By Mary Isabella Forsyth
1840 - 1914

As printed in THE NEW ENGLAND MAGAZINE, November, 1893. VOL. IX. No. 3

The First Dutch Church in 1893

The First Dutch Church in 1913

The first stone church 1679-1752

The first stone church 1679-1752

The second stone church 1752-1832

The second stone Church 1752 - 1832
Pictured as restored after it was burned in 1777

The Senate House in 1913

The Original Court House burned in 1777

The Kingston Academy in 1893

The Tappan House 1893
Corner of Green and Crown Streets

The Tappan House in 1913
Present home of the DAR

The De Wall House in 1913
North Front Street

The Hoffman House in 1893
On North Front Street at the corner of Green Street

The Jansen House in 1913

The Masten House 1913

The Plank Road Bridge over the Esopus 1913

Snowstorm on Wall Street, April 11, 1894- click to see it full size!

Kingston Fairgroundsin 1920 (now Deitz Stadium) - click to see it full size!

(Remember, This was written in 1893 and offers a "first person" look at Kingston as the city looked over 100 years ago!)

IT was "Old Kingston" a hundred years ago. Even then it had felt for the greater part of two centuries the ebb and flow of history. Founded when the massacre of St. Bartholomew was still fresh in the world's memory, and when the terrible persecutions under Louis XIV were already ablaze. Huguenot and Hollander here joined forces, married and intermarried, until the inhabitants of today show the names and characteristics of both races. Blended with these is the strain of Norse blood, too limited to carry with it the vigorous energy of the Vikings; but the quick, vivacious motions of eye or hand, the ready gesticulation of the Gallic race, have come down to our day, in marked contrast to the phlegmatic methods of thought and actions derived from Dutch ancestry.

Perhaps to its lack of enterprise is due much of the attractiveness of the old town. A certain dreamy atmosphere still pervades it. The activities of the present pale before the suggestions of the past. The whistle of the locomotive, the whir of machinery, the growing number of shops, houses, churches, -none of these seem to the sojourners in Kingston its greatest interest. That lies in the background of record and tradition. Newcomers, indeed, are here. There is a city hall; a union depot, where three railways meet; electric cars whirl through the city of twenty-three thousand inhabitants; new industries are creeping in, where formerly farms and quarries were the main sources of income; iron bridges span streams long crossed by means of dark wooden tunnels; gas and electricity replace the dim lanterns formerly seen bobbing about the ancient streets, along footpaths wandering through wayside turf. But the old streets are the same, laid out, it is said, by the cows of the early inhabitants; many of the old houses are still standing; and an intangible something pervades the whole, -an aroma of antiquity, subtly but strongly felt.

Early records show that in 1614 a fort and trading post were established by the Dutch at the mouth of the Rondout, at the same time that similar forts were built at New Amsterdam and at Castle Island, near Albany. This post is alluded to in early documents still in possession of the Holland government as one of the strongholds of the Dutch in America. But the first permanent settlement was made in 1652. We cannot wonder at the selection of this lovely site by the pioneers of that date, who, indeed, called it "an exceedingly beautiful land." The high tableland now known as Upper Kingston (formerly "Atkarkarton," "Esopus," and "Wiltwyck") descends abruptly, on the north, to the valley of Esopus Creek, with its rich meadows. Beyond this rise first the foothills, then the Catskills, in their satisfying beauty. Some two miles away Rondout Creek rolls its deep flow along the southern boundary of the present city, while the Hudson sweeps majestically the eastern line. On the western horizon lies the strangely marked outline of the Shawangunk Mountains, broken by Lake Mohonk and "The Gaps." Like London, the little city is formed by the ingathering of adjacent villages or hamlets, continuing to bear their distinctive names. These are separated, in some parts, by wide stretches of green fields and rolling hills. A newcomer has said of the town, "Every street has a character of its own, each totally different from every other." An earlier common saying was, "Every other house is a barn and every other white man a negro." Indeed, the general removal of the big barns that, like the houses, with their cozy old stoops, fronted close upon the streets, is comparatively recent; and the number of colored inhabitants is still noticeable.

There is an unusual mingling of edifices, antique and modern, elegant and plain, oddly significant of the relationships and associations of the inhabitants. Next to a mansion of colonial size and proportions may be some modest little dwelling or shop; all, even in the newer portions of town, seeming as if dropped down by chance.

