A Short History of the Warwick Valley
Extracted from Dr. Richard Hull's History of Warwick
and Other Local History Sources

The history of the Warwick Valley is varied and full of surprises and treasures, and in many ways a mirror for the history of the eastern United States. Since time immemorial, residents have enjoyed its beauty and rich resources. A great wealth of artifacts and information about the history of Warwick has been preserved thanks to the efforts of interested individuals, newspapers, and the historical societies of the area: The Historical Society of the Town of Warwick; The New Milford Historical Society; the Drowned Lands Historical Society. Without their efforts much of what we know of its people and events of the past would be lost forever.

Warwick's Beginnings [to 1703]

The first people to live in the place we call Warwick were Native Americans, inhabiting the area for about 12,000 years. The Minsi tribe, residents at the time of European colonization, were a branch of the Leni Lenape, or Delaware. We know little of them save for the artifacts they left behind, and a few historical accounts of their culture preserved at the time of European colonization and in subsequent years, as they struggled to maintain a presence and an identity as a people. The Warwick Valley has a rich archaeological record, and locally collected artifacts are on public view at Country Dream restaurant in Edenville and other businesses in the area.

The recorded history of the valley begins with an argument over land rights. As the white population of nearby settlements grew, a succession of colonial governors and land speculators traded and wrangled over various "patents" (land grants) in the area from 1684 on; one of the early European names for much of Orange County was "The Manor of Fletcherdom"!

In 1700, Dr. Samuel Staats, surgeon of Dutch descent, was promised land here and quickly sent his son and crew to construct a house, although there is no evidence that he himself ever occupied it. The house still stands today as the oldest in Orange County, on the land of David Hull (Applewood Orchards), with its stone inscription "S.G.S. 1700". Dr. Staats' claim eventually fell victim to the changing winds of politics.

On April 29th, 1703 the current governor, Viscount Cornbury, granted Dr. John Bridges and 11 other colonial land speculators the lands of the Wawayanda Patent. The area known as "Wawayanda" by the Minsis, after the winding stream and its adjacent land, was vaguely described in the grant as "vacant land". Bridges and his company, including Benjamin Aske, travelled to the Warwick Valley and shortly thereafter secured from 12 Minsi (Munsee) Indian chiefs based in Mistucky the lands they claimed--approximately 150,000 to 194,000 acres-- for $350, whiskey, cloth, and trinkets.

It is doubtful that the Minsis understood, having no tradition of land ownership in the sense that Europeans used it, that this meant that they would forever give up rights to inhabit and use the resources of the lands they had called home for perhaps thousands of years. Even before the arrival of the patentees, however, probably up to 85% of the native population had been wiped out by a succession of infectious diseases. Brought by the Europeans, measles, cholera, smallpox, typhus and even the common cold were devastating to a people whose immune systems and traditional remedies were no match for them.

The Colonial Era [1703-1750]

Orange County had already been organized on paper in 1683 by the English Crown, during the reign of William, Prince of Orange (for whom the land was named) yet few Europeans had settled there up until 1700. Within the new Wawayanda Patent lay most of what is today the Town of Warwick. No government existed and only a handful of widely scattered white males squatted on the land. The land was "officially" held by absentee landlords until the arrival of the first known permanent white settlers of the Warwick Valley, Johannes and Elizabeth Weesner (Wisner)
. This Swiss couple came from Long Island in 1712 and settled on 200 acres near Mt. Eve close to the present day Edenville.

One of the original patent holders, Benjamin Aske, named his land "Warwick", presumably after an area of England near his ancestral home. He began to sell it off to settlers in 1719. His first parcel of land, 100 acres, was sold to Lawrence Decker. Other familiar family names of the Valley appeared in subsequent years. Among them were Baird, Benedict, Bradner, Burt, DeKay, Demarest, Jones, Ketcham, Knap, Minthorn, Roe, Sanford, Sayer, Stage, Vail, Van Duzer, Welling, Wheeler, and Wood. The white population of the valley grew rapidly from 1730 to 1765, and the pre-existing native culture declined in proportion as forests were cleared for pasture, game became scarcer, and former hunting grounds were bounded by the settler's stone walls and ploughed fields. By the start of the Revolution, almost all of the native population had died, been assimilated through intermarriage, or had left for the west. Their descendents live today in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Ontario, Canada.

