HOW THE CITY OF POUGHKEEPSIE WAS FOUNDED

By Miss Helen Wilkinson Reynolds

Once upon a time (as all good stories used to begin) the land on which the City of Poughkeepsie stands was covered by a thick forest. In the forest rose water courses that flowed down grade, westward, and emptied into the river. The largest of those streams had a long course and finally reached the river by a series of cascades that followed successively winding turns (near the present railroad station), the mouth of the stream being near the (present) property of the Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation.

In the woods and along the streams were a few Indians. The area in which they lived they called wapan achki (east land) and they, themselves, were called wapani (men of the east land). They were quiet and peaceable Indians, few in number, and no warfare between them and Europeans marred the early chapters of the story of Poughkeepsie.

Through the forest on the site of the City of Poughkeepsie there ran a path, north and south, later referred to as the Indian Trail. It was the route followed by the Indians on Manhattan Island and the Indians in the vicinity of (the present) Albany when they communicated with each other and it followed, approximately, the general course that the state highway of today follows between new York and Albany.

As the Indian Trail reached the site of the City of Poughkeepsie, coming north from Manhattan, it ran along (the present) Market Street until it reached (the present) Main Street. There it departed from a straight line and wound down hill, over (the present) Main and Washington and Mill and North Bridge Streets, until it came to the large stream above referred to. At the spot where now, North Bridge reaches that stream, the banks of the stream were low and a fording place was created. From that low place the natives went on to the high ground on which now the east end of the Poughkeepsie Bridge.

Late in the seventeenth century two white men who were living in Albany bought from the Indian owners of it a large tract of land, part of which the City of Poughkeepsie now occupies. One of the two men was Robert Sanders, an Englishman who was widely known as an interpreter between Indians and Europeans, and the other was Myndert Harmense Van Den Bogaerdt, a Dutchman, whose name translated into English means: Myndert, son of Harmen Of-the-Orchard, and of whom it was customary to speak as: Myndert Harmense. Those two partners reported to the Governor of New York their purchase of land from the Indians and received from the Governor legal confirmation of their title. The document issued by the Governor was called a patent and has since then been known as the Sanders and Harmense Patent and as the Minisinck Patent.

It was the purpose of Robert Sanders and Myndert Harmense in buying this land to sell from out the tract homestead farms to settlers and the first step they took toward getting their property opened and occupied was to enter into an agreement with two other men at Albany, by which agreement (in the form of a lease) it was arranged that the latter should move down from Albany, should each take up forty-eight acres of land as tenants for ten years and should each build a house, cultivate crops and keep livestock. The lease describes in detail the manner in which the houses of the settlers were to be built. The walls were to be of stone, taken from the ground at the site. The wood trim was to be brought by sloop from Albany, which village was then doing a large export business in lumber (boards, planks, shingles, etc.) and masons and hod-carriers were to be employed.

The two men who thus agreed to settle as tenants on the lands of Sanders and Harmense were Baltus Barents Van Kleeck and Hendrick Jans Ostrom (both names variously spelled in the original records) and the land that they were to take up was described in the lease as "lying in the Lange rack" and "called Minnisingh and Pochkeepsin."

To explain the place-names mentioned in the lease is should be said that "Lange rack" was a Dutchman's way of referring to the sailing channel in the river which is opposite Poughkeepsie. There is a straight channel in the river for a distance of about ten miles, midway in which Poughkeepsie is situated, and when Henry Hudson sailed up the river in the Half Moon in 1609 the mate of the Half Moon, Robert Juett of London, mentioned that course in his log as "the Long Reach." Subsequently Dutch mariners referred to it in the equivalent Dutch words: "de Lange Rak" and so in early documents a great many different spellings of the name are found, partly English, partly Dutch. "Minnisingh," the second name mentioned in the lease, is believed to have been applied to the high ground northeast of (the present) Arlington, along the road to Pleasant Valley, and it may have meant: "place-where-the-stones-are-gathered." The third name cited by the lease was 'Pochkeepsin." It will be considered here later, as it involves a story all its own.

The lease, signed by Robert Sanders and Myndert Harmense as owners (lessors) and by Baltus Barents Van Kleeck and Hendrick Jans Ostrom as tenants (lessees), was dated at Albany, June 9, 1687, and it provides the occasion for the celebration in 1937 of Poughkeepsie's two hundred and fiftieth anniversary. It is also rightly to be considered the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the settlement of Dutchess County. Before 1687 a transient hunter or squatter of European ancestry may occasionally have explored the woods that covered the area which is now Dutchess County. But 1687 is the earliest date now known for the establishment by white men of permanent legal residence within the boundaries of the county. Following 1687, Peter Pieterse Lassen is known to have been living in 1688 in a house near the river at the mouth of Jan Casper's Kill; in 1700 Hendrick Kip built a house at Kipsbergen (now Rhinecliff); and between 1708 and 1713 five or six farms were laid out along the Fishkill. The first residents of the county all lived close to the river, however, for convenience in travel. The closely grown forests in the interior of the county were not penetrated by white men for the creation of settled homes until the first quarter of the eighteenth century.

