by Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann
This Saturday, March 18th, marks the 232nd anniversary of the founding of Clarkstown. In thinking about this milestone, I decided to go back and take a look at the early history of the town. The best early recorded history appears in a lengthy chapter in an 1884 book simply titled “A History of Rockland County” by Rev. Dr. David Cole DD. This wonderful book offers a glimpse into the county and some rare insight into the infancy of the founding of our town. The book was reprinted by the Rockland County Historical Society under former County Executive Vanderhoef in the 1980’s and is available at the Historical Society of Rockland in New City.
So much can be learned from this book about Rockland, Clarkstown, its founding residents, and early industries. It includes a section entitled, “Pioneers of Clarkstown” as well as “Biographical Sketches”, which highlights a number of the families from the early days of the town. I find these sections to be fascinating as they capture a picture of our past. One such story that is conveyed refers to Ebenezer Wood, who was a Deputy Sheriff of Orange County and came to live in New City. Rockland was originally a part of Orange County until 1798. The chapter explains how conscientious Deputy Sheriff Wood was in doing his job. One story described his ardent patriotism during the Revolution which cost him dearly. It was said that he was, “a man of incorruptible integrity and exalted nobility of character. He was devoted to the American cause, he became the object of bitter hatred and cruel abuse of the enemy. At the close of the war, he found himself possessed of about $1,600 of Continental money, which when he learned of its worthlessness, he threw it into a fire, with the remark: “we have gained our independence and I am satisfied.” Seemingly Wood, a staunch patriot, was harassed by Tories and the British during the war and lost much in service to the fledgling nation.
Another story involved Wood seeking to capture a resident who was refusing jury duty. The resident bragged in the local tavern that he would never serve as a juror. Deputy Sheriff Wood had a summons that the juror was avoiding. So, he mounted his horse, rode in front of the man’s house, and promptly fell off his horse lying motionless in the street. He was picked up by the would-be juror and several others and brought into the juror house, where attempts were made to “revive” him. Once inside Ebenezer Wood made a remarkable and immediate recovery as he rose up to read the jurors summons and compelled the man to serve. Now that’s what I would call dedication to your job!
Another story involving ingenuity and trickery is told about Major John Smith. Major Smith was in the area of Mount Moor (modern day West Nyack) when he saw a large group of British troops who were headed north seemingly to West Point. Seeing no way to stop them he devised a plan to use a passing woman to offer false information. The Clarkstown chapter offers in detail how Smith told an African American woman walking by, to tell the British that a Colonial General was on one nearby hill with a large number of troops and on the other side was another American General with a larger number of troops. The woman did as instructed and walked near the British where she was stopped. She offered the information of the fictitious American troops and Generals saying they were lying in wait to ambush the British. Accordingly the chapter reports that the British column of troops “ended their lunch, packed up rather quickly and retreated hastily back to Englewood New Jersey in fear of the two fictitious Colonial Generals and their make believe armies.”
Perhaps the most interesting sections of this historical book are some of the descriptions of places in the town. I especially liked the description of Bardon’s Station, which is of course modern day Bardonia. In 1884 it was a small village hamlet that took its name from John Bardon. It is described as located on the New City Branch of the New Jersey and New York Railroad, a mile northeast of Nanuet. It goes on to say “thirty-three families reside in the hamlet consisting of one hundred thirty seven souls.” It goes on to further describe a “substantial brick building consisting of one country store owned by Bardon which doubled as the waiting room for the train located there.” Charles Ross was reported to own the one local hotel. Bardon Station also had a brewery for which the nearby modern Brewery Road is named. It also had a Cider Mill owned by a man named H. Schultz. Two other things about Bardon Station are revealed, namely that almost the entire population were German and said to be “industrious” with virtually all owning their own homes. Further, it reported that while many places in the town were developing and cutting down trees, Bardon Station curiously saw a growth in thick forests over the past fifty years but does not explain why. Interestingly enough, pasture land was intentionally turned into thick forests in Bardon Station. Perhaps these early settlers were environmentalists? It is fascinating to get a look into the early history of the Town and its people and places that no longer exist. Gone are the brewery, hotel, train line and station and cider mill; only to be replaced by residential homes, a convenience store, dry cleaner, post office, print shop, pharmacies, restaurants, a Dunkin Donuts and an elementary school. I wonder what John Bardon would think of it all today?
However, not all is rosy as the book gives a glimpse into slavery which existed in New York State until 1827. It is fair to say that a small number of early settlers in Rockland and Clarkstown were slave owners. Indeed the book offers that slavery existed in the town well before its founding and remained in place into the 1800’s. The book perhaps attempts a bit too naively to describe many of the early slave owners as “lenient and even over indulgent of their slaves.” While I am not exactly certain what that description actually means, it was indeed sad to see slavery in the early history of our town, although not as numerous in other towns. The book is a reflection of the time it was written and offers unique insight into the first ninety-five years of the town’s existence. There is much that can be learned, both good and bad from this period in time and the early history of our 232 year old town. I highly recommend researching this book.
So, this Saturday, pause and wish your neighbor a Happy Birthday as Clarkstown celebrates another milestone. Congratulations Clarkstown you don’t look a day over 230!