R. Barr, "Stony Wolde"; Mrs. John Brower, "Blythlea"; and the homes of E. H. Harriman, Ward Brower, Farranci Brower, Max Jagerhuber, Orrin S. Wood and William L. Strout. Where once our farmers tilled the soil beautiful lawns appear. To the east, where once hunters and trappers alone journeyed, on the highest peak of the Ramapo Mountains, rises the mansion of E. H. Harriman. Inch by inch and foot by foot this great stone structure rises into view above the trees that surround it. A railway has been hewn out of the side of the mountain and a cable railroad operates cars that hoist workmen and materials to the summit.

The village maintains two churches, a Methodist Episcopal and a Catholic. Both have excellent sanctuaries and congregations of earnest, sincere, right living people. They have done yeoman work in their territory and their influence has been widespread. Connected with the Methodist Church is a Sunday school and Epworth league.

The famous old store of Thomas Earl has been torn down and the village now has five stores. The old "Bombeetel" house still stands at the cross roads in the center of the village and now contains the village market run by J. R. Brooks.

Time has indeed dealt kindly with Turner. The latest item to be accredited her is electricity. Nightly the village streets are brilliantly lighted and business goes on as busily as by daylight. The magic current is introduced to the houses and brings light and cheerfulness to the homes.

The old village of Centerville would scarcely recognize the village of Turner, which is but the village of Centerville under a new name.

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