A Historical Sketch of Brewster, New York
by Laura Voris Bailey
Read at the regular meeting, Enoch Crosby Chapter, DAR, March 13, 1944
The section now known as Southeast, was at one time included as part of Dutchess County (1812), and was called at different times South Ward, South Precinct, South East District. It was situated in a strip of territory claimed by Connecticut, designated as "The Oblong" and afterward as the "Equivalent Lands". The Oblong became a fruitful source of ceaseless contention and countless controversies. On Oct. 28, 1664, an agreement was made whereby the boundaries between New York and Connecticut were fixed at twenty miles east of the Hudson. This arrangement was responsible for "The Oblong" which both factions craved, but Connecticut desired most. Controversy continued, and it is strange to learn that the final settlement to establish the boundary line between New York and Connecticut was not agreed upon until 1860. All through the years the lands of The Oblong were open to purchasers with indisputable title guarantees, a fact which attracted many settlers from the New England Colonies.
The following is a paragraph taken from an Act of Legislature March 17, 1795:
Another paragraph in the act provided that "the first regular Town Meeting of said Town of Southeast shall be held the fist Tuesday in April 1796". Thus the Town of Southeast came into independent existence, however, the town continued as part of Dutchess County until Putnam was separated from Dutchess and was erected as an independent County by Act of Legislature on June 13, 1812.
The home of Zalmon Sanford stood at the meeting of three roads at the foot of Brewster Hill. As this house was located in approximately the center of the township, the name of the meeting place became Southeast Center.
Roads were rough, but they all lead to or from Zalmon Sanford's house. These roads were broken out as links between the isolated homes of the settlers, and generally were very tortuous. Very little road-mileage as is now known as Routes 6 and 22 was in existence. There was a road connecting Peekskill and Danbury, another leading from White Plains through Somers to Pawling, but not following for many miles the present highways. General Washington traveled over many weary miles of these old roads during his campaign in the Revolution. Owing to various reasons, such as abandonment or original home sites, condemnation and confiscation of lands for railroad right-of-way, and flooding of much acreage for storage reservoirs for water supply for New York City, most of these old roads have disappeared. However, there is one stretch of road leading from the Township of Patterson, over Brewster Hill, through Southeast Center, out through Sodom, along the Croton River, following All View Avenue, over Turk Hill Road to the home of Samuel Field, which has preserved its original route.
Of the many early settlers who came to Southeast from New England, the earliest definite knowledge is of Samuel Field, who became owner of Lot No. 5 in "The Oblong" in 1732, and his daughter, Jane, is said to have been the first white child born in Southeast. This Field homestead is the one original purchase to have continued in the same family for the greatest number of years, having been retained from 1732 until 1943.
Among the other families who came as settlers about the same time as Samuel Field were those of Paddock, Crane, Barnum, Hall, Crosby, Howes, Rockwell, Foster, Haviland, Penny, Kent, Sears, Bailey, DeForest, Ryder, and Townsend. In the late 1700's and early 1800's came the Brewster, Meade, Van Scoy, Brush, Sherwood, Doane, and other families. It is interesting to note that the Paddocks, Ryders and Brewsters are the only families now living on at least a part of the original purchase.
Along the road mentioned, little hamlets were established consisting of a few dwellings, perhaps a church, a school, a general store and frequently a grist mill. These hamlets, Doanesburg, Deforest Corners, Milltown, Foggintown, Sodom, Heddingville, proceeded in every direction from Southeast Corner.
The land embraced within the present limits of the village of Brewster was sold to Peleg Bailey in 1781 by the Commission of Forfeitures. In 1787 he built the "salt-box" type house situated at 42 Oak Street. A portion of this farm passed to his grandson, Bailey Howes, who in turn sold it to Gilbert Bailey, on April 1, 1833. Gilbert Bailey acquired other parcels, and on Feb. 17, 1848, sold his entire holdings to Walter F. Brewster, and James for $8,000. The farm was ordinary and the price given considered its full value.