The first building usually noticed by the stray tourist to the Catskills, who by chance spends a night at Kingston, is a beautiful church of native bluestone standing in a long-unused graveyard shaded by magnificent elms. Strolling beneath these, the traveler finds much of interest. The musical bell in the high tower surmounted by a graceful spire came from Amsterdam in 1795. When moved to its present location, the clapper was found to be worn flat. The first bell, also from Holland, was transferred to the court house and finally broken.

The names and dates on the tombstones deserve attention. The oldest stone is a narrow bluestone slab, resting against a cedar stump, and rudely marked by the initials "D. W." and the date "1710." Previous to this date, it is said, interments were made beneath the church, - not the present structure, but one nearly on the same site. The names De Witt, Elmendorf, Wynkoop, Tenbroeck, Oosterhoudt, Van Gaasbeek, etc., betoken Holland ancestry; Severyn Bruyn tells of Norwegian origin; while Dumond, DuBois, Hasbrouck, commemorate French progenitors. The first glance within shows, above the pulpit, a memorial window of rare beauty and value, recently presented (1891) to the church by Mr. David H. Houghtaling, of New York. The subject is the Presentation in the Temple.

Passing through the church, of noble proportions and severe Roman architecture, we find much to inspect. In the pastor's study, in the belfry, is an oaken chest, bearing the date 1676. Its massive key is attached to an immense iron chain. This chest contains the records of the church, in the Dutch language, -a full register of her baptisms, communicants, and marriages. In antique French are preserved the accounts of business connected with her early history. Among the many names perpetuated on tablets on the walls is that of Gilbert Livingston. He was the third son of the original patentee of Livingston Manor, and is deserving of more than the simple mention here given, as he was the first person in the State who manumitted his slaves. Two noticeable monuments are to the memory of Rev. John Cantine Farrell Hoes, D. D., whose long ministry is also recorded on the pastor's tablet; and of A. Bruyn Hasbrouck, LL. D., formerly president of Rutgers College, who returned in his later years to the home of his boyhood and his ancestors. On the left of the pulpit are the names of the pastors, as follows:

  • Hermanus Blom, 1660-67
  • Laurentius Van Gausbeek, 1678-80
  • Johannes Weekstein, 1681-87
  • Laurentius Vander Bosch, 1687-89
  • John Petrus Nucella, 1695-1704
  • Henricus Beys, 1706-8
  • Petrus Vas, 1710-56
  • George Wilhelmus Mancius, 1732-62
  • Hermannus Meyer, D.D., 1763-72
  • George Jacob Leonard Doll, 1775-1808
  • John Gosman, D.D., 1808-35
  • John Lillie, D.D., 1836-41
  • John Hardenburgh Van Wagenen, 1841-44
  • John Cantine Farrell Hoes, D.D., 1845-67
  • David Newland Vanderveer, 1867-76
  • John Garnsey Van Slyke
  • The church was organized in 1656, by a lay reader named Van Slyke or Van der Sluys, an ancestor of the present pastor. He was called the "comforter of the sick," who "spoke the words of the Lord," to the little colony. The ancient communion service tells of the close ties binding this church, in its early days, to that beyond the seas, - two tall, curiously wrought silver beakers, having been sent over as gifts from the Holland church. One is marked 1683; the other, -meeting the needs of an increasing number of communicants, -1711. Duplicates of the older one have recently been added as memorial gifts.

    Beneath the church are buried many whose names meet our eyes upon the marbles upon the interior walls. Many of these names are still borne by members of the present congregation, and are familiar sounds among the simple people who still meet and mingle with little thought of social differences, and are all united in deep loyalty to the "old church," as it is commonly called through the vast stretch of country once forming its parish.

    Until 1808, its services were conducted, either wholly or in part, in the Dutch language. Indeed, to the present generation it was formerly a matter of course to hear kindly greetings exchanged in the Holland tongue, as the congregation passed out through the vestibule. This was especially the case after Christmas and New-Year services, when hearts drew closest together.

