History of Clarkstown, NY (Part 1)
From: History of Rockland County
By: Frank Bertangue Green, M. D.
Published by: A. S. Barnes & Co., New York 1886


In the chapter relating to the transfer of land in early days, it was seen that the lower part of the Iakiat patent was sold to a party of five men, in 1716, among whom was Daniel De Clarke. De Clarke's property was divided, and parts of it sold. In one of these sales, bearing date July 16, 1764, the property is described as being at Clarke's Town. This is the first mention I find of the name. This town was separated from the town of Haverstraw, on March 18th, 1791, and was one of the four townships in existence at the time the County was erected. The boundaries of the town will be found with those of the County. The number of acres included in the new town was 24,091.

The same causes which had led the people of Haverstraw to petition for a separate town government nearly three quarters of a century before, influenced the inhabitants of the present Clarkstown and Ramapo, in 1791. Steadily had the population increased and with that increase had grown up serious objections to the distance necessary to be traveled to attend town meetings. Then too, the area of the old town of Haverstraw, was far larger than its officers could carefully attend to. The roads were bad, the demands on their time onerous and the temptation to shirk their duties, great. It was with mutual pleasure therefore that the people of the old and new towns separated.

The first minutes of a town meeting, that can now be found, read as follows: "At a Town meeting held on Thursday, the 4th day of April, 1809, by the inhabitants of Clarks Town, at the New City. Present, John I. Blauvelt, Peter D. Smith, Resolvert Stephens, Justices; Peter Stephens, moderator; John J. Wood, town clerk; Abram Snyder, supervisor; John Van Houten, Richard Blanch, Dowe Tenure, assessors; Martines J. Hogenkamp, collector, Abraham Polhamus, James Vanderbilt, poormasters; Dowe D. Tallman, Abraham Cole, Hendrick Stevens, constables; Hosman Perry, Jacob Vanderbilt, Peter D. Demarest, commissioners of highways; Abraham Storms, Isaac B. Van Houten, Samuel DeBaun, fence viewers; Abraham Storms, Isaac B. Van Houten, Samuel DeBaun, pound masters.

Road masters: Jacob Wood, John Jersey, Aurt Ramsen, Peter P. Demarest, Jr., Isaac I. Blauvelt, Henry A. Snyder, John C. Van Houten, Abraham Garrison, Thomas Ackerson, Jr., Daniel Thew, Garret Smith, Henry Stephens, Jacob Myers, Abraham D. Blauvelt, Charles Benson, Dowe Tallman, John E. Smith. William House, Adrian Onderdonk, Simon Post, John Felter, Solomon Waring, Jesse Beagle, Aury Demarest, Peter Benson, Garret T. Snedeker, Theodorus Ramsen.

To be raised for the poor $400.

Every dog that is bit by a mad dog is to be Killed Immediately; $5 fine for every 24 hours that they live afterward, the money to go for the use of the poor.

The Town Clerk is for to get a New Book for to enter the proceedings of the Town.

To be raised for Roads and Bridges $70.

The Law Respecting fishing in the Ponds with Seins Passed Last year is to stand.
Entered by JOHN J. WOOD,
Town Clerk."

The second largest town in area of the County with more tillable land than any of the others, Clarkstown, is devoted almost entirely to agriculture. No large villages are within its bounds. Until recently, all its communication with the Metropolis was by water, except in the extreme southwestern corner, and at no place on all its river front can the water be reached without crossing intervening mountains. Yet, despite these obstacles, the growth of the town has been steady though slow.

In 1800, Clarkstown had 1806 inhabitants.

In 1845, Clarkstown had 2797 inhabitants.

In 1810, " " 1996 "

In 1855, " " 3572

In 1820, " " 1808 "

In 1865, " " 4023 "

In 1825, State Census, 2075 "

In 1870, U. S. Census, 4137 "

In 1835, " " 2176 "

In 1880. " " 4382 "

As in the case of the other towns suspicion must rest on the report of 1820.


In 1774, the court house at Tappan was destroyed by fire. During the seven and forty years that Tappan had been the county seat, the section of the County north of the mountains had become well populated, while Haverstraw exceeded Orangetown in its number of residents. Fairness demanded that in the building of a new court house a more central location should be selected, and the site at New City was chosen.

The old settlers had a strong faith that at the spot where the County buildings stood, a city must of necessity spring up, so, when in 1774, it was decided to locate the court house in Clarkstown, they named the new site New City. This new city has followed the old one of Tappan in the vigor of its growth. The first hotel at New City was opened by Jabez Wood, and this was followed by one opened by Abraham Hogenkamp.