Mr. Brewster's father, Samuel, had come to Southeast from Orange County in the early 1800's, a long trek from the home of his ancestors, who were descendants of Elder Brewster of Mayflower fame. Samuel Brewster purchased a farm from Judge William Watts, which had been formerly owned by Major Peter Crosby.
The Brewsters had long contemplated the purchase of the Bailey farm, motivated by the prospect of the iron deposits, available water supply, and the certainty that the Harlem Railroad would continue its rails to Pawling in the near future. This became an established fact in 1849.
Mr. Walter Brewster opened and mined the iron puts in the rear of the present Brewster House. The Ore was shipped via the Harlem RR. He was engaged in building, and large quantities of material were shipped, billed to Brewster's Station for Lack of better designation. Hence it seems by this means the name of "Brewster" was established. The land on which the station was built was ceded by Mr. A. B. Marvin, who had long owned extensive acreage, and had built the house which still stands nestled in the hill on the west side of the railroad, in 1830. However, Mr. Brewster furnished the material and labor and gave the passenger and freight stations.
About this time, the present Main Street was opened to provide facilities for the stage line of Crosby and DeForest operating between Danbury and Brewster to accommodate those wishing railroad transportation. This stage line had operated between Danbury and Croton Falls previously to the extension of the railroad.
Of course there were many houses in the village before this time, but the first new one built after the name of Brewster had been acquired was erected by Mr. Brewster, and is now the home of Dr. Vanderburgh. Mr. Brewster lived there a short time, four or
five years. Meanwhile he built the lovely Colonial mansion now the home of the Knights of Columbus. It is not known whether or not he ever lived there.
In 1850 he built the Brewster House which was operated by Mr. W. T. Ganung, a showman and druggist. Later he built the "brick blocks" on either side of the Brewster House. In all he built about fifty or sixty houses and other buildings.
The first store was built by Edward Howes about on the spot where the Diner stands, and was opened for business in 1850 and operated by J. Fowler Frost, who came from Purdy's Station. He continued in business for five years, then sold out to Mr. Brewster.
The section of the village bordering on "The Brook", just across the highway from the side of the present First National Bank, and now owned by the Department of Water Supply of New York City, was once the scene of much industrial activity. Mr. A. B. Marvin, who owned acreage, had built and operated mills on this property before 1850.
In 1859 a wool-hat factory was started by William Waring, probably as a side issue of his had manufacturing in Yonkers, N.Y. This building was burned and in 1874 a new firm consisting of Smith Hunt, Col. Stephen Baker and James A. Peck, grandfather of Mrs. Howard Wheeler, revived the hat-making business in the old grist mill which had been operated formerly by A. B. Marin. At this period there was also lumber yards operated by Jarvis I. Howes in the same vicinity.
In the Brewster Public Library may be seen a panorama pictograph taken Dec. 12, 1870, which shows that the mills, factories and lumber yards were quite extensive for those days.
All these buildings were later destroyed by a devastating fire of incendiary origin.
On Jan. 28, 1864, the Borden Condensed Milk Company was incorporated and started operating in the eastern part of the village. This enterprise proved to be one of the greatest boons to mankind, for Gail Borden founder, labored ceaselessly and untiringly to find a method of processing and preserving fluid milk in a condensed form. His efforts were finally crowned with success. Little change has been made in the method of condensation an preservation, but the form of packaging has greatly improved. From this humble beginning the Borden Company has grown and expanded, till Borden Products are obtainable in every state. The condensory furnished employment to scores of people, both women and men, and was a source of substantial income to the farmers for miles around. When the Department of Water Supply of the City of New York began condemnation proceedings, the best pasturage was confiscated and the milk producing business declined rapidly and the old factory was closed and dismantled. However, there are scores of Borden plants from coast to coast and from border to border.
On the death of Mr. Gail Borden, his son, John G. Borden, continued to manage the business. John G. Borden was a very liberal man, and through his benefactions aided substantially in many projects. The erecting of the first Town Hall, the Baptist Church, a public school, the organization of a bank, starting a newspaper, were some of the ways in which his generosity was exhibited.