The French and Indian War ,from 1754 to 1764, saw battles along the western border of Orange County. In 1755, the clash of cultures came to a head in the area. When the western settlements of Orange County were attacked and destroyed by natives determined to restore their lands, whites in the Valley called upon Thomas DeKay to organize a regiment for defense. A large blockhouse for protection was built across from what is today Warwick County Park (Hickory Hill). Many remaining Minsis had emigrated to western New York but a few remained friends, urged and supported by Dekay, and helped protect the settlers from the attacking forces.

As the settlers' population grew, small villages began to emerge: Jockey Hollow (New Milford) in 1724; Postville (Edenville) in 1734, Brookland (Florida) in 1730, Sugar Loaf in 1746, Wawayanda (Bellvale) in 1740, and Warwick Village in 1764. These hamlets grew as centers of social and commercial activity, and were all within a comfortable day's journey for the settlers.

The settlers were for the most part self-sufficient, hardly involved with the colonial government. In 1750, however, the British authorities passed the Iron Act. It demanded the closing of many of the iron forges in the colonies, including the one at Bellvale, in an effort to keep the colonials dependent on the British iron industry. The Bellvale forge had been established around 1745 by Lawrence Scrauley as a tilt-hammer iron forge, from which he turned out products whose manufacture was now outlawed by the British Crown. It was the only mill of its kind in the New York Province. The Bellvale forge refused to close and the government retaliated by destroying it in 1750. Increasing restrictions, duties, and taxes increased the dissatisfaction of these independent people with a government that was distant from their homes, distant from their cares and concerns.

Revolutionary Times [1750-1783]

At the conclusion of the French and Indian War the British coffers were drained, and Parliament sought to restore some of the funds depleted during the defense of the Colonies. New taxes were levied on the colonists. The Stamp Act (1765), which taxed taverns for their licenses, outraged local tavern owners such as Francis Baird. Since the taverns were the hub of social life for many residents, the criticisms of the owners spread anti-tax sentiment widely. The Stamp Act was eventually repealed, but the frustration of the colonists at having taxes levied by a government in which they had no representation was steadily growing.

During this time many of the present-day local historical landmark buildings were constructed: The Shingle House, oldest structure in the village of Warwick, in 1764, Baird Tavern in 1766, Hathorn house in 1773.

By 1774 a great number of the local colonials were adhering to the Non-Importation Pledge, promising to use no products which came from the motherland. The result was that local industries and businesses boomed. An especially important industry of the time was the production of applejack, very profitable at a time when imported liquor was shunned.

In April 1775 couriers who most likely arrived along Kings Highway brought news of the violent outbreak of hostilities at Lexington and Concord. A wave of sympathy and outrage swept the colonies, tipping the balance of public opinion toward complete independence.
In March of that year Henry Wisner of Goshen was appointed as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, one of seven from New York. His brother, Captain John Wisner of Warwick, promoted the cause of independence and many were converted. The community rapidly became divided between Loyalists (Tories) and Patriots. In July what was probably the majority of white male residents had signed the Revolutionary Pledge, yet the British occupation of nearby New York City served to heighten anxieties about the outcome of the hostilities and escalate divisions in the community.

Despite General Washington's reservations about the use of partially trained militias in the effort, Orange County raised troops and formed regiments. The old Goshen regiment was split and a Warwick regiment was formed,with Captain John Hathorn (later General)-- formerly the town's assessor and a beloved teacher-- as its leader. Its members were mainly men from farms between Warwick and Florida, with companies drawn from near Wickham Lake, the Ridge area, Sterling, and areas bordering New Jersey. Their task was primarily to keep the British from seizing area iron mines.

