The perfect complement to our Insider's Guide: a look at some of the Valley's most unusual stories, fun facts, and astounding figures. If you think you know it all about the region, think again- then start reading.
From the first circus to a well-dressed spy ¡ª a look at some of the Valley¡¯s most unusual stories, fun facts, and astounding figures
By Eric Trump
Elsie¡¯s first moo
In 1855, Putnam County produced 10 percent of New York City¡¯s milk, but it was shipped in oak barrels in which it often spoiled. Enter Gail Borden. In 1855, he established the New York Condensed Milk Company in Brewster, where his patented process to condense milk made it easily transportable ¡ª and virtually impossible to spoil. Condensed milk became a staple of the rations of Union soldiers during the Civil War; when they raved about it back home, it also became a staple in kitchens.
On the rocks
The granite quarried from Breakneck Ridge, a popular hiking destination near Beacon, was used to build the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Stretching beneath Rockland County¡¯s beautiful Harriman State Park are the remains of what some geologists believe is the supercontinent Rodinia. According to a recent theory, Rodinia was formed a billion years ago when continents collided, turning the much-eroded Hudson Highlands into Himalayas.
Piermont, in Rockland County, was often the last bit of terra americana for soldiers heading off to the European Theater during World War II. The little village was dubbed ¡°Last Stop U.S.A.,¡± when up to 40,000 troops a month marched over Piermont Pier and onto troop ships. Some 40 years later, in 1985, Woody Allen filmed The Purple Rose of Cairo in Piermont.
Name that town
The Valley is replete with colorful place names left to us by earlier inhabitants. As anyone who has stood mesmerized by the Hudson knows, it is a river with two currents: one riparian, the other tidal. This is what the Algonquins had in mind when they called it Muhheakunnuk ¡ª a river that flows both ways. Birds and animals haunt the Hudson landscape with their native names: wild geese are in Kerhonkson, wild turkeys gobble in Calicoon, an owl hoots in Coxsackie, and a pond of snakes slithers in Copake. The poetry of the Algonquins also lives on in the contours of our contemporary maps. Mohonk Lake reminded one wordsmith of a raccoon¡¯s skin, while brimming Lake Taghkanic means ¡°Water Enough!¡± and Ossining is a place of stone on stone.
A good lunch spoiled
The little park at the foot of Main Street in Cold Spring (Putnam) is protected by a model of the Parrott gun, the amazingly accurate weapon that turned the tide of the Civil War in the Union¡¯s favor. It was the most important product of the nearby West Point Foundry, which attracted a host of VIPs during the war. One of these was Abraham Lincoln. During his visit, a demonstration was proudly arranged: a Parrott gun was repeatedly fired across the river at the Crow¡¯s Nest, one of the Highlands¡¯ rock eminences. Honest Abe was unimpressed: ¡°I¡¯m confident you can hit that mountain over there,¡± the president deadpanned to the gun¡¯s designer, Robert Parrott. ¡°So suppose we get something to eat. I¡¯m hungry.¡±
Wild water works
Kaaterskill Falls, near Palenville (Greene), is one of the most visited places in the Catskills, and for good reason. Consisting of two cataracts ¡ª the upper tier measuring 175 feet, the lower 85 ¡ª it is the highest waterfall in New York State.
Designer cloak and dagger
Anne Griffith, a.k.a. Aline, countess of Romanones (left), was born in Pearl River (Rockland). She grew up to be an OSS-trained spy during World War II. On assignment in Spain, she became prominent in Madrid society and built a network of contacts with diplomatic and political figures. Her memoir of her exploits, The Spy Wore Red, hit the best-seller lists in 1987.
A dubious distinction
If you visit the old cadet chapel in West Point Cemetery (Orange), you will find plaques commemorating the bravery and military skill of all of the major generals in the Revolution¡¯s Continental Army. One, however, is missing its name. That one ¡°honors¡± Benedict Arnold, a hero at the second Battle of Saratoga who later tried to sell West Point to the British for 20,000 pounds.
The dirt oval in Goshen (Orange), built in 1838, is billed as ¡°the world¡¯s oldest working harness track.¡± The legendary horse Hambletonian was born in nearby Sugar Loaf. He wound up siring 1,331 progeny that were so fleet of foot ¡ª and equally adept at reproducing ¡ª that all other trotting bloodlines eventually died out. Fittingly, Goshen is now home to the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame.
Back in Peekskill, the exclusive Eastland School ¡ª the setting for the 1980s hit sitcom The Facts of Life ¡ª was located in the Westchester County city.
Big top beginnings
Somers (Westchester)earned the moniker of the ¡°cradle of the American Circus¡± when Hachaliah Bailey bought an African elephant he named Old Bet to work the land on his farm. So many people came to gawk at the beast that Bailey started exhibiting her throughout the Northeast. After adding partners and a few more exotic animals and performers to the mix, the modern circus was soon born. A reminder of those days is the Elephant Hotel (left), which Bailey erected in honor of Old Bet. Out front is a statue to the pachyderm.