The first Town Hall was built in 1869, on the south side of Main Street to the west of the site of the present Standard Office, and was destroyed by fire Feb. 23, 1880. It was soon rebuilt but destroyed by fire in 1882. When it was replaced it was erected on the site it now occupies. In these devastating fires nearly all the records of the Town of Southeast were destroyed.
The First National Bank of Brewster was organized in 1875 succeeding to the banking business conducted by Mr. John G. Borden under the name of Borden and Wells. The business of the First National Bank was conducted in a brick building at the corner of Main and Park Streets. Destroyed by fire on Feb. 23, 1880, it reopened for business the following day in the offices and with the equipment formerly owned by the defunct Croton River Bank, which had operated from 1856 to 1864, under private management, and had been dissolved by vote of the stockholders. These offices were in the building adjoining the Brewster House on the north , and were occupied until the present Bank was built and opened.
Meanwhile the community was enlarging. Mr. Borden realized that a growing village needed a newspaper. This he provided. In May 1877, Mr. E. W. Addis became the Managing Editor, and in 1880 purchased the paper, changed its name to "The Brewster Standard" and continued its publication until his death in 1922.
Education was not neglected. The first schoolhouse of which there is any record - a little red schoolhouse - was built near the Methodist Church, near the present Eaton - Kelley location. With the general movement toward the railroad station, a new schoolhouse, two stories high was built a few hundred feet east of the present Lobdell home, date not available. As the school population increased, there was need of a larger building. A site was obtained - a large log - on the corner of Park St. and Marvin Avenue, and a new and much larger school was built about 1873. In this undertaking the District was generously aided by J. G. Borden. Mr. Borden's theories on education were far in advance of his time. He provided a covered play pavilion, and for those times, expensive and extensive athletic recreation equipment. More land condemnation proceedings by New York City, at length, confiscated the grounds and buildings. A larger school was erected on part of the grounds where the present High School is located and opened in 1895. This was destroyed by fire. The present fine High School was opened in 1927.
Southeast organized a Library as early as 1825 known as Southeast Library, later as Columbian Library. This Library was at Asa Raymond's general store, Milltown, near the school, for many years and was finally sold at auction (date unknown) and scattered. Perhaps a few volumes may still be found.
A Public Library was organized in 1900, and housed in the second floor above the store now occupied by Mr. Mergardt. In 1930, the present gracious home of the Library was thrown open to the public due in great measure to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Ferris, who donated the lot and substantial financial assistance.
The Methodist Church was the first society to build a church in the village in 1837, at a cost of $1,000, meetings having previously been held at the home of Zalmon Sanford, mentioned before. This church was located on the site now occupied by Eaton-Kelley, and was named the Heddingville M.E. Church in honor of Bishop Hedding. Later the building was removed to Brewster
and now houses the A&P and other stores. The new church was built in 1863, at a cost of $16,000, of which sum, Mr. Daniel Drew and his family contributed one-half. It was named The First M.E. Church of Southeast by act of Legislature in 1875.
The First Baptist Church was dedicated on Dec. 28, 1871, at the cost of $15,000, the larger part of the amount having been contributed by Mr. John G. Borden.
The first services of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church were held in the Town Hall in 1872. The first church was dedicated in 1881. The bell which hung in the steeple was one taken from the Hudson River Liner Dean Richmond, and was given by Mr. Daniel Drew. On June 13, 1901, a beautiful stone church was dedicated, made possible through the munificent gift of Mr. Seth B. Howes. On July 5, 1901, the church was destroyed by fire. Work of rebuilding was begun immediately, and the new church was consecrated in 1903.
After meeting for years in the homes of members, the Roman Catholic Church built its first simple frame building on Prospect St. in 1870. This was supplanted in 1915 by the present stone edifice.
