History is told in many different ways and we offer three ways of becoming familiar with the Town of Clinton: a chronology of the town’s formation, a brief formal history extracted from the Town’s 2012 Comprehensive Plan, and a charming series of essays on local history published by the Upton Lake Grange in 1959.
Enjoy our town as you enjoy our history.
Adapted from Clifford Buck, “A Bicentennial Review”
November 1, 1683 Dutchess County is one of 12 counties organized by the Province of New York. May 27, 1697 Nine Partners Patent land grant issued to nine English landholders following negotiation with “native Indian proprietors” of central Dutchess County. 1717–1718 Dutchess County divided into three wards: North, Middle, and South. Present-day Clinton straddled the boundary between North and Middle, which was just below Staatsburg and went east approximately on the present Stanford–Washington line. December 16, 1737 Dutchess County divided into precincts. Present-day Clinton is part of the Great Nine Partners Precinct. April 4, 1738 The Precinct name changed to the Crum Elbow Precinct. This included the present towns of Hyde Park, Pleasant Valley, Clinton, Washington, Stanford, and a bit of North East. March 20, 1762 Crum Elbow divided into the Charlotte and Amenia Precincts. March 13, 1786 Name changed to the Clinton Precinct in honor of Gov. George Clinton and formed from the Charlotte and Rhinebeck Precincts. There were 66,000 acres and a population of 4,607. April 4, 1786 First precinct meeting held at the home of Dave Knapp. March 7, 1788 Clinton Precinct becomes the Town of Clinton. April 7, 1789 First town meeting held at the home of Jonathan Owen. March 12, 1793 The Town of Stanford created out of part of Clinton. January 26, 1821 Hyde Park and Pleasant Valley created as separate from Town of Clinton, establishing present boundaries.
HISTORY OF CLINTON
Named for George Clinton, Founding Father and the first and longest serving governor of New York State, the Town of Clinton was established in 1786. The area was settled earlier and named for Charlotte, the consort of George III. Included within its boundaries were the present towns of Hyde Park and Pleasant Valley. However, the following information refers only to those events that occurred within the present boundaries of the town.
When 27-year old Arie Buys and his young family left Rhinebeck in 1744 to follow a trail through the wilderness to a clearing near the present hamlet of Schultzville, he knew he was not alone. Four miles southwest, near the present hamlets of Frost Mills and Pleasant Plains, the Van Dyck and Williams families had settled five years earlier. He knew them (his family and theirs attended religious services at the Dutch Reformed Church in Rhinebeck) but he did not know Joseph Hicks, the Presbyterian Englishman who had brought his family from New York to settle near the present hamlet of Clinton Corners.
These four families had dealt directly with the Nine Partners Company, the owners of a 145,000-acre tract of land that had been awarded to nine residents of New York City in 1697. Roughly rectangular, the land reached from the Hudson River to the Connecticut line. Only a small portion of the tract along the Hudson River was divided for settlement in 1699. Further interest in the remainder of this tract—called the Nine Partners Patent—was not evident until 1734. At that time the partnership divided the tract for settlement.
The four earliest families struck different deals with the Nine Partners Company. The Van Dyck and Williams families purchased one thousand acres to divide between themselves and their growing families. Joseph Hicks purchased a farm of about 360 acres. But Arie Buys, whose family members were tenant farmers, leased his land from its owner David Johnson, grandson of one of the original patentees. Although unintended, these land transactions were the model for the early settlement pattern in Clinton. Dutch families like the Van Dycks, Williams, and Buys, joined immediately by German Palatines, would settle the western and northern sections of the town, while the English would settle the southern and eastern sections of the town. While some land would be acquired in large units for subdivision by a few investors, most lots would be purchased by individuals in 100- to 200-acre parcels—enough for a single family to farm. A small number of families would, like Arie Buys, lease land.
Among those who leased land were farmers from the Palatine German immigration. An estimated four thousand Palatines landed in New York starting in 1709. Some of the earliest families moved to settlements in Germantown, and from there to Rhinebeck and then into northwestern Clinton. Hardworking people who were looking for peace from the warfare and famine of Europe, they worked as tenant farmers. After St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was built on Wurtemburg Road in Rhinebeck in 1759, the census and church records show that many families from northwestern Clinton attended this church. Church records show the names of Traver, Crapser, Eckert, Cookingham, Schultz, Sleight, Rickert, and many others from the Palatine community. Records show that before 1759 settlers worshipped in a small church or private home on Primrose Hill Road in Rhinebeck, near the boundary with Clinton. The 1867 map shows that many landowners in northwestern Clinton were of Palatine heritage. In that year Mountain View and Stonehouse roads had nine families named Traver.