The post office at this place was established May 12th, 1815, under the name of Clarkstown, with Peter D. W. Smith as postmaster. He has been followed by: Abram Hogenkamp, December 28th, 1822; Jabez Wood, July 23d, 1839; William. H. Melick, June 30th, 1849; John H. Stephens, February 13th, 1851; A. J. Van Houten, August 7th, 1855; Alcibiades Cornelison, June 8th, 1861, and Peter De Bevoise, July 19th, 1872. The name of the office was changed to New City, July 5th, 1876.

In 1844, the Rockland County Agricultural Society was organized, and its annual exhibitions or fairs held at New City till 1875. Even this addition to its income failed to give the hamlet stronger life. In 1875, the Nanuet and New City Railroad, now owned by the New Jersey and New York Railroad, was opened, and gave the place better communication with other parts of the County and State.

The first school built at New City stood on the common, near the site of the present County Clerk's office. From there, it was moved to where the hotel known as "Kossuth's" stands, and in 1853 to its present location. A new school building was erected in 1880. At the beginning of the century, Wood had a tannery a few feet east of the "street," which was discontinued about 1825, and at a later period, members of the same family carried on a distillery on the brook west of the "street."

A little east of the main road, near the Trotting Park in New City, is an old graveyard, long disused and overgrown with brambles and ivy. Among the dates still legible are two, "1733, M. C.," and "1734, L. C.," and still a third, "1733, C. S.," bears the same early record.


When Daniel De Clarke advanced into the wilderness, which formerly occupied the soil of the present Clarkstown, and wrested from that wilderness a home, he may have felt that the spirit of justice in men in the coming years, would lead them to unhesitatingly acknowledge his courage and perseverance as the pioneer in this section, by retaining his cognomen as the name of the hamlet he settled. If such were his feelings we, his followers, fully realize that he was far from right. The township does indeed bear his name with the elision of the final letter, but the hamlet known as Clarkestown as long ago as 1764, has been renamed by the fastidious generations since and called Clarkesville, Nyack Turnpike, and now Mont Moor. The relevance of this last name, is, perhaps, known to the person who gave it.

The location of the church at this spot in 1752, gave the hamlet a definite existence, and its importance was further added to by the erection of grist and saw mills on the brook, which flows in front of the old church. Not till after the opening of the turnpike was there further business growth in the present village, and the hamlet more nearly resembled the present Orangeville than any other place. With the turnpike came a change of business centre and of life.

The first business enterprise was begun by William O'Blenis, who opened a store on the southeast corner of the pike and Sickletown road. In 1835, Samuel DeBaun was running a distillery on the opposite corner, where the hotel now stands. Five years later, the distillery was torn down to make room for the present hotel, which was built for Thomas Warner. The presence of store and tavern led to the establishment of a blacksmith at the corners, and then came the wheelwright shop.

While these changes were being made on the turnpike, a new enterprise was begun near the old church. In 1835, James Newsen utilized the water power of the brook by erecting a horse blanket and woolen factory on the site now occupied by Abram Demarest's saw mill. Its existence was brief, and by 1838, it had been abandoned. About 1840, a cooper shop was built alongside the old road to Nyack, which ran north of the swamp, by Hiram Purdy, and added to the industries of the place.

The post office was established under the name of Nyack Turnpike June 25th, 1834, with William O'Blenis as first postmaster. He was succeeded October 16th, 1852, by Samuel G. Ellsworth. Since that time the postmasters have been: John R. Ten Eyck, October 24th, 1857; Samuel G. Ellsworth, October 1st, 1858; William J. Wilcox, May 23d, 1859; James I. Lydecker, May Toth, 1861; John T. Smith, April 15th, 1872; Benjamin Smith, December 15th, 1875; and Cornelius R. Martine, September loth, 1885. On April 19th, 1880, the name of the office was changed to Mont Moor.

The district school of Clarksville, built on the site of the original edifice, which was erected toward the close of the last century, stands alongside the road from Pye's corner north to the brewery. It looks a relic of the idea, that such a building was good enough for the parents and must needs be for the children. It may be of interest to notice the long period that a school has existed at this place for a full appreciation of what I am now to relate.

This neighborhood has the doubtful honor of having been the scene of the last trial for witchcraft held in New York State, possibly the last among a so called civilized people.

