Hudson Valley is filled with interesting sights and sounds. Why
not enjoy a vest pocket tour and enjoy all that the Hudson Valley
has to offer?
What is a “vest pocket” tour? You
can think of a vest pocket tour as a very short trip. It’s
like a mini vacation; something you can use to create a break
in your busy day. You set your own pace. Typically a vest pocket
tour takes 15 minutes to an hour. The places you’ll be visiting
are easy to get to and close together. Although you can combine
vest pocket tours relating to the same theme, each tour is self
contained and can stand on its own.
It might help (but it’s not necessary) to print this out,
fold it up, and stick it in your vest pocket for reference when
you get there. Not wearing a vest today? Your purse, wallet, or
another pocket will work just as well.
Have a good time! With luck, you’ll discover nearby places
you’ll want to revisit to share with friends and family.
Remember, this all belongs to you and to them, too. It’s
an American legacy that‘s been passed on to you, part of
your community heritage.
Come back often for additional tours. And don’t hesitate
to contact us
with your comments or questions.
This Month's Tour: Van Wyck Homestead Museum
Southeast corner of the intersection at
Route 9 and I-84, Fishkill. Turn into Snook Road, next to the
Hess Mart. The horseshoe drive to your immediate left is the entrance
to the museum. Call ahead (845-896-9560) for hours if you wish
to visit inside the museum. There is parking available.
Points of Interest
All Of Which Can Be Observed From the Museum
The Van Wyck Homestead
Many people think the house you see here
has been moved here from another location. In fact, Van Wyck Homestead
Museum stands exactly where it has been since the day it was built
by Cornelius Van Wyck in 1732. The side that’s now used
as an entrance was originally the back of the house. The busy
highway that runs past the house is Route 9 and it has always
been a major road.
Route 9, The Indian Trail and
The Wiccopee Pass
Although you may not recognize it by the
way it looks here, Route 9 is really an extension of old Broadway
in Manhattan. Follow that road south and it will take you right
down through Times Square. Take it north and it leads to Albany.
If you look down Route 9 to the south, you’ll
see a break in the mountain ridges. That’s the famous Wiccopee
Pass. When this was an Indian trail, the Wappinger Indians had
a fort located at that pass. Anyone hoping to invade the area
by land had to get through that pass, or go over the mountain
ridges, a very difficult feat.
During the American Revolution, George Washington’s
army fortified that pass. The British held New York City throughout
the war. In order to capture our supply depot and end the Revolution,
they needed only to assemble on old Broadway and march north.
They never did it, because they knew how well we had fortified
the Wiccopee Pass.
The Indian trail became the Albany Post Road. Distances
from New York City were marked by milestones; placed during the
late 18th century. These distances were used to determine postal
rates. You can see one just North of the mall entrance by MacDonald’s
at the Dutchess Mall. It’s no longer legible, but it used
to read, “66 Miles to N. York.”
I-84, The East West Highway
There has always been east to west trails
and roads running approximately where I-84 is now. These roads
once connected New England to the western frontier and have always
been important to commerce. The Indian trail network probably
connected the Indian forts at “Castle” Point on the
Hudson, where the military hospital is now, and Fort Hill at the
Wiccopee Pass, and Fort Hill in East Fishkill. The trail then
passed through the thousands of years old settlement near Ludingtonville,
since obliterated by the construction of I-84.
The Mystery of the Stone
Stand on the porch of the Museum and face
Snook Road, and you will see the horseshoe shaped driveway before
you. Follow the drive on the right hand side approximately halfway
to Snook Road and then turn left into the grounds for about 15
to 20 feet. You are now standing directly above a buried stone
floor. This floor was discovered during archeological excavations
in the 60s. The soil above the floor had been undisturbed and
the floor had been built on a layer left as part of the last glacier
deposit. There was nothing below it. The mystery is this. Above
the floor was an ancient arrowhead, made and used long before
Europeans are believed to have come to these shores. Who built
the stone floor? Local Indians are not believed to have worked
The Indian Maid
A road crew digging a trench on Jackson
Street in Fishkill discovered a skeleton that was determined to
be that of an Indian Maid in her late teens. She was laid to rest
under the pyramid stones memorializing the Revolutionary War Soldiers
who served and died here in Fishkill. The Ninham Mountain Singers
recently conducted a public ceremony here in her honor. The memorial
is located at the north northwest corner of the museum grounds.
The Revolutionary War Dead
No one knows the exact location of the graves
of the many Revolutionary War Soldiers who are known to be buried
in the immediate area. A memorial had been placed more or less
opposite where the MacDonald’s now stands, but it did not
state the location of the graves. That memorial was moved during
construction and relocated to the grounds of Van Wyck Museum.
It is halfway down the drive, opposite the location of the buried
The Spy and the CIA,
and the Wharton House
For many years the Van Wyck Homestead was
known as the Wharton House. That’s what James Fenimore Cooper
called it when he described it in his novel “The Spy.”
Enoch Crosby was the real life spy Cooper used for his novel.
