Living in the Hudson River Valley (Ulster County NY): History, Flavor, Personalities

Updated on May 8, 2020
Rosendale Cement Company
Rosendale Cement Company

I live in an area that oozes beauty, history and celebrity from its mountains to its rivers. The Hudson Valley in New York State. The Hudson Valley was inhabited mostly by the Algonquin speaking Mahican Indians and Munsee Native American people when the Europeans arrived in the 17th Century. Henry Hudson sailed his ship, the Half Moon, into New York Bay and traveled 150 miles up the river. The first Dutch settlement was in 1610.

The Dutch, the English, French, Huguenots, Germans, Italians, Irish and many others contributed to the history of the Hudson Valley establishing a diverse culture even in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. In 1677 the French settlers planted grape vines near New Paltz in an area now known for its wineries. In 1775 General Richard Montgomery (1738-1775) was killed in the battle for Quebec and became the first hero of the American Revolution. His wife Janet Livingston Montgomery (1743-1828), at home on her place near Rhinebeck, became a revered widow, a status she cultivated for half a century. Their residence is now known as Montgomery Place.

The invention of the steamboat made the Hudson more accessible to more people. Actually invented by John Stevens (The Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. is named for him and his family), the steamboat was put into commercial service by the man whose name is associated for most of us with its invention: Robert Fulton. Fulton's boat had her maiden voyage in 1807; it was originally named the North River and later renamed the Clermont, after his father-in-law's Hudson Valley estate. She sailed from New York to Albany and back in 62 hours, a journey that would have taken at least a week under sail. Steamboats soon became the accepted way to travel and opened up the Hudson to large numbers of visitors. By 1850, 100 steamboats plied the River, carrying a million passengers (The Hudson—An Illustrated Guide to the Living River, Stanne et al, 1996, p.123).

Washington Irving can be given credit for making the Hudson Valley and neighboring Catskills Mountains infamous with his stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. James Fenimore Cooper, John Burroughs, and Thomas Cole have all found a fascination in the Hudson River Valley, writing stories, poems, and creating masterpieces of art to pay homage to the mystery and beauty of the area. However, these stories and legends are only a piece of the larger folklore of the Hudson Valley; each county and town has its own story and its own tales to lay claim to.

When twelve Huguenot refugees from Northern France purchased a large tract of land from the Esopus Indians on May 26, 1677, they founded a settlement that they knew would be vulnerable to Indian attack because of its great distance from other white settlements. The settlers were well beyond the range where they could be easily protected by the English forces stationed at Kingston, and for at least the next fifteen years, had no physical refuge other than the simple dwellings in which they lived. It wasn't until 1705 that the New Paltz settlers had a defensible redoubt to which they could retreat if the natives did decide to attack. Living in such vulnerability, it was imperative that the Huguenots forge peaceful relations with the local tribesmen. The people of New Paltz appear to have been successful in this mission, as there is no record of any Indian uprising against them, and only a handful of sources suggest that there were even tensions between the two groups.

In 1777 Kingston became the first capital of New York State. Kingston is about 90 miles from New York City and 60 miles from Albany. Kingston was burned by the British in October of 1777. Most of the buildings that were burned were restored after the British left. One of the most famous parts of Kingston today is the Stockade District. This eight block area is the original site of the Dutch settlers. It is the only one of three original Dutch settlements in New York surrounded by stockades where the outline of the stockade is still evident due to the raised ground. National Historic Landmarks include the Old Dutch Church on Wall St., St. Joseph’s Church on Wall St., the Kirkland Hotel on Main St., and the Ulster County Courthouse on Wall St. – one of the oldest county courthouses in the state.

Ulster County is also home to the D&H Canal. The canal helped stimulate the growth of New York City. Cheap fuel was barged up the canal and down the river. Many boomtowns were created along the canal. The canal also led to other improvements. In 1825 while building the canal, Rosendale Cement was found. This cement provided cheap material for the canal. Rosendale Cement was “natural” cement and was used in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty; Rosendale natural cement was also used in the original construction of Fort Jefferson seventy miles off Key West, over 150 years ago. Rosendale Cement was the most famous cement of its day and put small Rosendale, NY on the map! What you won’t find in history books is that the boom of Rosendale Cement made the town very prosperous with at least eight bars on its Main St., less than a half mile long. It became a colorful town with lots of character and characters.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth

Famous People in the Hudson Valley

There are many famous people that hail from the Hudson Valley. Sojourner Truth, a former slave who rose to fame fighting for her rights and the rights of all former slaves. At a convention she said that she "used to be sold for other people's benefit, but now she sold herself for her own." During the Civil War, she spoke on the Union's behalf, as well as for enlisting black troops for the cause and freeing slaves.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York on January 30, 1882, the son of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt.

Frederic Edwin Church, famous American artist - a major figure in the Hudson River School of landscape painting, made his home at Olana. Olana is itself a work of art with breathtaking views. Olana is home to the paintings, sculpture and furnishings Frederic Church acquired during his lifetime from cities like Beirut, Jerusalem and Damascus.