Recent research reveals that these settlers were people of determination whose survival in difficult circumstances showed fortitude. Tribute to their perseverance and hard work endures in old Clinton homes built of stone, hand-hewn timbers, and mud, some of which may date to the middle 1700s. There are currently four “Dutch” barns, which may have been constructed by Palatine settlers in northwestern Clinton. These structures are tributes to the enduring craftsmanship of the Palatine community.
Access to Clinton until 1750 was limited to a wagon road near the present Route 9G from Rhinebeck to the hamlet of Frost Mills, and another which crossed diagonally from Rhinebeck to Clinton Corners and beyond. Because of this limited access, the fifty or so families who came to settle in Clinton by the late 1750s clustered near these roads. Services such as churches, gristmills and sawmills, a general store, and even the “town” meeting place were all located beyond Clinton’s boundaries. The southern portion of town, then as now, was oriented toward the emerging commercial settlement of Pleasant Valley; settlers more northerly continued to seek services located in Rhinebeck.
In 1662 Adrian Gerritson Van Vliet, with his wife and five children, emigrated from Holland and purchased land in what is now Kingston. In 1740 grandsons of Adrian, Aurie, and Gerritje Van Vliet purchased 760 acres from the Nine Partners patent holders and developed farms in what would become Pleasant Plains. Richard Van Vliet, a descendent of Adrian, continued farming on that land until the 1980s. His sister Helena Van Vliet became a missionary nurse in China And Worked at Vassar Hospital until her retirement in 1963.
Early settlers followed waterways for the obvious benefit to their agricultural enterprises. They also established mills with waterwheels on many larger creeks and small tributaries. In the mid- 1750s the first known commercial enterprise, a fulling mill for the production of wool cloth, was constructed on the Wappinger Creek near the present hamlet of Hibernia. Evidence exists for the presence of seventeen mills in Clinton, established to grind grain, saw wood, process wool, and produce cider. In Frost Mills there were two mills on a tributary of the Crum Elbow Creek, and in Pleasant Plains the 1867 map indicates a shingle mill. Schultzville and Clinton Hollow each had two mills on the Little Wappinger Creek. Mills were established wherever a flow of water and change in elevation allowed for water pressure, even if only on a seasonal basis.
Enterprising settlers used mills close to their farms to accomplish necessary processing of agriculture products and milling timber for the construction of their homes and barns. In the mid-18th century, the first road into interior Clinton—from Frost Mills to the present hamlet of Clinton Hollow—was constructed to provide access to a large tract owned by Petrus Edmundus Elmendorf, a land speculator.
The following two decades brought many changes to Clinton. Newly opened roads into Clinton’s interior provided access to its fertile land to families from overpopulated New England searching for farms on which they could support their growing families. Among these were a significant number of Quaker families who clustered near Clinton Corners. Roads were also conduits for commercial traffic. Agricultural production—principally wheat—was brought to Clinton’s new grist mills at Clinton Hollow and Hibernia, after which it traveled to Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie to be loaded onto sloops for its trip down the Hudson River. Despite the emerging number of mills and a few craftsmen who provided services such as blacksmithing, cooperage, shoemaking, and house building, Clinton residents attended church outside of town and purchased goods in Pleasant Valley and Rhinebeck until the American Revolution.
Yet services needed within the town were not overlooked. A bridge spanning the Little Wappinger Creek near Arie Buys was constructed in the mid-1760s, and another was constructed over the Wappinger Creek near Hibernia. The dead were buried in “Yous Gerrison’s” and “Vanfleats Buring Yard” near Pleasant Plains after 1765. Before 1770 children attended the “School House by Yose Garisons Corner” (near the present Pleasant Plains Presbyterian Church). Children in the southeastern portion of town walked to Salt Point to attend school. Also, laws to protect property were implemented. An eight-shilling penalty was imposed on farmers who permitted their “Rambs” to run “at large” after 1766. By 1775 approximately 125 families made Clinton their home. The colonial period ended with Clinton affirming on April 7, 1775 its allegiance to British rule by voting against (250 to 35) a proposal that in essence supported the formation of a confederation of colonies separate from Great Britain.
