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The Fishkill Historical Society


Van-Wyck-Homestead-Museum

Van Wyck Homestead Museum
Photo by Steve Lynch (October 2009)

In the late 1960s, when Interstate 84 was being designed to pass through Fishkill, New York, the engineers planned to build a cloverleaf exit ramp off I-84 at Route 9 - exit 13 - and demolish the old abandoned farmhouse near Route 9 off Snook Road.  Fortunately, local Fishkill and Hudson Valley residents, who knew the importance of this historic house during the Revolutionary War years, banded together and formed the Fishkill Historical Society and saved the historic Van Wyck Homestead from imminent destruction by the Federal Highway System.  We are thankful for their perseverance and success at a time in our Country’s history – 1950s and 1960s – when old homes were routinely torn down to make way for a new Shopping Mall or new suburban residential developments.

The purpose of the Fishkill Historical Society shall be to gather and preserve information, objects, and resources relating to the history of Fishkill, especially the historic Van Wyck Homestead, and to encourage a knowledge of the Hudson Valley, including its role in the American Revolution.  

In 1683 Francis Rombout purchased 85,000 Acres of land from the Wappinger Indians – which includes most of today’s Southern Dutchess County.  Francis Rombout was a former Mayor of New Amsterdam – before the British settlers took over lower Manhattan and renamed it New York.  The Dutch settlers migrated north up the “North River” and established new communities along the Hudson River –  Peekskill, Fishkill, Spackenkill, Cobleskill, Catskill, etc.    Many consider the history of Fishkill as beginning in 1709 with the establishment of a Homestead and Grist Mill by Francis Rombout’s daughter Catharyna ‘Rombout’ Brett and her husband Roger Brett in Fishkill Landing (now Beacon).   Roger Brett drowned in a tragic boating accident during a storm on the Hudson River in June 1718, so Catharyna inherited about 28,000 Acres of her father’s original property.   Her house - The Madam Brett Homestead - is now over 300 years old, and is the oldest house in Dutchess County.    

In 1732, Cornelius Van Wyck purchased 959 Acres of land from Madam Brett and built a small two-room house - the present east wing and kitchen area of the Van Wyck Homestead.  About 25 years later, ca. 1757, the west wing was added with four large rooms downstairs, and bedrooms upstairs.  The Homestead had 4 fireplaces for warmth.

After the start of the American Revolution in April 1775, General George Washington placed General Israel Putnam in command of about 2,000 Continental Soldiers stationed in Fishkill, New York.    Also at this time, Benjamin Franklin, as Postmaster General, established six Regional Post Offices:  Boston, MA;  Hartford, Conn;  Fishkill, NY;  Philadelphia, PA;  Williamsburg, VA;  (now "Colonial Williamsburg")  and Charleston, SC, so mail correspondence between the New England Colonies and Philadelphia and the Southern Colonies passed through Fishkill, New York.   Travelers going from New York City to Albany, or Fort Ticonderoga, rode or walked along the "Albany Post Road" - now Route 9 - so Fishkill, New York was strategically located and was essentially the "Crossroads of the Colonies" during the Revolutionary War.

Unfortunately for the Van Wyck family, in 1776 General Israel Putnam - under General Washington's orders - requisitioned the Van Wyck Homestead as Officers' Headquarters for the Continental Army stationed here in Fishkill.    Over 2,000 Continental Soldiers were put in charge of the Fishkill Supply Depot, (1776-1783) which was the most important supply area for the New England Colonies including New York and Pennsylvania.   Cannons, cannon balls, muskets, uniforms, blankets, etc., manufactured in these colonies were shipped to the Fishkill Supply Depot for distribution to the Continental Army as needed.   Equipment and supplies used during the Battle of Trenton, NJ (Dec. 1776), the Battle of Saratoga, NY (Oct. 1777), and at Valley Forge, PA (winter encampment 1777 -1778), most-likely came from the Fishkill Supply Depot

Hundreds of Continental Soldiers and Militia who died – either in a battle, or from wounds sustained in a battle, or from disease – are buried in an unmarked graveyard on the grounds of the Fishkill Supply Depot a short distance from the Van Wyck Homestead.  This graveyard was “discovered” during archeological digs in the Spring of 2007.  It is the largest Revolutionary War Continental Army burial site, and it has been referred to as “New York’s Valley Forge”.    Hopefully the ten acres surrounding their graves will be preserved as a Historic Site. 

The Van Wyck Homestead "Officers' Headquarters" was visited by many of the most prominent personalities of the American Revolution such as: General George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette, and Baron von Steuben, to name a few.  The following famous Revolutionary War Heroes were all at the Fishkill Supply Depot, but we cannot find any documentation to verify that they were actually inside our Van Wyck Homestead Museum:  John Adams, Samuel Adams, General William Heath (Battle of Lexington & Concord Fame), and Alexander McDougall ("Sons of Liberty" leader in New York City and Benedict Arnold's replacement as Commander of West Point in September 1780).   

During the American Revolution, General George Washington established a series of Spy Rings throughout Long Island and the Hudson Valley area.  In 1821, James Fennimore Cooper wrote his classic novel "The Spy" which - although it's a novel - was based on George Washington's real life "double-agent" Spy Enoch Crosby whose "Mock Trial" was held here at the Officers' Headquarters.    After being found "Guilty" of being a Spy for the British, he and several other Tory Spies - whom he had helped capture - were imprisoned at the Old Dutch Church in Fishkill.  However, it's documented that at least four times during the Revolutionary War years Enoch Crosby was "allowed to escape" - on direct orders from General Washington.  

The historic Van Wyck Homestead Museum is open for tours from 1 - 4 pm Saturdays and Sundays from June thru October.  Click on “Events” to see a listing of upcoming events.     

Student’s Quote: “Can you believe they were going to tear that house down”?!!


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