The supposititious victim of demoniac power in this Clarksville case, was the widow of a Scotch physician, named Jane Kanniff, who moved into the hamlet prior to 1816, took a small house situated a few rods west of the old church on the New City road, and devoted herself to the care of her only child, a son by a previous marriage, named Lowrie.

Jane, or as she was called in the vernacular of the Clarksville people, Naut Kanniff, seems to have been exceedingly eccentric, a person who would now be regarded by alierists as insane; but her vagaries at the worst took a harmless form. She was odd in dress, preferring parti-colors of wondrous diversity, queer in the fashion of arranging her hair. She was unsocial in a neighborhood where every one knew each other; and morose or erratic when forced to meet people. With these traits and habits, she combined one other. From her deceased husband she had gathered a smattering of medicine, and now, when placed where she could get at the herbs known in her Materia Medica, she made wondrous decoctions with which she treated such as came to her for aid, and I have been informed by those who knew her, with most excellent results.

In a spot where all others were connected by ties of blood or marriage, the advent of this stranger could but create comment, and the actions of Mrs. Kanniff formed an interesting topic of conversation. Inadvertently, perhaps, her name became associated with Satanic influence and her deeds, theretofore regarded as harmless, began to assume an appearance of diablery. The distrust of Naut soon spread from their elders to the children of the neighborhood, and, when compelled to pass her house on errands, the young ones of Clarksville would scurry by with palpitating hearts and starting eyes, looking askance for some manifestation of the evil one.

It did not take a long time for Jane Kanniff to learn the belief, concerning herself, that was gaining ground and the effect of that knowledge was to aggravate her oddities.

There seems to have been no one act of monstrous import that provoked the trial, but rather a culmination of suspected misdoings. The house wives of the locality found great difficulty in making their churnings "come-off" well, and two or three averred that upon emptying their churns they had discovered the form of a horseshoe plainly ourned in the bottom. A worthy member of the church after passing a sleepless night, distracted by the lowing of his cattle, found, on visiting his farm yard in the morning, the best milker of the herd standing in a farm wagon. From that hour she is said to have yielded no milk.

Circumstances such as these, were of grave character in a God fearing peaceful community. It seems not to have occurred to these intelligent citizens that perhaps heat applied to the milk to aid the churning, and the known proclivity of the domestic dog to chase cattle; might have been factors in these events. They sought a preternatural cause, and fixed on the baleful influence of Naut Kanniff. It was determined that she should be tried for witchcraft.

A shrewd suspicion probably, that not only would no legally appointed judge listen for a moment to such a charge, but also that those who made it would become a public laughing stock; led the worthy people to take the law in their own hands; and from similar considerations they forbore mentioning their determination to their dominie. But the desire for justice was uppermost in their minds, and only reputable citizens were permitted to act in the matter. The choice for judge resulted in the selection of the resident physician and the jury was composed of the farmers in the neighborhood.

It may occur to the reader as it has to the writer, that the occupation of the practice of medicine might unfit a man from acting impartially as a judge in this case, the more especially because the accused interfered with that occupation by her treatment of disease. Such an idea however seems not to have entered the minds of her neighbors.

The place selected for the trial was an old mill, which stood on the site of the present mill, just south of Pye's Corner. The mode of trial was by balance. The suspected woman was brought to the mill, was seated in one dish of the big mill scale, and held till a board covered, brass bound Dutch Bible was placed in the opposite dish. If, in the test which was to follow, the Bible outweighed the woman, it would be conclusive evidence that she was in league with the evil one. If to the contrary, she raised the Bible, it was equally conclusive she was innocent. It is with regret I have to record that Mrs. Kanniff outweighed the Bible, sending it to the ceiling with a mighty bound; a regret which will be indulged by others, who, with a curiosity equal to my own, would much cared to have seen what the gentle men present would have done had the Holy Book sent the woman to the beam.


In 1711, John Slaughter bought a tract of land in the Clove, at the present Rockland Lake, and built a landing which bore his name till changed by Barmore, Felter & Co., in 1835. Up to that time, the lake and the country about it was called the "Pond," Quaspeck having been lost or abandoned.

Until the genesis of the ice business, this spot was but an outlet for the back country, and held the same position, as a landing, as Snedeker's, Sneden's, Huyler's. The introduction of one form of business called for the establishment of others. A hotel became a necessity, as soon as the ice company had settled its plant, and that at the landing, now controlled by James Ackerson, was built by Barmore & Leonard in 1839. The first landlord was Captain Isaac Cook. In 1844, Thomas Ackerson took charge of this hostelry, and retained it till his death in 1883.