1776 – 1830
The influence of popular mill owner and former “town” supervisor Cornelius Humphrey was not enough to influence people in Clinton to be disloyal in 1775. The threat of armed conflict by Tories gathered at
Washington Hollow in July 1776 stimulated the residents to action. When it became known that supervisor James Smith, Esq., and others in the local government supported the Tory action, every incumbent was voted out of office in the 1777 election. A new slate led by Ezra Thompson, who publicly favored separating from Britain, was elected.
The war that followed the Declaration of Independence had its casualties on the battlefield and at home. Lt. Jonah Wickes was killed in 1782. The new storekeeper in Clinton Corners, Abel Peters, was arrested. Richbell Williams, descendant of the earliest settler, and Timothy Doughty, both from the Frost Mills–Pleasant Plains area, were imprisoned for their support of the British. And Henry Sleight was arrested in July 1778 for “unlawfully, Maliciously and Wickedly” harboring one Johannis Waltemeyer, a Dutchess County resident who was recruiting for the British army. Quakers were arrested because their conscientious objection to war resulted in their refusal to serve in the militia. Grain, cows, wagons, and horses were taken by the patriots from farmers to support the American army.
In 1777 Quakers began to build the first house of worship constructed in Clinton Corners. A new schoolhouse was built between Clinton Corners and Salt Point before 1783. And Presbyterians and members of the Dutch Reformed Church who lived near Pleasant Plains began to build their church the following year in 1784. That year friends mourned the death of an early resident, Arie Buys, a successful farmer who lived in Schultzville for forty years.
In the land division of 1762, Clinton had been placed in the precinct of Charlotte. By 1786 Charlotte’s population had increased significantly. As a result, it was divided into the towns of Clinton (consisting of Clinton, Hyde Park, and Pleasant Valley) and Washington (consisting of Washington and Stanford) to bring the services of local government closer to the people. By 1790, 250 families lived in the present town of Clinton. Walking through the town in that year, one would have seen prosperity. Mills, old and new ones, and the general stores were prosperous again following the period of inflation during the war and the depression after it. The increase in the number of school age children required several additional schoolhouses. Clinton’s people were young; in 1800 the average age of its residents was under 16 years.
Town supervisor John De Witt, the mill owner from Frost Mills who was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention held in Poughkeepsie twelve years earlier, had seven children under 16 years. And crowded into the household of Cornelius Van Vliet were thirteen people, nine of whom were children. But the proverbial family of twelve children was a myth; the typical family had seven members.
But Clinton residents were on the move. In 1800, ten years after the first census, fewer than half the residents had remained in town. A few had died but many families were moving west. By 1801 only about 60 percent of the town residents owned farms; 10 percent were merchants or craftsman, and the remaining 30 percent were tenants employed as farm help or were adult children with families living on their parents’ farm. Thirty years later Clinton’s population had risen to an all-time high of 2,130 residents—a number it would not see again until more than half of the 20th century had passed. It had become large enough by 1821 for Hyde Park and Pleasant Valley to be separated from it. By 1830 Clinton had become a fully settled and mature town. Very few new roads were added after 1795 and land had been completely divided until the median size farm was 120 acres. Little acreage was available for offspring of residents to begin new farms. This, together with an oversupply of labor compared with the amount of work available, required many to leave the town.
Manufacturing, which had never developed into large mills or industrial sites, increased a little during the last decade of the 18th century and the first decade of the 19th century. North of Clinton Corners, two small manufacturers were active before 1800. Edward Underhill made nails that he exported to Poughkeepsie and New York City, and Zodack Southwick operated a tanning business. Several small carding mills for the manufacture of cloth had opened by the 1820s, the largest one near Bulls Head, to complement the several existing fulling mills. These establishments employed a few residents, but still there was not enough work for all. The decline in Clinton’s population that began after 1830 became even more apparent in the years to follow.
1830 – 1900
Gradually, but especially after 1821, Clinton moved from the simple agricultural community it had been since its inception to a town with a more diversified economy, though on a small scale. By 1835 Dorman Olivet became the full-time blacksmith at Clinton Corners. Other craftsmen settled around the mills already well established in Clinton Hollow, Frost Mills, Hibernia, and Schultzville. Before 1830 Russel Abbey, a carpenter who may also have manufactured coffins, had established his full-time business in Clinton Hollow. Not far away James Thorn had opened the first post office in 1822. These service centers, most with a mill, general store, blacksmith shop, and a variety of other craftsmen, became the seven hamlets that still exist.