Although the Presbyterian Church was the last to erect a home in the village, it has a significant history. It is the lineal successor to the oldest church in the county, which was a little log building on land formerly owned by James Barnes, on the northern stretch of Brewster Hill Road. Built in 1745, it was later replaced in Doanesburg in 173, and named the Southeast Presbyterian Church. Regular services are not held there now, but once a year this beautiful, stately edifice opens wide its doors welcoming all to its Annual Homecoming Service. The Second Presbyterian Church was opened in Southeast Center (Sodom) in 1845. Following the trend of population, the present church was opened for service in June 1883.
Through the years civic affairs were conducted in the name of the Town of Southeast. Some departments still retain that status. The Village of Brewster, however was incorporated into a political entity in 1894.
The life and history of Brewster is so interwoven with and dependent upon that of "Old Southeast" that there are many items worthy of mention, but not presented her in chronological order; just odds and ends of memorabilia gleaned here and there. It is sometimes difficult in writing a sketch to separate and adequately winnow fact from fiction, legend from reality. Should any discrepancies occur, indulgence is sought.
Many settlers were attracted to Southeast by the knowledge that there were iron deposits underlying the town, some mines having been opened as early as 1758. In later time, the ore taken from Tilly Foster iron mines was found especially rich, and was accepted and utilized in perfecting the Bessemer Steel Formula. However, the lodes though wide spread were not deep and soon "petered out" and were abandoned.
On some part of the farm now owned by Mr. William Baker, James Kent was born July 31, 1763. He was the son of the Rev. Elisha Kent who served as the first pastor of the little log church mentioned before. James Kent was a brilliant student. He entered Yale at the age of 14, and despite the fact that instruction was discontinued for more than a year at Yale, due to interruptions caused by the Revolution, was graduated in 1781
at the age of 18. He went to Poughkeepsie and took up the profession of law. He received honors from Harvard and Dartmouth, occupied an instructor's chair in Columbia University, and in 1804 was appointed to the Supreme Court. Later he was withdrawn and appointed Chancellor in 1814. The various and learned decisions handed down by him have given him fame. It has been said that Kent was to the United States what Blackstone was to Britain. Chancellor Kent was easily Southeast's most honored son. His memory is honored by a bust in the Hall of Fame at New York University.
Very well celebrated was a grandson of the Rev. Elisha Kent, Elisha Kent Kane, the well-known Arctic explorer.
Near the birthplace of Chancellor Kent, Fannie Crosby, familiarly known as the "blind hymn writer", was born. After receiving her own education she devoted most of her endeavors to teaching others who were afflicted as she was. She also founded a school for the education of the blind in New Jersey. Miss Crosby wrote more than a thousand hymns. At some of the in-gatherings at the "Old Southeast Church" a half-hour of song service was conducted before the regular service, the hymns of Fannie Crosby being sung.
In her memoirs, Fannie Crosby speaks of Daniel Drew frequently passing her home, and once he brought her a little new born lamb to comfort her for one she had lost. She said that Mr. Drew frequently drove large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle past on his way to markets in New York.
Enoch Crosby was not a native son of Southeast, but was brought by his parents to Putnam County in 1753, at the age of three. It is a matter of record that his parents lived in Southeast at different intervals. Enoch was working in Danbury, Conn., when the Revolution began. He enlisted and rendered outstanding service to his country. After the close of the War, he purchased a farm in the western part of the town and lived there the remainder of his life. He served as Supervisor of this town 1812-1813.
Southeast loaned many of her sons to the several wars in which our country has been engaged. The one to attain greatest prominence was General Darius Couch, who was born in Milltown. Gen. Couch served in the Civil War, having commanded the 2nd Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
Earl Chapin May in his fascinating book "From Rome to Ringling" said: "Virtually all the rolling shows originated near Brewster, New York." "Uncle Nate Howes" became enamored and gained temporary possession of Hackaliah Bailey's "Old Bet" about 1826, and with this elephant and the first canvass-roofed round top, of which there is any record, routed his show as far north as Bangor, Maine. His brother, Seth Benedict Howes, 11 years old accompanied him. The profits returned with that expedition gave Southeast and vicinity such a violent "circus fever" that for many years after, any visitor could drop into any store in Southeast and find either the proprietor or clerk or both, had followed a "red wagon" as an employer, employee, or stockholder, perhaps all three. Later Brewster was the hub of the American circus world. Seth B. Howes had greatly improved
upon the technique of his brother, Nathan, and from "trouping" under a "big top", founded, owned and managed "Howes Great London Circus", incidentally amassing a large fortune. He built two fine residences, Stonehenge in Southeast Center, and later the castle-like "Morningthorpe", on Turk Hill, both in remembrance of places in England."