    Nearly opposite the churchyard - through which, as a thoroughfare, pass the busy feet of the present generation - is the court house, inscribed with the date of its erection, 1818. This building, too, replaces a much older one alluded to in some of the earliest accounts of national events, which had above its doorway the following inscription, cut in stone: "This town was burned by British cruelty on Oct. 16, 1777."

    Not far away, yet on the "East Front" of what was formerly the village, - earlier the "fortje," enclosed by its stockade, - is the Senate House, where the first Senate of the State of New York held its sessions. This was built by Wessel Tenbroeck, in the latter part of the seventeenth century. It is now owned and kept in repair by the State. The old stone house (rebuilt after the Revolution) in which the State Constitution was framed on April 20, 1777, was torn down in 1856 to make way for a modern dwelling. But diagonally opposite still remains, as a residence, what was in Revolutionary times the tavern of Conrad Elmendorf, a noted place for political gatherings.

    The (New York State) Constitution having been adopted in an evening session of the convention, the public proclamation was made at the court house at eleven o'clock the following morning. Under the Constitution an election for governor was held, and, on the 30th of July George Clinton was declared duly elected. It was then ordered "That the said proclamation be made and published by the sheriff of Ulster County, at or near the court house, in Kingston, Ulster County, at six o'clock in the afternoon," a sensible hour for a midsummer day. It was also "resolved and ordered that Capt. Evart Bogardus and Capt. John Elmendorf do cause the companies of militia under their respective commands to appear at the Court House in Kingston at six o'clock this afternoon properly armed and accoutered, at which time and place His Excellency, George Clinton, will be proclaimed Governor of this State."

    Owing to the unsettled condition of the State, then in the throes of the national struggle, the Senate could not obtain a quorum until the 9th of September. It then met in the Old Senate House, as it is now called. The Assembly met in Capt. Bogardus's inn, where the Constitution had been adopted. At the court house, the Senate and Assembly met the governor; and there the Supreme Court was organized, on Sept. 9, by Chief Justice Jay. In his charge to the grand jury (given in full in Schoonmaker's History of Kingston) occur these words, among many worthy of memory: -"The Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon and choosing the forms of government under which they should live... You will know no power but such as you will create; no authority unless derived from your grant; no laws, but such as acquire all their obligation from your consent...Let virtue, honor, the love of liberty and of science be and remain the soul of this Constitution, and it will become the source of great and extensive happiness to this and future generations."

    The Legislature continued in session until Oct. 7, when news arrived of the capture, by the enemy, of Fort Montgomery. At this crisis, military service claimed many members of both the Assembly and Senate; and their formal meetings gave way to a convention composed of members of both houses, and presided over by Pierre Van Cortlandt. It passed resolutions to continue the committees formed in September for the protection of the town. A Council of Safety was also formed, and most active measures were resolved upon in preparation for any attack from the enemy along the river-front. It was ordered that vessels should be loaded with provisions and other supplies stored near the river, and sent to Albany. Cattle were to be driven into the interior. If the owner should refuse consent to this, the animals should be killed. State papers, too, were to be removed to a place of greater safety. But when this was finally accomplished the foe was at hand, firing the town.

    Many houses now standing were rebuild on the ruins left smoking at the close of that awful day, the 16th of October, 1777. Their massive stone walls and solid beams were not in every case destroyed, though blackened and broken down. Some of these restored dwellings are one-storied, with high-pitched roofs and dormer windows; others, large, square, and dignified as an old burgomaster. The quaint old church, a sketch of which is here given through the courtesy of Mr. Marius Schoonmaker, was laid waste; and only one house within what were then the village limits was spared. That still stands on Wall Street, just as when originally built. It was saved from destruction by the faithfulness of a slave, who hid near at hand until the foe had passed on and then returned to extinguish the fire.

    One old lady had a feast prepared in hope of softening by this hospitality the hearts of the British officers, who enjoyed the good cheer and then, alas! Burned the house. When Mrs. Elmendorf, this ancient dame, was told of the burning of her family mansion, one of her slaves exclaimed: "No, Missus, that can't be, for I have the key in my pocket!"

