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Happy 233rd Birthday Clarkstown!

We may not feel 233 years-old, but March 18, 2024 will mark the 233rd anniversary of the founding of Clarkstown. The town’s earliest history isn’t particularly well-documented. It wasn’t until 1884 that a substantial account of our town’s development first appeared in a book simply titled “A History of Rockland County” by Rev. Dr. David Cole DD. This wonderful book offers some rare insight into the infancy and founding of our town. The book was reprinted by the Rockland County Historical Society under former County Executive Vanderhoef in the 1980’s and is available at the Historical
Society of Rockland in New City.


I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Rockland, Clarkstown, its founding residents, and early industries. It includes a section entitled, “Pioneers of Clarkstown” as well as “Biographical Sketches”, which highlights a number of the families from the early days of the town. I found these sections to be fascinating, as they captured a beautiful picture of our past.


Readers will be transported back to the Revolutionary War period when Rockland existed as a part of Orange County and learn the story of Ebenezer Wood. Mr. Wood served as a Deputy Sheriff in Orange County and came to live in New City. It was said that he was, “a man of incorruptible integrity and exalted nobility of character” devoted to the American cause. But his patriotism cost him dearly as he became the object of bitter hatred and harassment by local Tories. At the close of the war, Mr. Wood found himself possessed of about $1,600 of Continental money, which he soon learned to be worthless. Rather than lament his circumstances, Wood reportedly threw the currency into a fire and remarked: “We have gained our independence and I am satisfied.”


But the most entertaining passages involve Wood’s service as Deputy Sheriff. In one instance, Wood was tasked with capturing a resident who was defying his duty to serve as a juror. The resident had boldly bragged in the local tavern that he would never serve, but Deputy Wood had a differing opinion. In an extremely clever ruse, Wood staged a fall from his horse in front of the man’s house and laid motionless in the street. The jury ditching man and several others came to his aid and brought the ‘unconscious’ traveler into the house. Once inside, Deputy Wood made a remarkable recovery. Hesprang up, read the juror’s summons, and compelled the man to serve. Now that’s what I would call dedication to your job!


Another great story involving ingenuity and trickery is told about Major John Smith. Major Smith was in the area of Mount Moor (modern day West Nyack) when he saw a large group of British troops headed north, seemingly to West Point. Seeking a way to stop them, Smith devised a plan to use a passing woman to offer false information. He recruited an African-American woman walking by to tell the British that a Colonial General was on a nearby hill with a large number of troops, and on the other side was another American General with an even larger number of troops. The woman approached close to  the British troops, who had now stopped to eat their lunchtime meal. The troops stopped her and she offered the information of the fictitious American troops and Generals, saying they were lying in wait to ambush the British. According to the story, the British column of troops “ended their lunch, packed up rather quickly and retreated hastily back to Englewood, New Jersey in fear of the two fictitious Colonial
Generals and their make-believe armies.”


In addition to these amusing personal stories, the book contains some really interesting descriptions of places within the town. I especially liked the description of Bardon’s Station, which is of course modern day Bardonia. Named after John Bardon, the hamlet is described as being located on the New City Branch of the New Jersey and New York Railroad, a mile northeast of Nanuet. It goes on to say “thirty-three families reside in the hamlet consisting of one hundred thirty seven souls.” Landmarks mentioned include a “substantial brick building consisting of one country store owned by Bardon which doubled as the waiting room for the train located there.” There was one local hotel, reported to be owned by Charles Ross. Bardon Station was home to a brewery for which the nearby modern Brewery Road is named. It also had a Cider Mill owned by a man named H. Schultz. We learn that many residents were German and said to be “industrious” with virtually all owning their own homes. Further, it reported that while
many places in the town were developing and cutting down trees, Bardon Station curiously saw a growth in thick forests, but the book does not explain why. Interestingly enough, historians have confirmed that pasture land was intentionally turned into thick forests in Bardon Station. Perhaps these early settlers were environmentalists? Today, the brewery, hotel, train line and station and cider mill are all gone; only to be replaced by residential homes, a convenience store, dry cleaner, post office, print shop, pharmacies, restaurants, a Dunkin Donuts and an elementary school. I wonder what John Bardon would think of it all today?


However, our history is not all rosy. The book gives a glimpse into the slavery which existed in New York State until 1827. It is fair to say that a small number of early settlers in Rockland and Clarkstown were slave owners. Indeed, the book offers that slavery existed in the town well before its official founding and remained in place into the 1800s. The book attempts, perhaps a bit too naively, to describe many of the early slave owners as “lenient and even over-indulgent of their slaves.” While I am not exactly certain what that description actually means, it was indeed sad to see slavery in the early history of our town, although not as numerous in other towns. The book is a reflection of the time in which it was written and offers unique insight into the first ninety-five years of the town’s existence. There is much that can be learned, both good and bad from this period in time and the early history. It’s truly fascinating to see how the town evolved then in light of how it continues to evolve now. It’s been a remarkable journey from 1791 to 2024.


So take a moment on March 18th to pause and wish your neighbor a Happy Birthday as Clarkstown celebrates its 233rd year as a town, looking as great as ever!