By Captain Franklin Ellis197
It is not an easy matter to determine now who first settled within the present limits of the town of Greenport. The site of the first house erected, and the name of the first family occupying the same, are alike lost in the darkness of the remote past. Greenport was a part of ancient Claverack, and the name of the latter goes back two and a quarter centuries. The very early settlers that located farther up the river, in Kinderhook and Stockport, were not much in advance of those who settled Claverack. The journal of certain travelers who ascended the Hudson about two hundred years ago in a sloop, going as far as Albany, shows something of this very town of Greenport. On the return the sloop stopped at Claverack Landing to take on board grain brought to the river by the farmers of Claverack. These travelers, taking the opportunity of the delay to see something of the country, rode out with the farmers to their homes, about four miles, and the journal speaks of some noble fountains bursting from a hillside which they passed on the way. These are undoubtedly the "Fountain," so called at the present time, near Hollenbeck's tavern.
In critically examining the different neighborhoods of Greenport for evidence still existing in them relative to pioneer settlement, little appears except four old buildings that are very clearly of considerable antiquity.
lst. There is the Van Hoesen house, built in 1729. Dr. Porter, in his address at the centennial celebration of the Claverack church in 1867, alludes to this as a very old building. It is now owned by Mr. C. J. Ludlow, and stands in the neighborhood of the toll-house on the Columbia turnpike,--north from the toll-house across the fields and very near the railroad track. The farm has been sometimes known as the Benton place, and has the curious history of having been paid for twice by one of its owners, his first title proving defective. The house is a well-preserved specimen of the solid masonry of old times. It bears the inscription "K. V. H., 1729," and is therefore nearly one hundred and fifty years old. One of the signers to the original compact for building the Claverack church was Kaspar Van Hoesen. This was in 1726. Among the deacons of that church, 1727, is Casparis Van Hoesen, undoubtedly the same name. This old stone house was then evidently the homestead of Deacon Kaspar Van Hoesen. The Ludlow brothers now occupying the house are themselves representatives of old families mentioned in the history of Claverack. They are great-grandsons of Richard Morris, Julia Morris, a granddaughter of Richard, having married Wm. B. Ludlow, of Claverack.
2d. In the same address Dr. Porter says, "The Van Dusen family is among the oldest, tracing its beginnings back to an ancestor who built the brick house near the creek, on the South Shoulder of Beighraft's mountain, the present place of Alexander Van Rensselaer." This venerable old building, then, undoubtedly dates back to the middle of the last century, if not earlier, even to the time of the Kaspar Van Hoesen mansion. Indeed, the names of six of this family appear in the same old church compact,--Isaak Van Duse, Harpert V. Duse, Robbert Van Duse, Is. V. Duse, Matthewis V. Duse, and Tobyas Van Duse. Accepting this authority that the Van Deusens were among the oldest settlers, that their ancestors built the brick house south of Becraft's mountain, we have a second building dating back to the same period,--1725 to 1730. There is another very old house on the Claverack creek, east side of the mountain, called the Van Deusen house, now occupied by Mr. Brownell.
3d. On the road south from Hudson, and beyond South bay a short distance, is another venerable building of the same style of masonry and the same deep oak beams, thickly placed, that distinctly characterize those primitive structures. It is now owned by Henry Wilson. The latter remembers that he has at some time seen an inscription upon this building, but it was not easy to be read, and is not now readily found. This is known in the neighborhood as the old Bunt place, and the people speak of the date of its erection as entirely unknown. Considerable inquiry has failed either to ascertain the date or to learn much about the pioneer family that erected it. But quoting again from the records of Claverack church, we find among the signers to the compact Jan Bont and Hendrick Bont, and connecting this with the local tradition that three or four generations of that family name lived in the old stone house, the conclusion seems justified that here is another homestead dating back 1725 to 1730.
4th. Beyond the Bunt house, on the road from Hudson to the neighborhood of the Reformed church, there is the dwelling now occupied by Mrs. Weed. This was the Plass homestead of old times. Jonathan Plass, living in that neighborhood, now seventy-nine years old, says that his father was born in that old stone house; that his grandfather lived there, and he supposes the latter to have also been born there. In the roll of a military company, organized and under review at Oak Hill in 1715, alluded to in the general history, is the name of John Emenils Ploss, showing the family of that name to have been in this county at that early date. Dr. Porter, in the address already quoted, says of this military company (1715), "All of these persons were residents at that time of the Livingston manor; but larger advantages, offered by the proprietor of Claverack, induced many of them, no doubt, to remove at an early day within its boundaries." This statement would account for the Plass family name in Greenport at as early a day as the others mentioned.