As the war escalated, attitudes in the Valley hardened. Suspected Loyalists were forced either to take the Revolutionary Pledge or flee. Fence-sitters were not tolerated with the fate of the colonies hanging in the balance.

Bullets for Washington's armies were made at the Sterling Works, in the southeast corner of the town. One of Warwick's most important contributions to the efforts for independence came when the links that made the
great iron chain across the Hudson (to block the British from sailing up it) were mined and forged at the Sterling Works. In 1778 Warwick's Conrad Sly helped direct the forging at of the 500 yard, 186 ton chain at Sterling.

Not all Loyalists fled the area. The "outlaw" Claudius Smith and his followers waged guerilla warfare, harassing the militia and seizing supplies whenever possible. They operated from various area bases, including one in the mountains behind Sugar Loaf. He was caught, tried, and executed in Goshen in January 1779.

In 1783 when the war was concluded with the Treaty of Paris, Warwick was well on its way to being a community lead by popularly elected leaders. The notion that the right to vote came from land ownership or valuable assets had been laid to rest forever.

A Growing Community [1783-1860]

In March 1788 Warwick was separated from Goshen and officially became a town with its own elected government. The time between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War is one of growth and increasing prosperity. As the Valley became more populated, more farms were cleared and industries sprang up.

Until about 1817, many farmers grew oats, rye and wheat, which were shipped intact or milled into flour. Farmers also developed other cash crops, including butter and applejack. In 1813 the town had several iron forges, nine grist mills, ten saw mills, and six carding factories as well as many local craftsmen who provided residents with furniture, shoes, barrels, iron tools, and other daily necessities.

Bellvale was a bustling center of industry and a number of mills were along the swift waters of the Longhouse Creek, which took its name from the Indian longhouse which once stood on its bank. New Milford was busy as well, with mills along the DoubleKill dating back to 1760. Edenville was founded by Jacobus Post whose father erected a house here in 1734. The name Edenville can be attributed both to the natural beauty of the area and to the neighboring presence of Mt. Adam and Mt. Eve. Florida took its name from the Latin word meaning "covered with flowers." The hamlet earned a place in history in 1801 as the birth place of William Henry Seward, Governor of New York and Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. All of these hamlets were larger and a great deal more commercially active than the Village of Warwick was, at that time.

In the 1850 census of the town, Warwick had 18 carriage and wagon makers, 28 cobblers, 9 tailors, 9 coopers, 6 tanners, 6 cabinet and chair makers, 2 basket makers, 3 weavers, 4 saddle makers, 3 brick makers, and a brass foundry.

It was also during this time that the celebrated sporting author Frank Forester (pseudonym of Henry William Herbert, 1807-1858) visited frequently, extolling the virtues of the valley and its rich game:
It was a sportsman's paradise: The forested valleys abounded in wild game and fish, due in part to the seemingly unlimited expanse of wetlands surrounding Pine Island.

The clearing of the land for dairying and farming and the increased population of the valley eventually took their toll on wildlife, however. By 1852, nearly 150 years ago, the hunting of "the last known bear" in Warwick was recorded by Forester. The balance between wildlife and humans is a difficult one even today; depredations by deer on crops and landscaping is still a source of controversy, and a wandering bear took refuge in a tree in front of the Warwick Savings Bank on Rt. 94 in late June, 1999, much to the consternation of all involved. Although the draining of the rich wetlands, now the celebrated Black Dirt region, had been proposed it was not accomplished until much later, and flat, rich farmland was at a premium.

The Civil War [1861-1865]

Local history books are nearly silent about the effects the Civil War wrought on the Warwick Valley. It is a curious irony that at a time when the nation was being torn apart by strife, this valley prospered. With the exception of the famous "Orange Blossoms" 124th NYS Volunteers, mustered at Goshen, and their important role in several pivotal battles, little is noted. The majority of volunteers mustered on Sept. 5, 1862 from Warwick were in Company D. A partial record of "The Warwick Boys" who served in the War has been preserved. The Orange Blossoms were one of the great regiments of the Civil War and much has been documented about their bravery and sacrifice. They saw action in many major battles of the war, including Gettysburg and Appomattox. On the home front, one must assume that in spite of booming activity and growth, the Warwick Valley shared the turmoil and hardship that the war occasioned in the rest of New York State.