    Through these very precincts rang the cry (familiar still to the old Kingstonian), "Lope, younge, lope! Die roode komme!" (Run, children, run! The redcoats are coming!) This summons sent the inhabitants (chiefly women and children, the able-bodied men being in the Continental army) fleeing for refuge to "New Dorp," now Hurley. The turn in the road whence was seen the glitter of the British muskets as the little party struggled on its way is still shown. And in Old Hurley, three miles away, stand solidly the stone houses that opened then for refuge, and that mark today the line of the same street that saw the Indian massacre of 1662, when Hurley and Wiltwyck (Kingston) were both burned by the redman. Indeed, Kingston has been a very phoenix, not only repeatedly laid in ashes by hostile hands, but suffering seriously at various times from accidental fires.

    In the Hasbrouck family record, which carries its accounts of the Huguenot family back to the date of the Edict of Nantes, this quaint mention is made of such an occurrence: "My dwelling-house in Kingston took fire by accident in the roof of the house - none know the cause of how it took fire, it being the twenty-third day of October in the year of our Lord 1776 at three of the clock in the afternoon, being a violent wind that very day, it consumed the house in a very short time. Lost most of my household furniture, groceries in my store or shop, and all my goods, linen, clothes, etc. Books, book-case, clock, and all the goods that were on the garret or loft, were all consumed, to a great value. The loss I sustained that day, at a modest computation is computed to at least three thousand pounds. But thanks be to the great and good God, I and all my family got out of the house unhurt, though I was then unable to help myself. I lay in bed lame in most all my limbs, so that I could not go or walk as little as a first-born child, and I through God's mercies have saved all my deeds, mortgages, bonds, notes, books, most part of my money then by me, except between 40 and 50 pounds then in my counter's drawer was lost and burnt. My neighbor Abraham Van Keuren's widow's house took fire, also blacksmith's shop, Abraham Low's house, barn, barrack, Johannis Masten's house, Petrus Eltinge's House and barn, where David Cox then lived in a small house where John Carmen had his silversmith's shop, Jacobus S. Bruyn's house and barn all took fire and consumed, and several other houses in great danger. The loss was very great on the sufferers. Thank God, no lives lost, nor any body hurt. I with my family, with what was saved of my goods and bedding got into the house of Mr. Egbert Dumont, and remained there until May the first 1777, and then I moved into my own house, which I had built some years before. (All the time I was at Egbert Dumont's I was laid up with the above mentioned lameness, I had when my house was burned down.) God grant me to live now the remainder of my days in his fear and walk in the paths of righteousness and all my family, all the days of our lives, and live in peace and quiet, and that God, of his infinite goodness, will be pleased to bless me and all my family, both spiritually and temporally all the days of our lives, is my ardent prayer in the name of Christ Jesus, my only Saviour and Redeemer. Amen and Amen."

    Two other items may be quoted in this connection:..."May the first and second days in the year of our Lord Christ 1777 I and my family moved into the house I had bought about eighteen years ago of Mr. Robert G. Livingston wherein I now live. I pray God to preserve me and all my family and my dwelling-house." Within six months came the memorable 16rh of October, less than a year from the fire recorded above. "Then the enemy under the command of General Henry Clinton and General Vaughan came to Kingston in Esopus and burnt my dwelling-house." etc. The detailed account is full of interest, and closes with the statement, "I have lost since the fire in New York 1776 until this time between 9,000 and 10,000 pounds. Thanks be to God for his great goodness, I, my wife and children escaped and unhurt out of the enemy's hands. Yet my sons, Jacobus, Abraham and Daniel were in the opposing of the enemy from landing and to oppose them to come to Kingston, and showers of shot flew on every side of them. I pray the Lord will support me under so heavy a trial and must say with Job, "The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken, The Lord's name may be praise."

    Passing through the older part of Kingston, once trodden by feet long ago at rest, we seem taken back to earlier times. On North Front Street still stands the immense DeWall house, where were the Assembly Rooms frequented before and long after the Revolution by the elite of the town and of the surrounding country, who met there at intervals for social intercourse and enjoyment. Farther down is the Hoffman house, which stood at the northwest corner of the stockade raised to protect the first settlers after "Fire-water" had begun its favorite work. At first the relations with the Indians here, as in other Dutch settlements, were so cordial that no such precautions were taken. A small window irregularly placed on the western side of the building was a loophole, before the rebuilding.

