By Paula Sirc
As one of the original 12 counties in New York, Ulster County is replete with remnants of early Americana, including extant stone houses, barns, cemeteries, and historic structures, some of which date to the 1660s. Many of these fragments of time are located on private property; however, when armed with a proper map and a trained eye, one can absorb the area's history from the comfort of the family Buick.
Early settlers to the region built homesteads along the Old Mine Road, a former Indian trail leading from present-day Kingston to the Delaware Valley. The road's name derives from the early, but fruitless, explorations of the interior in search of precious metals.
Also called the Trade Path, the Old Mine Road is thought to be the first road of any length in the United States; at 104 miles, it stretches from Kittatinny Point in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to Kingston, New York. Traversing Ulster County from Ellenville to Kingston, much of the Old Mine Road has been widened, modernized and incorporated into present-day US 209.
Situated on the Mine Road at the northern border of Ellenville, a historical monument, chiseled from Shawangunk granite in 1903, commemorates the families slain by an Indian and Tory raid called the Fantinekill Massacre. The actual site of the massacre is located a mile or so outside of Napanoch, where descendants of French Huguenot Louis Bevier, a New Paltz patentee, had established a frontier settlement. Just before daybreak on the morning of May 4, 1779, a band of Tories and Indians attacked the settlement, slaughtering, according to some accounts, 11 men, women and children.
Dotting the roadway and clustered together in older villages are lasting legacies of the early Dutch and French Huguenots settlers; here, stone houses, built from native limestone, stand silent sentinel to time's passing.
One such home, known originally as "The Old Fort," is the Bevier Homestead, built by Abraham Bevier in 1707. Gracing the banks of the Rondout Creek in the Hamlet of Napanoch, the house is influenced by both Dutch and Federal architectural styles, and features hand-rived, exposed, nine-inch-wide beams, wide plank cherry and oak floors, original doors, mantles, and detailing beneath its eight-foot ceilings.
The restored Bevier Homestead is currently listed on the market for sale; a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization, the Historical Relic Preservation Society, recently launched Project: Bevier, a collective effort to raise the $395,000 to purchase the house through $4 donations from "people who care about preservation of America's historical relics." The Bevier Homestead is located less than a mile off the Old Mine Road, on the corner of Water Street and NY Route 55.
Further north, midway between Wawarsing and Kerhonkson, stands a delightful little homestead featuring a stone house and a Dutch-style barn. Constructed circa 1760, the Jacobus Bruyn House is unique in that it features a curved roofline in the rear of the structure. The Bruyn barn, with its steep roofline and broad-based floor, is a classic three-aisle barn, over 3,000 square-feet in size.
Kerhonkson boasts a bounty of historic structures, including Saunderskill Farms, continuously farmed by the Schoonmaker family since 1680. Built in 1787, the stone manor house stands on the property, along with the original barn that once housed the oxen that used to pull barges on the Delaware & Hudson Canal. Saunderskill is one of the few farms in the nation to have received the rare Tricentennial Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the Town of Accord, the Old Mine Road veers away from Route 209 at Old Kings Highway. Along this rambling country road, history comes alive through the collection of eighteenth century stone houses, including the Cross, Hasbrouck, and Dewitt Markle Houses. The "King's Road" also houses Bakers Bed & Breakfast, a restored 1780 farmhouse that has operated as an inn since 1979.
Rest Plaus Road connects to Old Kings Highway, and, according to historian Charles Cullen of Marbletown, Rest Plaus is a Dutch term that means, "resting place." As the road lies approximately halfway between Ellenville and Kingston, it was likely that the road was named for the services it provided.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, many local farm families took in paying guests during the summer season. These guests enjoyed the front, "above the salt" bedrooms (an archaic term that means "place of distinction"), while members of the family would squeeze into the house's "below the salt," or back, bedrooms.
Heading back out onto Route 209, look for the near-dilapidated frame schoolhouse on the right-hand side of the road. From there, continue northeast on 209 toward the Village of Stone Ridge, where some 70 original stone houses still stand.
The Wynkoop House, a gambrel-roofed stone house of the Colonial period was built for Cornelius Evert Wynkoop in 1767. Wynkoop served as a major of the Minutemen of Ulster County during the American Revolution and was appointed a commissioner of the Committee to Detect and Defeat Conspiracies. On November 15, 1782, General George Washington visited the major at his house, sleeping in the bedroom on the southwest corner of the second floor. The Sally Tock Inn, a hostelry and tavern that predates the Revolution, stands directly across the street from the Cornelius Wynkoop House.
North of Stone Ridge lies the village of Hurley; established in 1669, the village was first named "Nieuw Dorp" by its Dutch inhabitants. Hurley boasts 25 stone houses, each 215 to 315 years old. Ten of these houses are nestled along the quarter-mile-long tree-shaded Main Street.
On the second Saturday of July, Hurley hosts its "Stone House Day," where five to eight residents open their stone homes to visitors. Favorite among the open houses every year is the 1740 Van Deusen House, which served as the temporary capital of New York after the British burned much of Kingston to the ground in October 1777. Another favorite is the 1685 Spy House, where a British spy was held to await his death by hanging from an apple tree just across the street, in retaliation for the fiery destruction of Kingston.
Finish the driving tour with a visit to Kingston's Senate House, located in the Stockade Historic District at the corner of North Front Street and Clinton Avenue. In 1777, New York's newly organized Senate was a "government on the run," having been chased from New York City to Kingston. The Senate convened its first session in the old stone home of Abraham VanGaasbeck. Built in 1676, the house reflects both the building traditions of the original Dutch colonists, blended with English construction styles. The building and grounds of the Senate House are open to the public and the staff provides guided tours. For more information, call (845) 338-2786.
So, fire up the Buick and take the family on an adventure into the area's past. The casual drive along Ulster County's portion of the Old Mine Road affords the history hunter a treasure trove of opportunities to view early Americana through the region's assemblage of structures dating back two and three centuries. The houses, barns and farmsteads, cemeteries, and old mills scattered along the road stand as testimony to the rich history of this old trade route and the towns along its path.
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