Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Take a "Vest Pocket Tour" of Beautiful Dutchess County

   

Photograph of People at Beach The 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.

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This Month's Tour: Van Wyck Homestead Museum Grounds

Van Wyck HomesteadLocation
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 Grounds:

The Van Wyck Homestead Museum
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 Floor
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 in stone.

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 stone floor.

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 ridges.

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.

Famous Visitors
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 Village.)

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 by
Fishkill Historical Society, Inc.
504 Route 9 at the intersection of I-84
Fishkill, New York 12524
(845) 896-9560
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:
http://www.pojonews.com/enjoy/stories/0428971.htm

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