Of course no article about Ulster County would be complete without mention of the Hudson River School, a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters. These painters showed discovery, exploration, and settlement in the Hudson Valley. Their landscapes are realistic and breathtaking, though many scenes are a combination of multiple places.

Needless to say, my outline of Hudson Valley History is nowhere near all-encompassing and leaves out more than it puts in. It was not my intention to provide a history lesson but to give you some background on this beautiful and history rich area. Moving from the distant past and its people, I would now like to bring you up to contemporary times.

Fall at Mohonk from an old postcard
Fall at Mohonk from an old postcard

In 1989, Pat Reppert of Shale Hill Farm and Herb Gardens organized the first Garlic Festival held in the Hudson Valley – and perhaps on the East Coast, not to be the only well-known festival in the Valley, in 1998, the First Picklefest was held in Rosendale. Don’t overlook the Hurley corn festival or the Labor Day Craft Fair.

Do you like the macabre? Do you love being scared? You have to visit our Headless Horseman Hayrides on over 45 acres of naturally landscaped property. What a place for a haunted hayride! But that’s not all, there are three haunted mansions and a haunted cornfield. Hauntworld has listed Headless Horseman Hayrides & Haunted Houses as the #1 Scream Park in America three years in a row.

Of course we have our share of local bazaars and not to be outdone we have the annual Ulster County Fair in New Paltz with a pay one price admission.

A natural and manmade treasure is Mohonk with its gorgeous mountain house located on the Shawangunk Ridge. The Mountain House is built on the blue waters of Lake Mohonk. People have been coming here for over 100 years. Hiking trails, horseback riding, golf, spa, rock climbing, everything a nature lover could want. The hotel is absolutely majestic and never fails to inspire awe.

Fall foliage and apple picking bring thousands of NYC residents to the Hudson Valley every year. Oh, did I mention the wineries and wine country?

Hudson Valley Food

Did I hear food? The Hudson Valley has some of the best restaurants and eateries you'll find anywhere. Looking for Asian? There's the Bull and Buddha in Poughkeepsie. Hudson Valley Magazine says, "The wait is finally over. The opening of the much-anticipated Shadow’s Marina is finally here. Shadow’s Marina is the first stage of the Poughkeepsie waterfront redevelopment project which proposes restaurants, a hotel, retail and office space as well as a beautiful waterfront walkway along the Hudson River." Part of the Shadows restaurant. The view from the restaurant is incomparable and they will accommodate people with special dietary needs. This is particularly appealing to me being a celiac.

For good food and great beer there's the Gilded Otter Brewing company in New Paltz with brewing vats right in the middle of the restaurant. The Red Brick Tavern in Rosendale has put Rosendale back on the map! Great American style food with a twist, again according to Hudson Valley Magazine. I can't testify so much to the twist, but I can testify to the great food.

One of Fodor's Choice restaurant's is Dallas Hot Wieners in Kingston. Anyone living within a 50 mile radius has eaten at Dallas Hot Wieners, best hot wieners on the eastern seaboard (local opinion.) If you're looking for exquisite cuisine served in several courses, The DePuy Canal House in High Falls is your place. Fodor's says, "Chef-owner John Novi opened the place in 1969, and in 1984 was referred to as "the father of new American cooking" in a Time magazine article. After all these years he still manages to be creative." The restaurants I've listed are but a drop in the ocean of Hudson Valley restaurants.

We also have a fantastic selection of Farmers Market's everywhere, in season. In a New York Times article "In Hudson Valley, Farmers' Markets Offer Local Food and Local Chat "Talea and Doug Fincke, both 50, agree. “Small farming is our passion, and we think small is big,” Ms. Fincke said. For 23 years they have been growing fruit — and recently some vegetables — on 40 acres at the 18th-century Montgomery Place estate in Annandale-on-Hudson, owned by the nonprofit preservation group Historic Hudson Valley. The couple run the Montgomery Place Orchards Farm Stand nearby, a showcase for their produce and homemade jams as well as local products like Awesome Farm’s pasture-raised whole chickens and Nettle Meadow’s herb-infused fromage blanc.

“We’re seasonal purists,” Ms. Fincke said, pushing red raspberries through a sieve at her jam-making table on a recent Sunday afternoon. The Finckes’ just-picked black raspberries, white peaches, antique apples and heirloom tomatoes are a magnet for second-home owners, nearby Bard College faculty members and students, and famous visitors, like the actress Uma Thurman and the singer Natalie Merchant."

From Beacon to Rosendale and just about everywhere in between you can find a Farmer's Market selling anything from chickens to tomatoes, venison to pesto; you name it, its available. Markets can run from any days from Friday to Sunday and usually start the end of May beginning of June and run through October.

Rondout Creek
Rondout Creek | Source
JD Cannon
JD Cannon

More Fame in the Hudson Valley

What about the people. Friendliest people east of the Mississippi! Not to mention celebrities. Remember Eugene Roche, the original Ajax Man? One of his most memorable films was Slaughterhouse-Five. He also played Pinky Peterson on All in the Family. Gene once said he had traveled all over the world but there was no place as beautiful as the Hudson Valley. He lived in Rosendale for a time with his family.