Growth of the service sector of the economy accounts in part for the striking increase in the number of families in town during the 19th century, despite the sharp decline in population. The number of residents in Clinton declined from 2,130 people in 1830 to 1,691 in 1875, but the number of taxpayers actually increased from 236 to 389. Also, the number of families who lived on parcels of land under 25 acres increased sharply, as did the number of families who lived on small house lots. The open rural character of the Clinton landscape steadily changed. By the end of the 19th century, pockets of more densely developed areas around the hamlets were more in evidence. Yet the number of people continued to decline; by 1900 only 1,400 residents remained.
During the first half of the 19th century, Clinton became more self-sufficient; more and more services were provided within the town. But the locus of economic transactions, at one time the storekeeper or large mill owner, began to change by the third quarter of the century. Access to more distant commercial centers such as Poughkeepsie was easier with the coming of the railroad in 1870 to Clinton Corners. For some merchants the railroad provided an additional opportunity for commercial growth. Flour and gristmills owned by the Frost family in Frost Mills, the Schultz family in Schultzville, and the Marquart family and its successors in Clinton Hollow prospered, but the mill at Hibernia—once among the largest in Dutchess County—continued to struggle even after the railroad’s arrival. By 1880 only the mill at Frost Mills, having kept up with the change in technology, continued to prosper. The advances in technology during the 19th century that benefited the Frost family brought decline to many businesses.
Fulling mills and carding mills had closed their doors by the middle of the century. Their work was done more cheaply and more quickly in the growing industrial centers. Even the smallest industries in town succumbed to the advances in urbanized industrial centers. Smith Doughty, the shoemaker in Hibernia for twenty-five years, had to give up his trade in 1865. As he approached his sixtieth birthday in 1880, he again identified himself as a shoemaker. However, this time he was not making shoes but repairing them; ready-made shoes from Poughkeepsie and other industrialized urban areas had been available for almost a quarter-century.
Other changes can be seen in the architecture of the homes constructed throughout the period. While most of the architecture was vernacular, the influences of the higher styles imported from urban areas was evident. Homes reflected the Federal and Greek Revival styles in the early period, and as the century aged homes took on the Victorian rooflines and gingerbread trim, whether renovated or newly built. Yet few homes were built in the grand style. Instead residents embellished simpler homes with high-style elements.
Perhaps the most significant change was in the primary enterprise, agriculture. While the size of farms remained essentially the same, the number of acres cultivated gradually grew from the average of 10–15 acres to about 20–30 acres. In part, this was the result of steady clearing of forest land, but the increased interest in commercial farming also contributed to the change.
Two-bay and three-bay Dutch and English barns used for threshing grains were constructed during early settlement years. Additionally, the high prices for agricultural products in the 1820s and 1830s encouraged production. Also, during this period, the kind of crops that were planted changed. Wheat, a mainstay crop during the early years, declined and finally all but disappeared. Pestilence and disease endemic to the wheat crop, as well as soil depletion, had taken their toll by 1845. A gradual shift to dairy farming and raising pigs and cattle stimulated an increase in crops such as corn, hay, rye, and other grains. Beef and pork became important cash products. But the principal dairy product was butter for much of this period; milk production for sale as fluid milk developed in the last quarter of the century.
During this time large dairy barns were constructed, reflecting the changed agricultural economy. Wool from 6,400 sheep made a small contribution to the family income, until it too declined by mid-century.
During most of the 19th century, 80 percent of Clinton’s landscape was cultivated—in pasture or in meadow—reflecting its agrarian economy.
1900 – Present
The final decades of the 19th century had brought many changes to Clinton. Telegraph and telephone lines had been constructed. Mass-produced items including canned foods appeared at the country store.
Also, technological changes made planting and harvesting equipment more available, though the source of power continued to be the horse. Electricity and other advances, long available in urban areas, reached Clinton in the 1930s. The automobile soon followed.
But one need not see the transition into the new century as particularly dramatic or abrupt. For example, during the early decades refrigeration was still provided by ice harvested from local ponds or the Hudson River. Vegetables, mostly home grown, were still kept in a root cellar. And heat was still produced from wood from the “wood lot,” though coal was used more frequently in some homes. Certainly, some of the labor-intensive work on the farm had been relieved by new inventions, but the power supply was still the human arm. Many of these tools, such as corn shellers, could be purchased in the local store. A consumer-oriented economy had arrived. Items such as clothespins, spectacles, watch keys, cigar holders, canary seed, chocolate, and even invisible ink could be purchased in the hamlets.
