Growth of the Town of Clinton occurred principally in geographic centers, generally crossroads that began with a mill followed by a store, a few homes, a blacksmith shop, and possibly a church. Some of these locations, known as hamlets, survive today and are called major hamlets. Other hamlets, known as minor hamlets, existed during the early boom years of the town but declined as mills and shops vanished through competition and changing lifestyles and needs. These minor hamlets are not generally found on modern maps, but in their day contributed to the town economy and helped establish the rural environment we enjoy today.
How Clinton’s Seven Hamlets Got Their Names
Clinton’s seven hamlets are Bullshead, Clinton Corners, Clinton Hollow, Frost Mills, Hibernia, Pleasant Plains, and Schultzville. Several developed around a mill site, one grew up around a church, and others came to be simply because the site housed a store or post office or a combination of the two. Except for those named after families —for example, Frost Mills (formerly LeRoy’s Mills and still earlier, DeWitt’s Mills) and Schultzville —the reasons behind a hamlet’s name are buried in the memories of those present at the time. We do know that all the hamlets had been named by the mid-19th century.
Let’s look at Clinton Hollow. Site of James Allen’s Mill as early as 1767, the hamlet had been identified simply as the “Hollow” when the first post office was installed in 1828. Even today one can appreciate the origin of that name when one studies the nearby topography. Indeed, Clinton Hollow nests in a hollow at the base of surrounding hills though which the Little Wappingers Creek flows. When it was discovered that its post office name conflicted with other post offices named “Hollow,” such as Washington Hollow and another farther upstate, each was required to provide a distinct name —thus “Clinton Hollow.”
Pleasant Plains was the site of one of the two churches in Clinton in the 18th century. Originally the site of a Dutch Reformed Church that served the spiritual needs of the nearby German and Dutch residents, its gentle name is likely to have emerged when the Presbyterians needed to identify their new church in 1838. In the late 18th century, those responsible for maintaining the roads identified the hamlet site where several roads converged—as was once the case before the path of Quaker Lane was moved east—simply as the road (s) to “Jost Garrison’s Lane” or to “Jost Garrisons’s burying yard.” That cemetery is still on Hollow Road west of the Pleasant Plains Church.
Clinton Corners, the site where two significant 18th century roads converged, was probably named simply “The Corners” or the “Corners in Clinton” to identify the place to travelers. The two roads, now a whole lot less important than they once were, connected Clinton with two significant sites. The east-west road, now known as Salt Point Turnpike, was at an earlier stage a road to the Hudson River through Hyde Park, which at one time was a part of Clinton. The northwest-southeast road, presently known as Clinton Corners Road, was a pass-through road as early as 1718. Well before Clinton Corners received its first settler, this road connected a settlement in the present town of Dover to the Hudson River in Rhinebeck. Why Rhinebeck you may wonder? The earliest settlers in Dover were tenants of Henry Beekman who lived on the Hudson in Rhinebeck.
Speculation has it that Hibernia was named after one of the late 18th century mill owners who was Irish. Which of two non-Irish sounding names, Erwin or Smith, is not certain. A hamlet hardly known by most, even those who live in town, Hibernia was once the site of a remarkably large gristmill and sawmill known throughout Dutchess County. Established just prior to the American Revolution by a Quaker, David Arnold, it was the mill that served the Quakers who lived in the Clinton Corners area.
As to the hamlet of Bullshead, the reader is encouraged to join many, many others who have delighted in speculation about the name for well over a century. Like Hibernia, it is a hamlet often overlooked. Yet on both sides of it there were mill sites, one of which probably existed prior to the American Revolution. Traces of these mills can be seen by the educated eye if one looks closely at the terrain. In addition to the hamlets, there were other named sites in Clinton identified during the late 19th century as Lent, Rowland, Ruskey, Sleight’s Center or Corners, etc. All were sites of post offices and regarded as mini-hamlets, not much smaller than the present hamlets of Hibernia, Pleasant Plains, or Bullshead.
One of Clinton’s earliest business centers was owned and operated by John DeWitt (1752–1808) at the intersection of Hollow and Creek roads. For more than 25 years, he operated a sawmill and large gristmill (c. 1775) at this site and ran a general store (now “Toad Hall”) in this hamlet known as Frost Mills. About 1773 he built his first residence with nine slaves. This was a small house of somewhat primitive character, and a few years later he added another complete house across the north gable of the original; the two parts still contain some details of their respective dates of construction. In 1855 owner John LeRoy added a wing to the east of the main part.
