By Captain Franklin Ellis21
The village of Claverack is delightfully situated in the western part of the town, on the elevated ground north of the flats, on Claverack creek. It is four miles east from Hudson, on the Columbia turnpike, and is a station on the Hudson and Albany railroad. The agent here, since 1855, has been J. J. Studley, and the office and its surroundings are remarkable for their neatness. A number of trains daily afford easy access to Huson and the northern points of the county.
This locality is one of the oldest in the county, and in its early history was one of the most important within its bounds. In 1786 it was selected as the first county-seat, and at the first meeting of the board of supervisors held here, at the house of Gabriel Esselstyne, provision was made to erect a court-house. Two thousand pounds was voted for this purpose, to be expended by a committee composed of William B. Whiting, Abram I. Van Alstyne, John Livingston, Henry I. Van Rensselaer, Matthew Scott, Seth Jenkins, and William H. Ludlow. Sixteen hundred pounds more was subsequently appropriated, and the house was not completed until 1798. It was used by the county until 1805, when the seat of justice was removed to Hudson. It is a very large and almost square brick structure, standing in the western part of the village, on the north side of the Columbia turnpike. A little to the rear of the court-house stood the old jail, from which two men were taken to be hanged, by order of the court, on the branches of a neighboring tree, for the crime of horse-stealing. The court-room itself was the theatre of several important trials, and its walls have resounded to the pleadings of some of the most gigantic intellects the legal profession has produced in this country. In the last trial conducted there, Alexander Hamilton appeared in a case between the patroon and his Nobletown tenants, and delighted all by the brilliant display of his stately intellect. In 1803, Dr. Crosswell was tried here, before Chief-Justice Lewis, for a libel upon President Jefferson, and found guilty. It was here that Elisha Williams, James Spencer, Francis Silvester, Wm. W. Van Ness, the Vanderpoels, and others of great legal eminence engaged one another in the discussion of the difficult legal problems of their day.
After various uses, the court-house and the spacious grounds upon which it stands have been transformed into an elegant home, which is at present the property of Peter Hoffman, and there is now nothing attaching to it to indicated its former use. On either hand of this building, about the same time, were erected a number of substantial residences, which, though nearly a hundred years old, are yet in a well-preserved condition. Eastward eighty rods was the business centre of the place. This too, like the western cluster of the village, was affected by the removal of the county-seat, and then lost the importance which had formerly attached to it in this respect.
Claverack has never regained its former business prosperity, but it has become noted for its elevated moral tone, and for the quiet and comfort which characterizes so many of the homes of its citizens. It is the seat of the "Hudson River Institute," a school of great celebrity; has three fine churches, several stores and shops, and contains about four hundred inhabitants.
Aside from the ordinary mechanical pursuits, Claverack has not had any manufacturing interests within its immediate bounds. A mile east, on the old Van Rensselaer place, have been mills for more than a century. The present "Red mills" were first erected by Gen. Jacob R. Van Rensselaer, but have been much enlarged, and are now capacitated to grind three hundred bushels of grain per day, besides having a run of stone to grind plaster. P. S. Pulver is the present proprietor. South from the village are the equally well-known "Stone mills," and on mile southwest was the "Claverack Hosiery-Mill," established in 1857, by Robert Aken. It was successfully operated about sixteen years, when it was destroyed by fire, and has not been rebuilt.
Some time during Dominie Gebhard's residence at this place as pastor of the Reformed church, he invented and had in successful operation a press for extracting the oil from the castor been, which was here cultivated to some extent, and is said to have derived considerable revenue from this source.
Cornelius Miller, and others of that family, had brew-houses for the manufacture of the beer of that period; and a few lesser interests abounded.