Most people in New York at the time could not make up their minds about what should be done about the seceding states. A great many detested the abolitionists as troublemakers and supported some kind of compromise. The outbreak of hostilities on April 12, 1861 galvanized public opinion toward support of the Union and upholding federal authority. It has been written that a station of the "Underground Railroad"operated in Warwick and that fugitives passed through Warwick on their way to that location.

When the call came for volunteers, young men rallied to the colors. Governor Morgan appealed for volunteers and supplies, and New Yorkers responded. New York provided more soldiers, supplies, and money to the Union War effort than any other state.

In addition to war casualties, the conflict took its toll on the population at home. Rising prices, the disruption of family life, and a sharp increase in the number of women, children, and returning soldiers who could not support themselves brought a great deal of hardship. Relief agencies sprang up, but could not deal with all the needy. The death of a large proportion of the young men in the Valley was a tragedy, and had a great impact on family members left behind to produce crops and make ends meet. In New York State alone 50,000 men perished as a result of the war.

Painted Ladies and Railroad Barons [1860-1910]

The opening of the Warwick Valley Railroad in 1862, linking Warwick to rail lines in Chester, put the beautiful Valley within easy reach of wealthy New Yorkers and they responded, building lavish weekend and summer estates. Many of the huge Victorian homes they built, called "Painted Ladies" for their elaborate architecture, gingerbread trim and colors, survive today. One well preserved neighborhood of them is on Maple Avenue in Warwick Village.

Hotels also sprang up to accomodate tourists and visitors: the Warwick Valley House (the Dispatch Building); the National Hotel (Demarest Building); the Wawayanda House on Colonial Ave.; and the grandest of all, the Red Swan Inn, which stood on Oakland Ave. overlooking what is now the Warwick Valley Country Club.

A surge of wealth sparked by the railroad and the prosperity of surrounding farmers-- who now had a way to get their crops to a ready market in New York City-- rapidly made the Village of Warwick a cultural and commercial center. In 1867 the Village was incorporated and underwent a rapid series of civic improvements.

One of Warwick's notable citizens at this time was Jasper Cropsey, an artist of the Hudson River School. He built his mansion on the mountain above what is today Pennings Orchards.

Iron mining continued to play its part in the region's growth, with a major leap in production following the opening of the railroad. Now the ore could more easily be taken to furnaces for smelting. Two of the largest mines were the Sterling Works and the Raynor mine. Most of the ore was carried to Warwick from the hills by wagon, and shipped by rail to the Greenwood furnace in Arden.

The tiny Warwick Valley Railroad became the first in America to use refrigerated cars to transport liquid milk. Prospering and growing by leaps and bounds, under the leadership of Grinnel Burt it eventually became the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad in 1881. It was a vital link between the western states and New England. Coal became one of its chief freights. Passengers could leave New York City at 7:50 AM and arrive in downtown Warwick by 11:10-- the travel time had been cut from eight hours by horse-drawn coach to three hours fifty minutes. It was now possible to travel to the city, conduct business, and arrive home the same day-- the age of the commuter was just around the corner.

Modern Times [1910-present]

The "Golden Age" of Warwick's past came to an end around the 1920's. The stage was being set for the Great Depression, with many bank failures and prices for farm products dropping to the point that many farmers had difficulty keeping their land. Another difficulty was the arrival of motorized vehicles, and many farmers could not afford to "upgrade" from horses to tractors. The spread of railroad lines meant that the Valley now had to compete with others for markets they had been able to take for granted a short time ago.