JD Cannon, also an actor, probably best known for his role as Police Chief in McCloud also lived in the Hudson Valley in Binnewater. He had a home in California and one in Binnewater and said he liked relaxing here. (I happened to be fortunate enough to know Gene Roche and JD Cannon personally.)

Robert DeNiro, need I say more? Mr. DeNiro owns a home in Gardiner. Then there’s Adian Quinn, a long time resident of High Falls. Uma Thurman – Woodstock. Not that he lives here but Brad Pitt has been seen in various eateries in High Falls. Recent Academy Award winner Melissa Leo - Stone Ridge and Vera Farmiga lives in Ulster County as does Catherine Keener. Kristy Hume and Donovan Leitch –Woodstock, Kelsey Grammer – Andes, Steve Buscemi a part-time Ulster County resident as is John Legiuzamo. Did I mention Jimmy Fallon is from Saugerties? You know, as well as I do I have not listed all of the actors and actresses here, nor have I listed any information that is not already published somewhere as I don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy.

Robert Tonner owner of the Tonner Doll Company lives in Ulster County, has his factory in Ulster County and also has a store in Ulster County. His dolls are highly collectible and he is renown worldwide for the quality of his high fashion and character dolls.

Movies Shot in The Hudson Valley

Next, movies filmed in Ulster County. “Splendor in the Grass” with Natalie Woods and Warren Beatty was filmed partially in High Falls – the scene where Natalie tries to commit suicide. The remake of “The Blob” was filmed partially in Kington. Other films include “Higher Ground,” starring Ulster County resident Vera Farmiga, and “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding,” starring Jane Fonda. Both are came out in 2011. “Return”, which was produced in Newburgh and New Windsor in October 2010 premiered at Directors Fortnight at Cannes. Scenes from “The Stuff” were filmed in Accord. Filmed on location at the Holiday Inn Kingston, "Lizards" is a mockumentary about New Jersey's premier lounge act. The movie “Road to Welville” about John Harvey Kellogg was filmed at the Mohonk Mountain House. While the reviews of this movie weren’t good, it’s worth watching for the scenery. “Personal Velocity” is three tales about three women. One of those tales was filmed at my in-law’s house as well as in and around Rosendale. Carry Me Home, a Showtime movie, was filmed in Gardner and included my husband’s 1948 Ford as one of its stars.

I could go on and on as I have only scratched the surface of famous happenings and people in the Hudson Valley but I think by now you understand. This is not just any valley but the beautiful, majestic Hudson Valley. From settlers and pioneers to actors and actresses it has been inhabited by people with a love of the bucolic life coupled with all the modern day conveniences and stores and restaurants. If you live in the Hudson Valley you’re living La Vida Loca. If you want to learn more you can check out the links in this article or look up some of the places listed.

If you enjoyed this article please vote and leave a comment. Feel free to share it with your friends.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      It is a beautiful area. Even though Church was from Conn. he was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American Landscape Painters. It really is a nice place to live, with or without the celebrities! I hear our newest celeb is Willem DeFoe.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, this place sounds so beautiful and interesting. Celeb spotting is probably quite fun but you could get out into the countryside here and be celebrity free and just as happy.

      I had to study Frederic Church during my degree - 'Twilight in the Wilderness'. I never was very good at Art History but I liked the painting.

      Voted up etc.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      Isn't it a small world Sally? I'm not that far from Woodstock, definitely a tourist attraction with its bohemian life style and small shops.

      Take a ride :)

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Reading your narrative makes me want to get in the car and go, now! My cousin lives in Woodstock, right on Tinker Creek, smack in the middle of some of the most beautiful country in the world, as you so richly describe. Loved the Helm video! Voted up and all those good things. :)

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      8 years ago from New York

      It really is lovely shea. Funny, my father's brother's father (got that?) drowned in about two feet of water here as well. He was riding in a horse and carriage when the horse reared up, he fell out and hit his head...there was only about two feet of water.

      But, on to better things, it is a nice area with great scenery. Let me know if you ever do visit.

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 

      8 years ago from new jersey

      Great hub... I'm doing some family research and was just reading about a great, great aunt (or some other type of cousin) who drown at 2 in the Hudson right near you. (Lots and lots and lots of people died young in those days). You make it seem so lovely... maybe I'll visit and try to find little Margaret Fitzgerald's grave.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      8 years ago from New York

      Yet another thing we have in common! So glad you enjoyed reading it.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      A special place in my heart for your part of New York. My Dad was born there. He lived there for the first dozen years of his illustrious life. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it....and learning things I should have looked into, about my father's birthplace....but never did. I must have been waiting for your hub! Thank you.

    • tillsontitan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Craig 

      8 years ago from New York

      Thanks Multiman, it really is a great place to visit...and live!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What a wonderful article on the Hudson Valley tremedous information. I voted up and awesome!


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