Stephen Miller is credited with having kept one of the first stores on the hill, half a mile east from the main corners. He transacted a very heavy business for those times, having also an ashery and other adjuncts to the trade, common in those days. Among others, Stephen Van Wyck was here in trade, and the place is now occupied as a private residence by his family. On Claverack hill, where the stores are at present located, George Harder followed merchandising, and was succeeded in time by Thomas Sedgewick and others. Several of the early store-houses yet occupy their original sites at this place. In the vicinity of the county buildings were also store and warehouses, the latter being used chiefly for the storage of grain. Among the heaviest dealers in that article was William Henry Ludlow, who removed to this place from New York city, a short time before the Revolution. He occupied the store-house once owned by Gabriel Esselstyne, and after the war did an extensive business. In common with other interests this also declined with the removal of the county-seat,--Hudson thereafter becoming the grain-mart.
Numerous taverns abounded, about 1800, at Claverack, and on the post-road and turnpike in its vicinity. Besides the regular inns, nearly every large farm-house was thrown open to accommodate the extensive travel of that period. An amusing incident is related of Aaron Burr in this connection. While on his way to Albany, from New York, he stopped for dinner at one of these places, kept in a farmhouse south of the village, and now belonging to the Esselstynes. "The Dutch language was then the common speech in use in these parts. While Burr was dining, he called for a napkin. The good hostess did not understand him, so she called her husband, and they had an earnest conversation over the puzzling request. At length they discovered that he wanted a 'kniptong'; and so the brought him a pair of sugar pincers, instead of a napkin."
It is said that in 1796 a man named Gordon kept a famous tavern in the village, and that after the presidential electors had cast their votes at Hudson they came out to Claverack to get their dinners. On the old hotel-stand was, in early times, a large white house, having painted on its side in large letters the words "Columbia Hotel." For many years it was kept by Phineas Freeland, who became connected with the place probably as early as 1800. In one form or other this house stood until its destruction by fire in 1869, while occupied by John H. Moore. A few years later, Henry Lawrence erected a large hotel on the site of the burned building, and supplied it with all the appliances of a city house, making it at that time the finest country hotel in the county. In 1876 this was also burned, and the site remains unoccupied. The building on the opposite corner was formerly used for a tavern, and was kept at an early day by John M. Schumacher and others.
About 1786, Claverack became the post-office station for this section of the country, and on the 13th of July of that year Killian Hogeboom, the postmaster, published the first list of letters in the county. The mail for Hudson was supplied from this place until 1793. On the 31st of July, 1792, a regular post-office was established, Elihu C. Goodrich receiving the appointment of postmaster. At a later period, Jacob R. Van Rensselaer was appointed, who placed the office in charge of Thomas Sedgewick, as deputy.
Among the first, if not the first, to engage in the practice of medicine at Claverack was Dr. Walter Vrooman Wimple. He was a surgeon in the American army in 1776, but removed to Claverack a few years later, where he resided until his death, in 1798. Dr. George Monell was a contemporary in practice, living here as early as 1780. A few years later Dr. Joseph Mullins was added to the profession, and later still, Dr. William Bay. After 1800, Drs. Abram Jordan, Gerry Rowan, John H. Cole, and S. A. McClellan lived in the village, and within the last thirty-five years Drs. William Wright, Abram R. Van Deusen, James F. Philip, and Thomas Wilson have been in practice, the latter still continuing. Members of the Gebhard and Bay families, who trace their nativity to this town, became eminent in the medical profession abroad.
In the legal profession, John Bay was an early representative, having a law-office at Claverack in 1785. That year, and the year following, Ambrose Spencer was one of his law students. William W. Van Ness was born in Claverack in 1776, and having attained his manhood, studied law with John Bay. In 1797 he opened an office in Claverack, but soon after removed to Hudson. He died in 1823, and his remains now repose in the Claverack cemetery. General Jacob Rutsen Van Rensselaer was born in this town in 1767. He was a lawyer of great practice at Claverack, and had among his students Ambrose L. Jordan and Joseph D. Monell. The latter was born in town in 1781, and became one of the most distinguished lawyers in Hudson, where he removed after completing his studies. Among others who were born in Claverack and who attained great eminence in the profession were John C. and Henry Hogeboom, Killian Miller, and William P. Van Ness. A brother of the latter, John P. Van Ness, who was born in Claverack in 1770, practiced law in the village in 1792. He removed to Washington, where he became a millionaire.