    North of the DeWall house is the gambrel-roofed mansion of Col. Bruyn, who raised and equipped at his own expense a company for the Continental army, led them to the seat of war, and was among the few survivors of the "Jersey" prison-ship, whose martyrs have recently been recalled to mind. This house was noted for its genial hospitality, extended even to strangers passing through the town. Just back of this, on Crown Street, we come to an old-time inn, with its oval sigh supported by a high pole. Another "The Black Horse Tavern," on Wall Street, remained, as a tenement house, until a few years ago.

    The whole western extremity of the village is marked by quaint houses, among which are the homes of Beekmans, Hasbroucks, Van Burens, Wynkoops, etc., of past generations. The Tappan house is especially noticeable, standing upon a point formed by the junction of Greene and Crown Streets. Its large, well-lighted rooms and pleasant garden made it in earlier days a delightful family dwelling. Very near it, once its next neighbor, is the long, low stone house where John Vanderlyn, the artist, resided for some years before his death in 1850. This was previously the Van Keuren homestead, and bore its part in the tragedies that threatened the early life of the town.

    On the same street stands a similar dwelling, formerly a watchmaker's, marked until quite recently by a large watch hung from the overhanging stoop-roof. Here the first Methodists of Kingston used to gather, to the wonder and astonishment of the village children, who would crowd around the low windows and peer curiously within while services were being held, - services quite different from either the more formal mode of worship of the Dutch Church or the catechetical instruction given by the Dominie to the children. Indeed, they were probably equally different from the Methodist meetings of the present day, notably so in point of dress of the people, which was almost Quaker-like in its sobriety.

    A stone's-throw away, on opposite corners, are four old buildings close upon the street. Repairs recently made upon one of theses, owned by Hon. Augustus Schoonmaker, brought to light charred timbers, which told the story of that October day of 1777.

    Another of the buildings is old Kingston Academy, one of the earliest institutions of learning in State or nation, where were educated De Witt Clinton, Stephen Van Renssalaer, Edward Livingston, and many other noted men of early times. Uninjured by the lapse of years, it stands precisely as in its palmy days, except for the loss of cupola and bell. The present academy is the successor of this, and has recently been altered and enlarged into a handsome building, serving for the higher department of the graded schools. On its campus was gathered, in 1861, the first New York regiment offered to the government, - the "Old Twentieth," as it has since come to be called. Here the citizens gave a farewell breakfast to their defenders, and, moved at once with sorrow and exaultation, followed them to Rondout, where on a memorable Sunday morning they embarked for the seat of war.

    Just opposite is the home of Gen. Sharpe, who went with the Twentieth as captain, and later enlisted and led to the field a second Ulster County regiment, - the Hundred and Twentieth. In his house, which bears the date of its erection (1828) upon its antique hall mantel, are to be found many relics of the past and many treasures of art.

    Many of these ancestral homes contain carved furniture of rare beauty and value, and exquisite silver and china that have come down from generation to generation. Here, in one instance at least is china, evidently of Japanese make, which must have been brought over by the way of Holland, when only the Dutch had commercial relations with Japan. The silver is frequently traced with armorial bearings. In the Schoonmaker family are a full dozen of "Apostle" spoons, with flat, shallow bowls surmounted by figures of the Apostles. A similar spoon of some peculiar metal, found buried in the garden of the old Bruyn mansion, was doubtless brought from Norway by the first of the Bruyn family who came to this country. A facsimile of this was in the Norwegian department at the Centennial Exhibition.

    There are many old portraits, -some by skilled and well-known artists, of Revolutionary heroes; "dominies," whose names and lineaments are familiar to generations far later than their own; stately dames in dainty attire; lawyers in legal robes long discarded by the bar. Most of them are evidently lifelike, and seem following with ghastly eyes the life and customs of their remote descendents. Tall clocks stand erect as a century ago, still faithful in marking lunar changes, still sounding each hour with sedate, silvery stroke. A "Kas," or wide-shelved wardrobe, in handsome West India wood, fitted together without nail or iron hinge, is usually found in some branch of every family of Holland descent, as are many other articles that would drive bric-a-brac collectors wild with enthusiasm. Among these are andirons of fine brass or massive iron, huge cranes, and Dutch ovens, warming-pans, ancient kitchen utensils in copper and brass, deep, narrow fire buckets, and toys of solid silver, daintily made and of early date.