Many of Warwick's wealthy lost their fortunes with the collapse of the stock market in late 1929, and unemployment was high. With the New Deal of the 1930's, Federal assistance was a boon to the area. For the first time residents had to turn outside the Valley for help. Government projects of the WPA in the area included assistance with the clearing and draining of the Black Dirt region. Route 17A , linking Warwick, Bellvale and Greenwood Lake, was constructed with state and federal WPA funds. Kings Highway and Pine Island Turnpike were also reconstructed as part of the project to re-start America's economy, as was the Warwick Airport. Much of the labor for these projects was provided as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps, consisting of unemployed young men.

The massive construction and improvement of roads had a cumulative effect on the region: as America began to turn to the automobile for transportation, the railroads suffered gradual decline. Warwick was no longer the vital hub that it had been, as trucks on interstate highways bypassed the valley.

The upheavals of World War I and World War II took a great many of the young men from the area, and those who returned often chose a different career path than the agriculture of their parents. The mechanization of dairy farming made it possible to run a farm with far fewer laborers. New roads made it easier to commute to diverse jobs in distant communities of New Jersey and New York. Gradually, Warwick came to resemble the suburban communities to the south, while still striving to retain its agricultural heritage. During the 1950's through the present, waves of new development were constructed on land formerly cleared for farms. People were moving into the area in search of less crowded and less expensive housing, and better schools for their children. Coming mainly from New York's boroughs and New Jersey, the new residents brought new ideas, new cultures, and a frequent clash of values with those whose families came during earlier eras of the Valley's history. Change in the community as a result of new arrivals, which began with the Wawayanda Patent, is still very much a part of life in the Valley.


With the exception of the Native Americans who resided in the area at the time of the European's colonization, the arrival of the diverse cultural and ethnic peoples that make up the Warwick Valley's present population can be documented through early records. They came in small groups and waves of immigration, all seeking a better place to live and to enrich their lives, claiming the Valley as their home and changing it by their presence, even as newcomers do today.

The first to arrive were the white Europeans. A Dutch community existed to the north of Greenwood Lake shortly after the signing of the Cheescock Patent in 1702, which became known as "Dutch Hollow." Johannes Weesner and his family were Swiss, arriving in 1712. The majority of Warwick's early immigrant families were of English or Scotch-Irish descent, and Protestant. A large group from Ireland arrived in 1729, brought by Charles Clinton, founder of the distinguished Clinton family in America. Among them were the McCamlys, who settled in Jockey Hollow (New Milford) and the Armstrongs, who chose homesteads in Brookland (Florida). The Houstons of Scotch-Irish descent were also newly arrived, in the Bellvale section of the Valley. Another Scotch-Irish family, the Blains, arrived in 1721. Daniel Burt of English descent came from Connecticut in 1746. Many other with English ancestry followed, coming from New York City, Long Island and Connecticut. A few families of French Huguenots travelled up the trail from Bergen County.

Many of the white settlers were accompanied by their servants and slaves of African descent. The first count of African Americans in the Warwick area was in 1755. One district reported 15 slaves, another 11. No family owned more than three slaves; short growing seasons and the necessity of keeping households warm in winter were among the factors that made slave ownership less attractive to settlers in the North. Procedures for freeing slaves were in place in New York State in 1801, and every child born after July 4, 1799, would be free by age 28. Many New Yorkers chose to free their slaves early; records exist that seem to indicate that Margaret Vance in 1794 was the first to free her slaves in Warwick. By 1850, the Warwick census listed 175 persons as "black", with another 63 listed as "mulatto" (racially mixed). Since at this time most blacks lacked the means to obtain a formal education or to learn the skills necessary for advancement, many chose to leave the area for more urban centers. As the area prospered in the mid 1800's, however, a new wave of blacks appeared as servants to wealthy families from New York City. These formed a community in the McEwen Street area of Warwick Village, and founded a church there which is still in use today. Despite limited economic and social opportunities, blacks contributed greatly to Warwick churches; most Protestant churches had a number of black members, and in this area at least interracial participation was common and often encouraged.

