History (Village)

Saugerties Parade - Ulster Avenue - 1900
Photographer Unknown
A Brief History of Saugerties:

Purchase from the Indians

On April 27, 1677, New York's Governor Andros signed an agreement with the Esopus Indian Kaelcop, chief of the Amorgarickakan family, to purchase "a place called Sagiers" for a blanket, a piece of cloth, a shirt, a loaf of bread, and some coarse fiber to make socks.

The Little Sawyer

The northern boundary was roughly identified with a stream called the Sawyer's Kill, where a Dutchman named Barent Cornelis Volge operated a sawmill in the 1650s for the manor of Rensselaerswick The name Saugerties means "Little Sawyer" in Dutch, apparently a reference to Volge. Volge probably left the area at the outbreak of the first Esopus War in 1658. Myndert Mynderse also may have had a sawmill or farm overlooking the river in the mid-17th century.

George Meals and Richard Hayes (one from Kingston, the other from Albany, and both in government service) purchased three parcels that form the heart of Saugerties, starting in 1685. One was the Sawyerkill lands, the second the Beaverkill area that included the modern Winston Farm, and the third comprised both sides of the Esopus where it entered the Hudson River. Within two years, they sold the riverfront land to Barent Burhans, a miller whose granddaughter's husband, John Brink Jr., established a ferry across the river to Clermont, the seat of the Lower Livingston Manor. The lands between the Meals and Hayes purchases were part of the Lower Manor's land claims on the western side of the river.


Tolls and Lumber


Prior to 1712 the main business interest in Saugerties was farming. John Woods (1717) and John Persen (1712) were two early mill owners and there are indications that others leased mill sites on the banks of the Esopus at its first and second falls. The mills proliferated to accommodate timber being harvested from the land new settlers were clearing. Surplus boards were an easy product to ship out by river.



Landmark Buildings


Some of the more prosperous early settlers began to build stone houses in Saugerties. The Mynderse House on the river was built by John Persen around 1685 and Persen built an early grist mill and sawmill in the area and ran a ferry across the river.


The Kiersted House on Main Street (1727) was built by Hiskia DuBois. Deeds from John Wood's sons to John Legg and Abraham DuBois mention the "Negro Mill" as a landmark indicating early presence of blacks in the community.


The Katsbaan area northeast of the village was settled before 1730 by Dutch farmers from the Kingson Commons and Palatines from the "Camps" along the river in Saugerties. By 1732 the Palatine and Dutch settlers petitioned to deed Katsbaan to the Dutch Reformed Church and build a stone church. This church still stands today. It became a landmark on Colonial American maps along with centers of population.


Revolutionary War & the Industrial Revolution

Saugerties citizens were active in the Revolutionary War and made important contributions to the Industrial Revolution. A general store on Main Street was the site of an Articles of Association meeting during the early troubles with Great Britain. Adam Wolven was a militia captain whose farm (called Stroomzeit in the 20th century) was burned by the British in 1777. Benjamin Snyder had a general store in Churchland that was a center of patriot activity, and some of his sloops were burned in Saugerties harbor in 1777 as well.

Both the puddling process for making iron and the first Fourdrinier endless wireweb paper-making machine were introduced into America at Saugerties in 1828. In 1832, bluestone was quarried for the first time commercially in nearby Toodlum (now Veteran), a powder mill established on Fish Creek, and the white lead paint manufactory established on the Esopus at Saugerties. Both the powder and paint manufactories went on to become the largest in the world after leaving Saugerties.


Entrepreneur Henry Barclay


As late as 1811 the hamlet of Saugerties contained only 21 houses. In 1828, Henry Barclay sparked the expansion of the community by establishing the Ulster Iron Works and a paper mill.


Mr. Barclay had journeyed to Saugerties in conjunction with the ceremonies for the opening of the Erie Canal. Barclay determined to build a planned industrial community and formed a partnership with Robert L. Livingston to develop water-powered industries on the Esopus Creek.


In 1828, Barclay hired John Simmons of Deepfield, Straffordshire, England to manage his new iron works. Mr. Simmons developed the double-puddling process, hoop-making and the cold-rolling processes here in Saugerties. Henry Barclay also oversaw the creation of the Village of Ulster (modern Saugerties) and served as its first president.


Nineteenth Century Saw Changes in Employment/Manufacturing


The village grew quickly and in 1831 incorporated under the name of Ulster, changing the name to Saugerties in 1855. Before the Civil War the iron works processed pig iron and scrap and employed three hundred people working round-the-clock shifts. Manufacture of paper, calico prints, white lead and paint, and shipment of hides and bluestone helped support the community and created a busy business district. Typical nineteenth century tradesmen lined the streets above the docks and mills. When the early industries failed after mid-century, paper, brick making, gunpowder, farm goods, river ice, and especially bluestone from area quarries replaced them.