In 1687 there was no continuous road from Albany south to Poughkeepsie. The Indian trail threaded the forest on the east side of the river, but the river itself, was the route of travel and transportation for the white man. Signing the lease for their new homes on the 9th of June, 1687, Baltus Barents Van Kleeck and Hendrick Jans Ostrom must soon after have sailed down from Albany by sloop to build their house during warm weather.

Arriving in the Long Reach in a bow-shaped cove where there was a beach, mentioned in the lease as "the strand", they deposited on the strand the lumber brought down from Albany for the wood trim of the houses to be built. About 1850 the bow-shaped cove was filled in so that the curved shoreline was made straight and the location is now occupied by the lumber yard of C. N. Arnold Company. Going ashore on that little beach Van Kleeck and Ostrom found, close at hand, the stream with the beautiful cascade above referred to. The Indians called that series of waterfalls: Pondanickrien, which meant "the crooked place" or "place of many turnings," but the Dutch settlers spoke of the stream as a whole as the "Val Kill," Dutch words for "fall" and "stream." "Val" was pronounced as if spelled in English "foll," the v sounding like f and the word rhyming with "doll." The name "Fallkill" is the result, being half English and half Dutch.

To investigate the neighborhood, the natural thing for the new arrivals to do was to follow the course of the stream inland and, in doing that, they came to the fording place on the Indian trail, above described. There before them lay the trail, in the midst of otherwise unbroken forest. Leaving the stream and following the trail along (the present) North Bridge Street and then turning up (the present) Mill Street hill, Baltus Barents Van Kleeck selected a spot on which to erect his house between (the present) Vassar and Washington Streets. The house was placed, approximately, where now is number 226 Mill Street, and it remained standing until 1835, throughout which period of one-hundred and forty-eight years it was owned by members of the Van Kleeck family.

The lease of 1687 specified that Van Kleeck and Ostrom were each to take up forty-eight acres of land. Apparently Baltus Van Kleeck occupied a comparatively small tract, such as that, for ten years, at the end of which time he bought on June 3, 1697, a very large amount of land from Sanders and Harmense, the original deed for which is now on deposit in the Adriance Memorial Library. The deed conveyed to "Balthazar Van Cleake of Long Rock in the County of Dutchess" four lots of land,--three water-lots (that is to say, three lots fronting on the river) and a fourth, which was called the "Dwars" or Cross-Lot because it lay across the east end of the water lots. The water-lots extended along the shore of the river from (approximately) the present Church Street to the vicinity of the Vassar brewery-site. As a whole, the tract made up of the three water-lots was irregular in shape as it ran inland, narrowing back to (the present) Washington Street. Between Washington and (the present) Catharine Streets it was bounded on the south by (the present) Main Street and, on the north, by a line that was about equivalent to the rear of the (present) house lots on the north side of Mill. The "Dwars" or Cross Lot was bounded (loosely speaking) by the courses which today are followed by certain streets, namely: Catharine and Academy on the west; Cherry and Smith on the east; Cottage on the north and Church on the south.

The deed of 1697 stated that the four lots which were conveyed by it were "now or lately in the possession and occupation of Mijnardt Harmens, Balthazar Barnes, Hendrick Ostrom and Symon Schoute," which statement reveals that land which, before 1697, had been leased to Handrick Ostrom (one of the two original settlers of 1687) formed a part of the large tract that was purchased outright by Baltus Barents Van Kleeck. Unfortunately, nothing has ever been found to show where Ostrom's house stood. Hendrick Ostrom was not young in 1687 as indicated by the fact that he married in 1652, thirty-five years before coming to Poughkeepsie, and he may not have lived long after his arrival, for the hardships in the lives of the pioneers were many and great. He had one son, only, —Jan Hendricks Ostrom—who also came to Poughkeepsie very early. Jan Ostrom leased for a time land south of (the present) Main Street. Later he bought a farm on the north side of Main, between the modern Innis Avenue and Pershing Avenue. That farm ultimately became the Glebe of the Church of England in Dutchess County and the Glebe House, built in 1767, is now the property of the City of Poughkeepsie.

Soon after Baltus Van Kleeck and Hendrick Ostrom established themselves on the site of the City of Poughkeepsie, Myndert Harmense, one of the two patentees of the Sanders and Harmense Patent, also arrived from Albany as a permanent resident. He built his house on land that now lies in the angle formed by the northeast corner of Mill and North Bridge Streets and on the Val Kill he put up a saw-mill. The saw-mill stood beside the rushing, roaring fall of water which today is bounded by North Water Street on the west and by the tracks of the Hudson River Railroad on the east.