John Fredrick Schultz was the captain of the Hudson River sloop Farmer in 1805 and was also in partnership with Philip Schuyler for a gristmill in Rhinebeck in 1802. In 1807 he purchased 220 acres in what is now Schultzville to build his own gristmill on the Little Wappingers Creek, which ran through his new property. He also built a residence and a store the following year. One of the earliest roads ran through or near Schultzville, providing access for many store customers traveling from Dover to Rhinebeck Landing. His son Daniel H. Schultz succeeded his father and built a sawmill next to the gristmill. His businesses prospered and in 1856 he built a large residence across from his store, which also served at the post office. In the 1850s the Schultz family donated land for the hamlet school, which still stands. In 1920 Schultzville resident John Lyons bequeathed $10,000 to build the Town Hall with the stipulation that it be built in Schultzville, the geographic center of town. However, many people were in favor of other town locations, and one petition signed by two hundred residents requested the Town Board to choose Clinton Hollow. The issue was finally settled in 1922 and the building was completed in 1924. In 1862 Theodore A. Schultz, Daniel’s son, bequeathed land and $2,000 to build the Masonic Hall, and land and $3,000 to build the Christian Alliance Church, both of which were completed in 1865.
Clinton’s Minor Hamlets
Local Clinton residents are pretty familiar with the town’s seven major hamlets that were primary early locations of families, commercial establishments, and churches. These hamlets were essential to the growth of the town, providing all or some of the needed services such as blacksmithing and other trades, gristmills and sawmills, general stores, post offices, and schools. Bull’s Head, Clinton Hollow, Frost Mills, Hibernia, and Schultzville all had prosperous mills prior to 1800. Clinton Corners and Pleasant Plains did not have mills in the hamlet proper, but appear to have grown up around an early house of worship and a busy crossroads. Not as well known are the eight minor hamlets that may have provided one or more of the above services, but not to the extent of the major hamlets. Although they were all listed on the 1858 map of Clinton, in many cases no trace exists of the original structures (such as the Slate Quarry and Ruskey post offices). However, the crossroads where these minor hamlets were located still exist—as do pockets of residences in some cases, which helped identify them as minor centers. The Clinton minor hamlets were:
Beman (or Beaman) Corners. Intersection of Centre Road and Slate Quarry Road/Bulls Head Road. The Beaman family moved here in 1826 and a blacksmith shop owned by the Beaman and Teller families ran at least until 1880.
Lent. Intersection of five roads—Seelbach Lane, Deer Ridge Drive, Rhynders Road, Fiddler’s Bridge Road, and a closed road to Brown’s Pond Road. Named for the Lent family, it had a post office (begun by Abraham S. Lent), Episcopal Church, and a blacksmith shop, all traces of which have disappeared.
Rowland. Intersection of Hollow Road and Rymph Road. This hamlet was also named after the residing family, who were not farmers but apparently had a shingle mill. The hamlet had a post office. Today the hamlet also includes the intersection of Meadowbrook Lane and Hollow Road.
Ruskey. Area between Ruskey Lane and Browning Road. The origin of “Ruskey” is unknown, but the name was attached to the post office and schoolhouse.
Slate Quarry. Area west of Silver Lake on Slate Quarry Road. The first slate quarry began in 1802 and lasted until the late 1820s, apparently failing because the slate was of inferior quality compared with competitive slate at the same price. Strangely, after serving as a 293-acre farm for the next 35 years, it was again opened as a slate quarry in 1865 but lasted only four years and closed forever as a quarry in 1869. In recent years it served as the Town of Clinton landfill. John F. Schultz operated a post office in this area in 1823. He is better known for the two hundred acres he purchased in 1807 in the hamlet now known as Schultzville, where he had a general store, gristmill, and sawmill.
Sleight’s Center. Intersection of Rhynders Road and Schoolhouse Road. There is no evidence of tradesmen in the area, and nearly all of the Sleights who lived here were farmers. It was the geographic center of the Sleight family in the town in the nineteenth century.
Sleight’s Corners. Intersection of Meadowbrook Lane with Seelbach Lane and Walnut Lane. This area was also populated by the Sleight family.
Sodom Corners. Intersection of Sodom Road, Walnut Lane, and Hollow Road. No information is available about the source of the name. It did have a blacksmith shop and several homes nearby.
(Adapted from “Hamlets” by Bill Benson, Jr., chapter in Clinton, Dutchess County, NY: A History of a Town, edited by William P. McDermott)