Crosby was a “double agent.” He posed as a spy who
was working against Washington’s army to get information
to help the British. Only John Jay, the head of our secret service,
and a very few others (including General Washington), knew that
wasn’t true. Crosby was really spying against the British
to help the Americans! Once, when he had been captured by the
Americans who intended to hang him, he was held in this house.
John Jay helped him “escape” back to the British so
he could continue his spying against them. Our modern Central
Intelligence Agency recognizes John Jay, Enoch Crosby, and Nathaniel
Sackett to be among the founding fathers of the agency.
The Fishkill Ridge
and the Northern Supply Depot
The Fishkill Ridge is described in Cooper’s
novel. The meeting of General Washington and the spy on the ridge
is one of the dramatic high points of the story. On some days
you can see the mists rising above the streams that flow down
from its heights to feed Clove Creek and the aquifer below. Clove
Creek flows behind the Dutchess Mall and you’ve probably
guessed by now that the army was encamped in the area of the Mall
and its parking lot. There were two large log barracks and lots
of smaller log cabins or “huts” as they were called.
There was a bakery, all sorts of blacksmith and repair shops;
in short, everything the army would require. It was a small temporary
town, protected by the army and the ring of surrounding mountain
The officers of the Northern Supply Depot used
the Van Wyck Homestead as a headquarters. The main concentration
of troops was right here, from the Wiccopee Pass to the Main Street
of Fishkill, but the Depot extended eastward to Quaker Hill in
Pawling where there was a hospital and westward to include the
present city and waterfront of Beacon, (in those days it was called
“Fishkill Landing”) where the Hudson river provided
easy transportation for the goods necessary to support an army.
James Fenimore Cooper
Cooper is considered by many to be the first
major American novelist. He’s probably best known for his
1826 novel “The Last of the Mohicans,” but it was
his novel “The Spy,” that brought him such fame and
wealth that he was able to give up farming for writing. Cooper
lived for a time in nearby Westchester, and knew John Jay well
enough to have heard Jay tell about the adventures of the double
agent Enoch Crosby, who reported to Jay during the Revolution.
“The Spy” is sadly neglected today,
even though the ethical issues it raises speak directly to our
times. It certainly spoke to those for whom our Revolution was
a living memory. Many copies were sold both here and in England.
Inspired by the example of Sir Walter Scott, Cooper
strove to create stereotypes in his writing. It is impossible
to know his state of mind, so we’ll never know to what extent
he believed he was deliberately exaggerating in his stereotypes
of women and minorities. Such offensive stereotypes add to the
difficulty of reading Cooper in the 21st century. Nevertheless,
for anyone seeking to understand the very real moral issues facing
those real life people who lived here during the American Revolution,
“The Spy” is a must read.
It would take a long time to list those
famous people who have visited here, so we’ll just focus
on one or two. There was General MacDougal, who held an ox roast
here in celebration of the American victory at Saratoga. General
Israel Putnam, for whom Putnam County is named, was commanding
officer here for a time. Madame Brett, who sold the land to Cornelius
Van Wyck, visited here. So did the Wappinger Indian Chief Daniel
Nimham. And now, so have you!
The Picnic Area
There’s a picnic area with a bench
or two on the grounds. If you’re willing to overlook the
background sound from the traffic, it’s a pleasant spot
to pause for a sandwich or two while you contemplate this historic
spot and the view of the Fishkill Ridge.
If the museum and its gift shop are not open, there
are toilet facilities and sandwiches for sale at the Hess Station
within easy walking distance across Snook Road, or at the MacDonald’s
on the opposite side of Route 9.
A Nice Way Home
When you’re going home, if you happen
to be traveling north on Route 9, do notice the rooster weathervane
on the top of the steeple of the Dutch Reformed Church at the
intersection of Route 9 and Route 52 (the main Street of Fishkill
If you’re going east, you might want to
take I-84 eastbound toward the Beacon Newburgh Bridge. The views
of the Mountain Ridges from I-84 are nothing short of spectacular.
You’ll be passing through a section where you’ll be
able to see the down-state prison. Note the prison grounds on
the left hand side as you drive toward the river. It looks like
the grounds of an English country manor or palace. There’s
a reason for that. The land was specially selected for its beauty.
It was donated by wealthy local merchants and professionals; to
be used as a hospital for the criminally insane. It was hoped
the insane would be assisted on the road to recovery by the natural
majesty of the setting. The people who lived here once understood
the power of the natural beauty that surrounds us. Many of those
who now live here still do.
The Van Wyck Homestead Museum is Owned and Operated
Fishkill Historical Society, Inc.
504 Route 9 at the intersection of I-84
Fishkill, New York 12524
Open from Memorial Day through the end of October,
on Saturday and Sunday, from 1-4 p.m., or by appointment.
Here’s a link to information about the museum:
You may consider becoming a member of the Fishkill
Historical Society. Call or write:
Fishkill Historical Society
Box 133, Fishkill, New York 12524
Tel: (845) 896-9560