If these inferences are correct, we have the Van Hoesen dwelling-house, the Bunt, The Plass, and the Van Deusen, all dating back one hundred and fifty years. The second Van Deusen house, mentioned above, on the present Brownell farm, with two or three others, may also be very old; but the four are evidently the earliest of all
There were doubtless other families nearly as early as the four mentioned, but it is difficult to secure any account of them, at least in chronological order.
John R. Hollenbeck was a resident more than a hundred years ago at the present place of F. A. Beach. He opened a tavern and established a ferry. He was succeeded by his son, Peter I. Hollenbeck, who died July 29, 1834, only three years later than his father. The tavern was continued by his widow and her family down to about 1855. It then ceased to be a public-house. Matthew and Michael Hollenbeck were also early residents. A son of Peter I. is Charles Hollenbeck of the McKinstry neighborhood, and a son of Charles is the present town clerk. The dwelling-house of Charles is about one hundred years old.
Jacob R. Hollenbeck, mentioned in the notes upon town officers, is the son of Matthias Hollenbeck, and he was the son of Matthias the elder. The sons of the latter, besides Matthias, Jr., were Jacob, Michael N., Jeremiah, Mrs. Bertrand (who, after the death of her first husband, married James Kelly), and Mrs. Abraham Ten Eyck. The old Hollenbeck tavern at the McKinstry place was kept by the mother of Jacob R. Hollenbeck for many years. She is remembered as an energetic, capable woman, and her house was a favorite resort for parties riding out from Hudson.
Many of the early settlers of Greenport are mentioned in the chapter upon the city of Hudson, of which Greenport was a part down to 1837.
Among the members of the common council of the city from 1785 to 1836 inclusive, who resided beyond the present city limits, may be mentioned the following: Ezra Reed, Dirck Delamater, and John Ten Broeck, in the year 1785. The two last were re-elected several times. In 1786 and 1787, H. I. Van Rensselaer was a member. In 1791 appears the name of Claudius I. Delamater. Samuel I. Ten Broeck lived where Samuel T. B. Heermance does at the present time. Jonathan Becraft, from whom the mountain derives its name, was a member of the common council in 1803 and 1804. Seth G. Macy lived in that part of Hudson set off to Stockport, on the present Lathrop farm. John Hardick, whose name appears many times in the official list, from 1801 to 1816, also lived in what is now Stockport. Thomas Whitlock, 1809, resided on the Farmers' turnpike, at what was known as Whitlock's gate. R. H. Van Rensselaer's farm was the present place of Allen Miller. Nicholas Ten Broeck lived on the present Farrell farm. John Tompkins in the south part of the town, on the road to Catskill Ferry. William Woods lived in what is now Stockport. George Coventry and Abram I. Hardick also. The name of Everts, both Charles and Jacob C., appears in the list of the common council. The present Henry Ten Broeck farm is understood to have been the Everts place. Frederick D. Gardner, a member of the last common council before the division of the city, is still living in Greenport (1878). Jonathan W. I. Race kept the tavern on the southeast corner of the town.
Among the early assessors may be mentioned Cornelius Benham, who lived on the present Dr. Sabine farm; Ansel McKinstry, at the present McKinstry place; Ezekiel Butler, who lived on what is known as the Butler farm; and James I. Morrison, in the south part of the town.
Oliver Wiswall was a public man of great energy and activity. He was mayor of the city of Hudson in 1827 and 1828. His old homestead was located on Mount Merion, and most beautifully situated. The mansion is a solidly-constructed building, erected for use and domestic comfort rather than for show. In the rear of it rise the cedar-crowned heights, southward is the garden, and beyond the garden are the spacious barns. In front of the mansion is a fine billiard-parlor, mistaken by many for a rural Episcopal chapel. A little south and opposite the garden is a deep glen, through which a small rill tumbles to the Hudson. Below the bank is the railroad track, noisy with rattling trains. Beyond the river, westward, the slopes of the opposite shore rise in quiet beauty, and blend with the loftier heights of the Catskills.
The Wiswall estate is now somewhat neglected, and its fine buildings scarcely occupied. Wm. J. Wiswall, the present owner of a part of the farm, is said to be the oldest living steamboat captain on the river, as his father before him was the first to command a steamboat making regular trips.
The present Hollenbeck tavern, near the "Fountains," on the Columbia turnpike, is a very old place. The tavern was kept nearly or quite a hundred years ago by James Bedell.
The tavern in the southeast corner of the town was established, too, as early as 1800, and was known for many years as the Hydorn place. The old tavern at the ferry, already spoken of, opened by John R. Hollenbeck a hundred years ago or more, was continued by Peter I. Hollenbeck, his son, for a few years, and after his death by his widow, down to about 1855 or 1856, when it ceased to be a public-house. Another early tavern was at the McKinstry place, near the Reformed church.
A very early blacksmith-shop was kept by John Plass on the present place of Mrs. Miller.
Town-meetings have been held the most of the time at the "Fountains."