Another feature mentioned by Mr. May was: "The gorgeous street parades staged by the circus," and in that connection speaks of William Lewis, who was the first man to drive 24 horses in one "hitch". This feat demanded great skill and strength. People in those days depended entirely upon horsepower, and therefore loved and admired horses. A circus was the final word. People gathered from miles around and stood in line for hours just for the thrill of watching Bill's remarkable horsemanship. Team after team was added to the "hitch" until it became 40 horses. Something to witness. William Lewis was father of Mrs. A. F. Lobdell.
For years circus animals were housed during the winter in buildings on Starr Ridge.
Although Daniel Drew was born in Carmel, much of his life was spent in Southeast, as part of his thousand-acre farm was situated in the town of Southeast. Mr. Drew began life as a drover, but due to his phenomenal business sagacity, adaptability, fearlessness and ruthlessness he soon amassed a vast fortune, in fact was the first millionaire of Putnam County. He founded the Hudson River Steamship Line. He gave liberally to many organizations in Southeast and elsewhere. Drew M. E. Church and Drew Seminary in Carmel, New York, and Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey, benefited greatly from his liberality. Mr. Drew married a girl from Southeast, Miss Roxanne Meade, and his brother Thomas, married her sister, Abigail. Both lived to celebrate their golden wedding. Mr. Drew bought for his son William, the large farm, "Drewcliffe". Mr. Drew is buried in a little private cemetery on that farm below Deans Corners.
In an endeavor to trace the establishment of postal service in Brewster, diligent inquiry has yielded little. It may be presumed that in the earliest days mail was brought in on horseback, and later by state coach. With the extension of the Harlem Railroad in 1849, and the opening of a general store in 1850, there surely must have been some sort of mail service. The earliest definite knowledge of a Postmaster is established when Mr. A. F. Lobdell was appointed by President Lincoln in 1863. Mr. Lobdell served in this capacity under Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Garfield and Arthur, retiring in 1887. Mr. Lobdell had opened a store in 1860. This business enlarged and continued to serve its customers until 1933, at which time Mr. A. F. Lobdell, Jr., retired and entered the banking business in the Putnam County Savings Bank, an institution which Mr. A. F Lobdell had been instrumental in organizing, and which has continued prosperously until today. The store of A. F. Lobdell was the only mercantile house to engage in the same business over the longest duration in the same family.
Incidentally, Miss Marjorie Addis and Mr. F. S. Hall have the distinction of "carrying on" in the business of their respective fathers.
Captain S. G. Moore, while not a native of Southeast,
spent much of his life here, having married a Southeast girl, Miss Sarah Baldwin. Capt. Moore in early life was well launched as a printer, having served his apprenticeship in that vocation, and was later in the employ of Harper Brothers. Born at Sag Harbor, L.I., probably the sear was in his blood. Indoor life was not to his liking for he joined a whaling expedition remaining "on board" for seven years, then joined an expedition fitted out to investigate the "gold fever" in California. After sailing the seas till 1856 in merchant service, he was finally persuaded by the American Board of Foreign Missions to take command of the missionary packet "The Morning Star", launched at Boston, Mass., and visited many of the islands in the Sandwich group. "The Morning Star" was built by voluntary contributions of those interested in missionary work. Certificates of stock were issued to all contributors. The only certificate held in this vicinity was held by Mrs. Pauline Crosby, grandmother of Mayor Wells. A book entitled "The Morning Star," written by Mrs. Jane S. Warren, pays the following tribute to Capt. Moore: "Here we must take leave of Capt. Moore who now relinquished the command (at Honolulu) and returned to America. How different the impression made by him upon the heathen people from that which had been made by too many American Captains. To the missionaries he has been a Christian brother and friend, and by his example has recommended the religion they taught. He will ever retain their grateful remembrances and cordial esteem."