He found his way home
John ¡°The Pathfinder¡± Fr¨¦mont (1813-1890) was a widely roaming expedition leader who wrote popular accounts of his travels to ¡°Injun country¡± west of the Mississippi. Despite his prodigious wanderings in the name of Manifest Destiny, he lived a good portion of his life in the sleepy village of Sleepy Hollow (Westchester).
At 42 stories, the Corning Tower in Albany¡¯s Empire State Plaza is the tallest building in New York State outside of New York City.
Oh, to have friends like these¡
Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838), the Italian poet; librettist of Mozart¡¯s The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, and Don Giovanni; and friend of Casanova and other glitterati spent much of his life on the move or the run, fleeing a tangled love life, bad debt, or both. His biggest move came in 1805, when he hopped the pond. He made a living by tutoring wealthy students in New York City, which earned him entr¨¦e into eminent families with country homes along the Hudson in Columbia and Dutchess counties. At these bucolic retreats he passed many an enjoyable summer. He eventually became Columbia University¡¯s first professor of Italian literature.
The first mention of golf in America appeared in 1659, when a law was passed in Fort Orange ¡ª precursor to today¡¯s Albany ¡ª banning the game from being played on city streets. (It ¡°causes great damage to the windows of the houses,¡± noted the law.) However, some translators surmise that the city fathers actually squelched the popular Dutch sport of kolven, akin to croquet and played with a kolf club. It¡¯s a fact that the country¡¯s first genuine golf course ¡ª all three holes of it ¡ª was built in 1888 by Scotsman John Reid in Yonkers.
To math geeks, it¡¯s a triskaidecagon
Perhaps the number 13 wasn¡¯t always unlucky. A barn at the Bronck Museum in Coxsackie (Greene) boasts 13 walls. Built in 1835 ¡ª with each wall perhaps representing one of the original colonies ¡ª it is the oldest multisided barn in America. The only interior support is a single pole.
Prim and proper
Emily Post (right) is another eminent personage who walked the Hudson¡¯s shores ¡ª with complete poise, we¡¯re sure. She¡¯s best known for her book, Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, a guide to the rules of social engagement that she originally deemed a ¡°stupid and stuffy¡± topic. Post spent much of her life in upper-crust Tuxedo Park (Orange).
Visitors who try to take in the entire collection at Albany¡¯s New York State Museum usually get foot weary. That¡¯s because the Empire State has an empire of a museum ¡ª the largest state museum in the country.
Fire up your metal detector
The lure of hidden wealth is what Captain William Kidd bequeathed to the Hudson Valley. After his execution for piracy in 1701, some of his ill-gotten gold was exhumed on Gardiner¡¯s Island (off Long Island). But surely there was more? Reports soon had it that the treasure was on Dunderberg Mountain, across from Peekskill, or that a group of Kidd¡¯s confreres buried the gold somewhere else deep in the Valley. An enterprising New Yorker later used the myth to promote his own brand of piracy. He claimed to have found Kidd¡¯s ship, then sold shares to bring it up ¡ª and promptly disappeared with $30,000 of loot.
G.W. slept (and slept and slept) here¡
General George Washington awarded the first Purple Hearts to three soldiers in Newburgh, where his 16-month stay was the longest at any headquarters during the American Revolution.
¡and protested there
Here¡¯s a lesser-known story about Washington: many of the families that attended St. Philip¡¯s Church in Garrison (Putnam) during the war remained loyal to the British crown. At one point, a mob supporting independence decided to burn down the ¡°Tory church.¡± When they arrived at the building to carry out the deed, they found the Continental Army¡¯s commander in chief standing resolutely before it. ¡°This, sir,¡± Washington announced to the leader of the rabble, ¡°is my church!¡± The throng quickly dispersed. The general¡¯s courageous deed is commemorated by a stained-glass window in the vestibule of the present church building.
Ulster ¨¤ la Russe
Artist Marc Chagall (below) lived and worked in a modest house in High Falls from 1945 to 1948. Fleeing the Nazis, he came to America from his adopted homeland of France in 1941. After four years in Manhattan, he settled in the Ulster County hamlet because it reminded him of his rural native roots in Russia. It also fulfilled his dream of living ¡°in some quiet place, where [I] would paint pictures that astonish the world.¡± The best place in the region to see his astonishing work ¡ª not on canvas, but on stained glass ¡ª is the Union Church of Pocantico Hills (Westchester).
In 1942, when war jitters were riding high, a rumor flamed in the Valley that a Japanese submarine had skulked its way to West Point, where it was promptly blasted to bits. The rumor was off by just a bit: it was actually a German U-boat that made it upriver as far as Garrison. The crew of 75 was subdued, an event that remained classified until 1952. We¡¯re still waiting for the movie. ¡ö