Two thousand men were employed at one time in quarrying, dressing and shipping about one and a half million dollars' worth of bluestone annually from Glasco, Malden and Saugerties. The bluestone was used for curbing and paving, crosswalks, door sills and window sills and much of it found its way to New York City. The Ulster White Lead company at Glenerie at one time employed forty men, and produced nine hundred tons of paint each year.


The Village population stabilized at about 4,000 around 1870 after forty years of sharp increase and remained almost unchanged for one hundred years. Irish, Germans established themselves as workers in the mills, quarries, and brickyards as well as in the village. Later in the nineteenth century Saugerties became a popular landing and hostelry for tourists going to boarding houses in the Catskill Mountain foothills.


Its location on the Hudson made Saugerties ideal for harvesting ice from the river. The ice industry thrived during the 1880s and early 1900s. Ice houses were located in Glasco and Malden.


The brick industry grew in the 1880s when Washburn Brothers and the Empire State Brick Company opened their brickyards. Later the Staples and Hutton Brickyards were established.



Electricity Comes to Saugerties


On February 7, 1891 the Electric Light and Power company of Saugerties turned on the electricity for the first time. Saugerties village had electricity for four decades before electification came to the rest of the town under Franklin Roosevelt's administration.





In the late 1800s entertainment centered around home and community. Ice skating on the Esopus Creek and Hudson River, boating, fishing, sleigh riding and biking were popular pastimes. Church suppers and bazaars were also popular. Winter activities included riding and athletic events on the frozen Esopus Creek as well as visits by traveling acrobats, thespians, and orators.

The Orpheum Theater, built by John C. Davis in 1908, was a center for vaudeville acts and movies. The building was also used for rollerskating and basketball. The Bijou Theater on Main Street showed nickelodian movies and the Opera House, now the site of M&T Bank, offered stage productions and classical performances. Public dances were held there, and at the Seamon building, which is now the Saugerties Furniture Mart. Vaudeville gave way to the movies in the 1930s and the Orpheum became the only movie house in town.


The Martin Cantine Paper Company

The process of manufacturing coated papers was perfected by the Martin Cantine Paper Company of Saugerties. The quality of its paper was recognized the world over. The product became known as the "Tiffany of the Trade". In 1903 the company took over the Ulster Iron Works property at the falls in the Village of Saugerties. From 1888 until 1968 the Cantine Company was one of the major industries in Saugerties. The Cantine Recreation Complex was donated to the town by the Martin Canine.


Water-Based Industry

The Hudson River was the major water route from the interior of North America. Saugerties became a busy port for passenger and commercial boats. The C. Vanderbilt was the first steamboat to ply the waters between Saugerties and New York City. By 1830 the village warranted a steamboat line - a night boat for freight and one for passengers to New York City. The steamboat Ansonia (later called the Robert A. Snyder) began its service in 1865 and remained on the Hudson for sixty-five years. The Saugerties and New York Steamboat Company was incorporated on January 29, 1889 by Henry L. Finger, Robert A. Snyder, James and William Maxwell, and John and George Seamon. The Shenandoah, renamed the Saugerties in 1889, and the Ida, were also major steamboats from Saugerties.


The Saugerties caught fire at the dock one evening and was towed to Lighthouse Cove, where remnants can still be seen at low tide. Rumors about an untapped cask of rum sent many a thirsty explorer into its depths over the years.

After river traffic declined in the 1930s the steamboat dock facilities were taken over by Cornelius Lynch and it was run (known locally) as Lynch's Marina.  In December 2015, Tom Struzzieri purchased the facilities.   Mr. Struzzieri, President and CEO of HITS, Inc. (a special events management company primarily focused on producing hunter/jumper horse shows including shows held in Saugerties) plans to develop Lynch’s Marina into a commercial center that will give residents and visitors a chance to experience the Esopus Creek and Hudson River in a new way.  The first 2 parts of this new commecial center are the Saugerties Steamboat Company and Saugerties Harbor Restaurant.


Rail and Ice Sleigh Transportation

Railroad transportation came to the area in 1883 with the opening of the West Shore Railroad of the New York Central Railroad which served people going north to Albany and south to New York City. Prior to that, since 1850, travelers crossed the ice on sleighs in winter to catch the train on the east shore. St. Mary of the Snow parochial school was established by Sisters of Charity who came over on a winter sleigh in the 1880s.