Those Brewster men evidently had iron in their blood, for it is recorded that the great-grandfather of the Brewsters who came to Southeast, operated an iron foundry in Orange County and forged the first chain that was stretched across the Hudson River in the Revolution. James Brewster, brother of Walter F., invented a rice-huling machine, and a gimlet-pointed screw. Later Leon B. Lent, grandson of Walter F. Brewster, invented some sort of fire-fighting apparatus. It might be of interest to note that the first air-mail plane was flown by Capt. Leon B. Lent, now Lt. Colonel, with an office in Washington, D.C.
It is an authenticated fact that a band of British soldiery lay in wait among the thickets of Semiwog during some part of the Revolution, hoping to surprise Gen. Washington on his march to the encampment of the Continental Army near Pawling. However due to the vigilance of Enoch Crosby, this plan was frustrated, and Gen. Washington made a wide detour.
Mrs. A. F. Lobdell owns and proudly displays a handsome "Continental Model" Seth Thomas clock, which was purchased by Harvey Bailey, her grandfather, while he was living in the "oldest house." It was brought from Thomaston on horseback in saddlebags by the maker in the early 1800's, probably the oldest clock in good running order with the original wooded works that has remained in the family of the purchaser. A legend inside the clock informs all and sundry that his clock is warranted if used well. The clock cost $24.
On the tax list of 1723, when Southeast was a part of Dutchess, the names were predominately of Holland-Dutch origin. Whatever became of these people is a mystery, for on the tax list of 1777, only 54 years later, none of these names appeared.
Joseph Crane owned a mill on the north side of Joe's Hill
known as "Crane's Mill." This mill is frequently mentioned in deeds and other transactions as a definite landmark in the early records of Southeast. Joes Hills derived its name from this Joseph Crane, who was the great-great-great-great grandfather of Miss Anna Crane. Miss Crane has in her possession a day book with the inscription "Joseph Crane, His Book" February the 25, 1773". The influence is definitely English, as the transactions were computed in English script, especially the f-shaped S'es employed. The inscription of the book is bound in calfskin. However, in looking over the accounts (which are in the names of many of the early settlers) there are dates as of 1770. One entry is startling: "Agreed this day March 5, 1797, to work for Jeremiah Hickals for nine months for fourteen pounds." The nature of the work is not mentioned, but there follows a pathetic scoring of lost days.
Mr. Boynton Towner has a most fascinating map hanging on the walls of his office, a map of Putnam County charted by O'Connor in 1852. It shows not only the contour and physiography, but the location and names of most of the property holders of that date. A few years later, after the final agreement on and settlement of the boundary lines between New York and Connecticut, the Hon. Thomas H. Reed surveyed the County and compiled a similar map in 1876. Mr. Reed was the first Republican to represent Putnam County in the Assembly.
Mrs. J. Edson Fowler says she had often heard her mother say that the first time she (Mrs. Catherine DeForest Crane) saw what is now the village of Brewster, there were only three houses, the Oldest House, one down at the corner of Turk Hill Road, and the old "Turnpike", another that still stands in Mrs. Fowler's back yard, original owner unknown.
There are some houses over 100 years old, a few over 150 years, and the homes of the Brewsters and W. T. Gilbert, are over 200 years old. The red brick house at DeForest Corners was once an Inn, much patronized by those traveling between White Plains, Pawling, and Poughkeepsie and Albany. The large white house formerly known as the "Budd" home, at the junction of Route 22 and Federal Road, was a Tavern, accommodating travelers faring between Hartford and Poughkeepsie and points north and west.
This sketch may be of little historical value, but it is hoped it may be of some interest. There may be discrepancies. It may provoke controversy. It is not in strictly chronological sequence. Some people may be in possession of other and more interesting facts. However, it is a fact and disappointing too, that there is not a house in Southeast which claims that "George Washington slept here."