Another wave of immigrants occurred during the 1840's-1860's, when many Irish left their homeland in response to widespread economic depression and potato crop failure. The Florida area of town in particular was attractive to them. The 1850 Census showed 123 people who were born in Ireland. They tended to be Catholics and planted fields of potatoes. Some of the Irish names that arrived in the Valley at this time were McFarland, Brennan, McNally, Lynch, and Sullivan.

In the late 1880's, Polish groups began to arrive. The four families to settle here first during this latest influx were Bogdanskis, Brodzowskis, and Smolenskis. Often they purchased land from the Irish, many of whom had tired of the difficult farming conditions, and left for more urban opportunities. Florida's Polish population grew rapidly and soon arable land was at a premium. Father Nowak, the first priest at the newly built St. Joseph's RC Church, persuaded a nearby shelter for homeless children to sell a 600 acre tract known as "The Mission Lands", which was then divided and sold to the Polish farmers. This wetland area saw industrious activity as drainage ditches were dug and fields appeared from swampland. The "Drowned Lands" had become one of the richest agricultural areas in Orange County, and in recent times their Onion Harvest Festival has been revived, a huge celebration of Polish-American culture and agricultural life.

Following the Polish immigrants closely, a nearby community called "Little York" was about to emerge. Conrad Luft and his wife were persuaded by Charles Donnelly to become tenant farmers. They were part of a large group of German-speaking Lutherans from Russia, whose ancestors had settled near the Volga River. Other German-Russian immigrants followed, among them the Paffenroths, the Scheuermanns Yungmans, and Schmicks. They clearned their lands, near Pine Island, and called their hamlet Little York.

The cultural diversity of the Valley had been enhanced since the late 19th century with the arrival of Jewish immigrants, for the most part from eastern and central Europe. Settling mainly in the Florida area, they were primarily shopkeepers and farmers. As Greenwood Lake began to be developed as a resort, Jewish residents of New York's Lower East Side found that summers there lead to permanent homes.

Since the late 1950's, the Warwick Valley has also been home during part of each year to Mexican and other Hispanic migrant workers. Toiling long hours in the rich soil to plant, tend, and harvest local crops, they contribute greatly to the local economy, yet are not highly visible members of the community. Some have chosen to stay and make the area their permanent home.

In the late 1950's another population boom began, this time middle class families from New York's five boroughs, New Jersey, and Westchester, in search of less expensive housing and better schools. The era of residential subdivisions was ushered in with the building of Galloway Heights, Werner Heights, and Wickham Village. The exodus accelerated in the 1980's and continued in the 1990's, and new subdivisions sprang up with what was alarming rapidity for their predecessors, whose chosen lifestyle was rural and agricultural.

This latest wave of immigrants to reach the lands of the Valley are from as near as Rockland and Bergen Counties and the five borough of New York, and as far away as Russia, Brazil, Asia, India, and many other nations and cultures. The year 2000 Census will in all likelihood show the most ethnically diverse population the Warwick Valley has ever known.

The transformation of the land-- first from forest to farm, then from farm to suburban neighborhood, continues, with tools now in the works to preserve something of the rural character of the Valley as it has been since the Europeans landed. As we have seen, more than once in the recorded history of this Valley the lament for a passing lifestyle and cultural identity has sounded. It is to be hoped that as the millenium turns "newcomers" and "natives" of the Valley will learn and pratice the arts of cooperation and compromise, of land conservation, and respect for diverse cultural identities better than the Europeans did when they arrived three centuries ago.

-- by S. Gardner, July 1999


Ellis, David M. et al. A Short History of New York State. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1957.

Hull, Richard W. History of Warwick New York: Three Centuries of a Community 1696-1996. Warwick, NY: Richard W. Hull, 1996.

Orange-Ulster Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Orange County: A Journey Through Time. Goshen, NY: Orange Ulster BOCES, 1983.

Special thanks to Richard Hull for permission to use his work.
Copyright 1999, Sue Gardner. All Rights Reserved.
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