Singing the Praises of Saugerties

In a special edition of the Saugerties Post dated November 1898, an article describes the Village thusly:


"Nowhere in the Empire State is there a prettier spot than Saugerties. Located in the northeastern part of Ulster County at the foot of the famous Catskill Mountains, where the gentle Esopus Creek empties itself into the lordly Hudson River, and lying on an eminence commanding a fine prospect of all the surrounding country, a more charming place can scarcely be imagined. Its abundance of shade, easy drainage, pure drinking water it has superior postal, telegraph, telephone and express facilities, there is a gas and electric light works, an opera house, three fine hotels, seven lodges, seven churches, a high school, grammar schools, two national banks, one savings bank, a public library, two daily and two weekly newspapers, and large and commodious stores, a line of steamboats to New York, Albany, and Newburgh, a ferry to Tivoli, connecting the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad."


It was also described as having a romantic scenery, salubrious air and equable temperature.

Historic Buildings

The Historic district in the Village contains over 90 buildings of special architectural or historical interest. Most noteworthy is the Scofield-Halpert Building on Main Street. This two-story five-bay stuccoed brick store is topped by an extravagant segmental arch. The little-altered 1850s facade includes two storefronts separated by a center entrance to the upper floor. The district also has valuable late Victorian buildings on Main and Partition Streets including the E. Whitaker Building which retains its cast iron cresting above a mansard roof. The cornices of the Van Buskirk, Dr. Reed, Jacob Brede and Lazarus Clothier buildings are topped by named and dated pediments, once considered indispensable to an up-to-date establishment.

The Mesker Brothers Iron Works in St. Louis, Missouri, was the maker of iron building fronts and architectural elements, which were promoted for their durability, appearance, and cost as well as for fire resistance and convenience. On Partition Street, the Lazarus Clothier Building has a full Mesker facade including two pediments and Mesker insignia at the base of the storefront. The International House Building on Main Street has a similar front.




Note: This historical write-up was taken from a 1992 brochure entitled "Historic Saugerties on the Hudson". Special thanks go to the editors of that brochure Barbara Purcell, Alex Wade and Kathleen Gray and especially to Alex Wade for final editing. A special thanks, too, to Vernon Benjamin for editing this material and adding some interesting passages. At the time of the original writing, the editors included this attribution: "The historic information was obtained from old commemorative editions of the Saugerties Post and "The Pearl". The United States Chamber of Commerce provided information on Mr. Barclay's Industries. We thank the Saugerties Historical Society, Jean Wrolson, June Overbaugh, Richard Jackson, Richard Frisbie, and Connie Lynch for contributions."




Henry Backus, "The Saugerties Bard":

A biographical outline showing Henry Backus' connection with Saugerties, by Rich Bala, a Hudson Valley traditional folk singer.


In his early years, he taught school and gave music lessons in Saugerties, where he married Alida Leg in the early 1820s.


In the 1830 census, Backus is shown living in Saugerties with his wife and one daughter.


Burial records of Mountain View Cemetery show that another daughter, Sara Ann, died June 6th, 1830, at the age of 1 year, 12 days. 


The 1840 census shows Backus living in Saugerties with his wife and 5 daughters.


His wife died in May 1845 at age 46, and presumed to be buried in Saugerties.


The 1850 census shows Backus living with a laborer named Abraham Wing, presumably separated from his children due to the "breakup" of the family after his wife's death.


Mr. Johyn Hughes Kerbert, who lived in Saugerties on Montgomery Street (across from "Nanny Goat Hill") spoke to folklorist Louis Jones about Backus in 1941.  At the time, Kerbert was 87 years old and says he remembered Backus who, according to him, was "rather short, stocky, well built, long grey hair and beard, grey suit, a "Grant Hat" and wooden leg"!  He even drew a sketch of Backus from memory (available as a PDF below, under "Documents").  During this time, Backus lived in a boarding house on the corner of Partition and Russell Streets.


Around 1850 he begins writing "jingles for local merchants, stores and businesses" and also begins writing songs.  According to "Early History of Saugerties", wriitten by Benjamin Myer Brink in 1902, Backus wrote many songs "in a room in the rear of the store of his friend, John Swart, in the Village of Saugerties.


In 1852, Backus writes "Explosion of Steamer Reindeer" and "Burning of the Reindeer" about a steamboat accident at Malden.


In 1854, he writes "Powder Mill Explosion", about an acident at a mill located 6 miles west of Saugerties.  The song mentions many names of the workers.


In June, 1855, he writes "My Heart's in Old "Sopus Wherever I Go".


On the morning of May 14th, 1861, Katsbaan hotelkeeper James H. Gaddis found Backus in a shed near where the present day Malden Turnpike meets Route 32, just north of Saugerties.  Backus was unconscious and emaciated.  After being fed, he was taken to Saugerties, where he was charged with vagrancy and, though obviously very ill, was transported to Kingston jail (located at the time in the basement of the County courthouse on Wall Street), where he died a few days later.


His death on May 20th, 1861 was followed by a pauper's "pine-coffin" burial in Saugerties, according to an article by John Thorn (Saugerties resident) in "Voices:, The Journal of the NY Folklore Society" (Vol. 31, Fall-Winter 2005).