    Bibles bound with dark leather, clasped with brass or silver, contain memorial records of progenitors whose forms have long since crumbled into dust; also, in some cases, of slaves born in those bygone households. During the childhood of the writer, it was not uncommon to be asked to search such records for the convenience of these colored friends, who wanted to know their ages. Some of these names, then too familiar to be noticeable, would now seem odd indeed, such as Mimbo, Gomez, Caesar, Laukie, and Cobe.

    The first Sunday school in Kingston was started by members of the old church, for the colored people. Out of this grew the present Sunday school of the First Dutch Church. To this day, cordial and affectionate relations exist with these descendants of what was once a dependent race, who still designate their employers as "our family."

    We must not fail to notice in our wanderings the Masten house, on the western outskirts of the town, which has its big old stoop still standing, in harmony with its substantial low walls. A similar house, -formerly the Ingraham homestead, - though enlarged, still shows its original shape, and is supposed to have been built by Thomas Chambers, an English colonist, on his manor, soon after the town was settled. It is generally known as Komoxen, the Indian name for the locality; probably derived from 'komoke,' a spring. A genuine secret closet (which once concealed a young bride, fleeing from an angry father displeased at her marriage) remained within its massive walls until some alterations unfortunately destroyed it, about thirty years ago.

    A short distance beyond Komoxton, "Manor Place" leads to the site of the manor-house proper, torn down at about the same date. On the way we pass other old-fashioned residences. The wing of one bears the marks of great antiquity. The whole vicinity is known as Foxhall, the name of the manor. It has been a question whether this was not a corruption of Vauxhall; but this must remain unsolved in the mists of the past.

    Our sketch would indeed be incomplete should it fail to introduce the reader to some of the families who still form the very fiber of "old Kingston." To one long familiar with the old residents it is easy to recall many an antiquated form no longer visible. We see once more the old surtout, with its many little capes. Old ladies pass before us arrayed in shoulder-shawls, trim short-waisted gowns, just long enough to cover the ankles, neat "buskins," and with "fronts" of dark, unnatural hue covering their soft gray locks. Some of these shadowy presences seem to say, in the odd vocabulary scarcely yet discarded; "Come into the room" (i.e. the parlor, or best room); "Take off, and sit by"' or, by way of consolation for some accident, "It don't make" (a literal translation of "Maakt neit").

    Much that was distinctive is passing away. The Dutch accents so common twenty years ago now rarely fall upon the ear. Many changes have come; many must still come. But as we are welcomed into the homesteads of earlier generations we find often, even in the simplest, a refinement that has accumulated through centuries of reverent faith, kindly thought, and mutual sympathy; while in some there is added to this the culture given by literature, travel, and wide social intercourse. Yet there is also perceptible, even among those most in the outside world, a certain simplicity (an unworldliness we might call it) that gives an added grace to the genial warmth of welcome. And so we linger from day to day, or week to week, sharing the hospitable fare (olykoeks and crullers, it may be) spread upon fine old damask woven in the days of our great-grandparents, or sleeping in a canopied four-poster under its homespun linen and flannel. And when the old letters, full of historic interest, are brought out, as we sit by the blazing fire on a winter evening, we seem to be ourselves of the past, belonging to the remote days when old Kingston was the third place in importance in the State, and when her heart beat with every early throb of our nation's young life. Without are the youth of the nineteenth century. Strangers in these later days come, take root, and thrive.

    The quaint old dame may spread out her skirts and add to her antique garb some of the present fashions; but she is still, and must remain for many a long day, a lady of the old school, both in appearance and in character. And in this is found her ineradicable charm. It is this that draws homeward her sons and daughters, when, "life's long battle won," they yearn for their familiar place kept unfailingly in her heart. It is this that adds so much to her natural beauty. It is a place of comfort - very rarely of wealth; a home rather than an inn, whose inmates constantly come and go; and it is, of all the principal towns in the State, the one most indelibly marked by its past. Even Albany is yielding her original traits to the pressure of the times. But "Festina lente," ('make haste slowly') which might fittingly have served as the motto of the earlier State capital, has kept Kingston intact until it has become the fashion of the day to value and venerate the tokens of antiquity. May she remember and obey the divine injunction, "Remove not the ancient landmarks which the fathers have set."

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