But Clinton, despite all these changes, retained its parochial character. The wildcat shot by Herman Lane near Clinton Corners and the public admonishment of those who attended a party on Christmas Eve was local news printed in Poughkeepsie newspapers. The decline in population, which began after 1830, continued well into the 20th century. By 1925 fewer than 1,200 people lived in Clinton and by World War II, Clinton hit its modern low of 1,100 residents. Curiously, the number of residents was half what it had been a century earlier, but by the 1930s there was twice the number of families. Obviously, the number of children in the average family had declined sharply, even before the Depression of the 1930s imposed limits on the size of families. And the number of families who lived on small lots had almost doubled from 62 in 1850 to 115 in 1915.
An increasing number of families supported themselves in non-farm occupations. New occupations such as barber, insurance agent, cigar maker, railroad station keeper, and track worker appeared. Craftsmen all but disappeared. Only three blacksmiths served the town in 1925, when there had been fifteen in 1900. By 1930 Ella Smith, the “chief telephone operator” in Clinton Corners, relayed the news that the last physician to practice in town, Dr. Edwin Hoyt, had passed away. More and more breadwinners found employment outside of town. At first the railroad, which had taken some of them out of town to high school, carried them to their occupations. Later the automobile served that purpose.
Agriculture, still the economic base of the town, continued to change. The average 100-acre farm gradually moved to producing fluid milk for distant markets. By the 1940s and 1950s, milk became almost the sole source of farm income. The tractor, which appeared in the 1930s, together with refrigeration on the farm and in transport trucks and railroads, made it possible to increase the amount of milk produced. Yet the number of farms continued to decline. Many individuals, often residents of New York City, began in the 1930s and 1940s to purchase farms for weekend retreats. A few continued farming through a farm manager. The decline continued into the 1950s and beyond. But the principal reason for the decline of the family farm was the rising value of land and the associated increase in property taxes. In an enterprise that provided only a marginal income, the increase in costs and the prospect of income from the sale of land were, for many farmers, conditions too realistic to ignore. Land values increased as the number of people enticed to Dutchess County by growing industry, particularly IBM, increased. Farmland was needed to provide housing for the growing population.
At the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, pasture land has been increasingly used to farm horses, cattle, and sheep, with horse farms making up the predominant agricultural land use. Clinton horse farms produce winners at the thoroughbred racetrack and in the dressage show ring. Breeding, raising, and training horses, and growing hay to feed the horses, have kept many farms in active agricultural production. Several cattle farms sell grass-fed beef, and one farm markets grass-fed lamb to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. One farm sells free-range chicken meat in New York City farmer’s’ markets. Three local greenhouse businesses sell plants to local markets and to the farmers’ markets in New York City. With energy costs increasing, more residents are seeking locally grown food, in preference to food grown and shipped from a distance.
Access to Clinton from Poughkeepsie and even more distant urban areas improved during the 1950s and 1960s, when the roads were widened and resurfaced with oil and stone. Principal roads like the Taconic State Parkway and the asphalt-surfaced Salt Point Turnpike, Hollow Road, and Route 9G encouraged population growth. At present there are almost four times as many residents living in Clinton as had been the case in 1940. Yet this growth did not reverse the decline in the number of schools in town, nor in the number of post offices.
Centralized school districts, a trend that began in the 1940s, finally closed all eleven of Clinton’s one-room schools. Now Clinton’s children leave town every day to attend schools located in neighboring towns. The one remaining post office, compared with the eleven that were present in 1900, attests to the continuing trend toward consolidation of services. Despite this trend, Clinton has not yet witnessed the building of a shopping mall, water is still provided by a well on each homeowner’s property, and septic fields continue to dispose waste. In the face of all the changes, the rural character of the town persists.
Recent economic downturns, with the IBM plant in Kingston closing in 1995 causing the loss of 7,500 jobs, have affected the economy of Clinton. The national recession of 2008 also impacted the local employment and real estate markets. However, electronic innovation has allowed many Clinton residents to work from home using computers; others commute to more urban and suburban areas to the south. The town is increasingly attractive to new residents, second homeowners, and vacationers who appreciate the town’s rural, natural, and historic resources.
(Adapted from A Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Clinton, Chapter 2, “Historic Preservation, 2012”)