A year after the building of the hotel at the landing, in 1840, A. P, Stephens, later Member of Congress, built and opened the first store at Rockland Lake. At a later period this store passed into the possession of L. F. Fitch, and finally, in 1860, was turned into a hotel. It is now occupied by Walter Ackerson.

I have already spoken of the fierce competition for the control of the ice at Rockland Lake, which followed the organization of Barmore, Leonard & Co., in the chapter devoted to the business interests of the County; and then stated that this company purchased the landing. Prevented by their ownership from using the old dock, Cheeseman and Andrus built the lower dock, now used by Miranda's stone crusher, in 1841. Upon their removal from the Lake, this dock ceased to be of use for many years.

Influenced by the prospect of future growth, E E. and J. L. Conklin started a wheelwright and blacksmith shop at the Lake in 1842. This firm at once took charge of the manufacture and repair of all the ice wagons and tools of Barmore, Leonard & Co., a business they retained till 1856, when the construction and repair shops of the Knickerbocker Company were erected in New York City. From that time, most of the work of the Knickerbocker Company was done in the city, but the Conklin brothers continued their business till the death of J. L. Conklin in 1864, when the shops were closed.

In 1850, Francis Powley built the marine railway at Rockland Lake for Barmier, Leonard & Co., who used it for the construction and repair of the vessels engaged in their business. At first, this ship yard was under the management of John G. and Henry Perry, who conducted it for a few years, when George Dickey took charge of it. He carried it on till his death. Since that time, nothing has been done, and the yard has disappeared.

In 1872, John Mansfield established a stone crusher at the lower landing, and carried on the industry for a short time, when the plant was bought by M. M. Miranda. Under his charge, the business has increased till at present it ranks among the important industries of our County. Four crushers are worked from April till December in each year; an average of from 75 to 90 vessel loads of crushed stone are shipped annually, and employment is given to from 25 to 65 men, according to the season, and the demand for the product.

In 1873, James W. Smith obtained the grove now known, as Sylvan Grove, and fitted it up as a resort for pleasure parties.

The post office at Rockland Lake was established March loth, 1842, with Thomas J. Wilcox as first postmaster. In 1845, he was succeeded by A. P. Stephens, who held the office till Feb. 8th, 1850, when he was followed by Leonard F. Fitch. Sept. f6th, 1853, E. E. Conklin became postmaster and he has been succeeded by Austin T. Fitch, May 23d, 1859 and Thomas H. Woodcock, Feb. 16th, 1864.

The Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company of Rockland Lake was organized May 25th, 1861, with William Hoffman, Foreman; J. L. Conklin, Assistant Foreman. Several severe fires have occurred at the Lake. In 1841, the icehouse at "Stony Point" was burned; in 1863, another icehouse was destroyed by fire, and in 7879, still a third was consumed. After the Knickerbocker Co. was organized a shed was built over the dock at the Hudson on the river face of which was the painting of a gigantic man clad in Knickerbocker costume. This shed caught fire in 1870 and was utterly destroyed.

The first school in this village was held in a building belonging to John Smith, which stood on the lake side of the road opposite the property now owned by Sorrel. Tradition has it that the building had been used by Smith as quarters for his slaves and that he manumitted his bond people and gave their foretime home for the purpose of a school and meeting house. On March 19th, 1812, Hercules Ryder gave to Daniel Brady, George Myers and Samuel De Baun as trustees of the Union school house, a lot of land at the location of the present school house on the road near Valley Cottage. Among the teachers in this school was Moses G. Leonard, who wielded the ferule in 1828. The present school building was erected in 1861.

The first public school in the village was opened in a building erected on a site given by Mr. Wells for that purpose, in 1835. This building, now used as a dwelling, stands opposite the present school house. The present house was built in 1850, on land given by John D. Ascough. George M. Dennett, Thomas I Wilcox, and E. E. Conklin being elected trustees for that year.

On October 13th, 1853, it was decided to make a free school district of the one at the Lake according to a Legislative Act for the establishment of Union Free Schools passed in 1852. This school continued free until January 1st, 1857, when, in accordance with a decision reached on Jan. 17th, 1856, the free school system was abolished in the district.

[Continued in CLarkstown History part 2.] [ALso see Rampo and Stony Point.]

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