Myndert Harmense and Baltus Van Kleeck were near neighbors, their houses being placed but a stone's throw apart on opposite sides of the Indian Trail and in their two households were children. Among the children were two boys, Johannes Van Kleeck (born 1680) and Myndert Van Den Bogaerdt (born 1682). Like all boys, Johannes and Myndert enjoyed wandering in the woods and they early explored the forest that surrounded their homes. Soon they were familiar with the Indian Trail. Following that trail as it ran along the course of (the present) Market Street, South Avenue and the State Road, they finally reached a spot about a mile and three-quarters south of where the Court House now stands and there the spirit of boyish adventure had its reward. On high sloping ground they found a spring, surrounded by cat-tail reeds. Out of the spring issued a small stream, —a stream that is still running and which, rising on the east side of the (present) state road, flows across the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery and enters the river at Mine Point. Around that spring the two little Dutch boys found Indians camping. The Indians had cut the cat-tail reeds, plaited the reeds into mats, hung the mats over the branches and thus made "lodges" or shelter for themselves.

The boys called this spot Rust Plaetz, Dutch words (pronounced Roost Plawts) meaning Resting Place, because the natives rested or camped there. But the Indians themselves, spoke of it in three words of their own, words well known to modern students of Indian language: uppuqui pronounced oo-poo-kee and meaning "lodge covering," (the name of the cat-tail reed); ipis (little water); ing (meaning place); a free translation of which word is: "The Reed-covered Lodge by the Little Water Place."

As a matter of fact that spring was about half way between New York and Albany on the Indian Trail and it served as a camping place for Indian runners and for local hunters. It was so well known locally that its name was applied to the general vicinity surrounding it. But when Dutchmen and Englishmen, who arrived as settlers, wrote the name they spelled it phonetically and each man heard it differently so it appears in the early documents in a great many combination of letters. It crept into the lease given in 1687 to Van Kleeck and Ostrom as "Pochkeepsin" but the form most often given it was "Apokeepsing" (which comes rather close to the sound of uppuqui-ipis-ing). Out of Apokeepsing came Poughkeepsing and out of Poughkeepsing came Poughkeepsie.

The Indians' camping place became by and by a boundary mark between the two properties held by white settlers and in later years a boundary dispute arose. In 1742, in connection with that dispute, Johannes Van Kleeck, aged sixty-two years, and Myndert Van Den Bogaerdt, aged sixty, made a sworn statement that they had known the place fifty years previously, which deposition (on record in the Court House at Poughkeepsie) establishes that in 1692 they, as children, twelve and ten years old, were familiar with the Rust Plaetz.

Thus Poughkeepsie derives its name from a place in the woods, associated with the Indians, which place two little Dutch boys frequented in the seventeenth century.

Myndert Van Den Bogaerdt, who played with Johannes Van Kleeck as a boy, had a brother—Jacobus Van Den Bogaerdt. When Jacobus was grown his father, Myndert Harmense, one of the patentees of the Sanders and Harmense Patent, presented Jacobus with a large tract of land for him to develop as his homestead farm. The tract lay south of (the present) Main Street; bordered on the river south of (the present) Church Street; and ran eastward form the river to (the present) Academy and Cherry Streets. On the site of the Nelson House of today Jacobus Van Den Bogaerdt built his house. On the north his land abutted the land of Baltus Van Kleeck and so it happened that a lane was gradually trodden between the two properties along the line of what is now Main Street between Market and Academy. The lane widened somewhat ultimately but it never became ample. Main Street is not today wide enough for comfort between Market and Academy.

If the observer will look carefully in 1937 he will see that Main Street broadens out east of Academy Street. The reason for that is that from Academy to Cherry it had its beginnings as a crosscut or footpath through the woods over Baltus Van Clack's Dwars or Cross Lot. It grew along the line of least resistance, as all forest footpaths do, and it makes several turns between Academy and Cherry, which show how it wandered and widened at will.

The story of how Main Street came into existence out of original conditions is told here in order to illustrate the manner in which many of the streets of Poughkeepsie can be traced to the boundaries of the farms that were laid out by the first settlers.

Jacobus Van Den Bogaerdt, who lived on the site of the Nelson House, was apparently a man of public spirit. For one thing he opened his house to entertain transient paying guests (to which fact can be traced the beginning of a hotel on this site) but, what was more than that, he made two gifts to the community which have influenced the course of events in Poughkeepsie and in Dutchess County. One gift was a lot of ground on which to erect a church for the Dutch Reformed congregation and the lot (on the southeast corner of Market and Main Streets) is still owned by the congregation. The other gift was a lot on which to build a Court House for Dutchess County and the lot is still occupied for the purpose for which it was given. The erection of the Court House made Poughkeepsie the seat of county government, occasioned the building of roads over which the county-seat could be reached and made Poughkeepsie a center for county business and commerce.

Thus out of small beginnings in the midst of a forest have developed the city and county of today, whose two-hundred and fifty years of growth and prosperity are being given appreciative recognition in 1937.

[ signed ]
Helen Wilkinson Reynolds

[This account was transcribed from "The 250
th Anniversary of the Founding of the City of Poughkeepsie, NY" (1937) by John Galbraith (2000).]

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