Putnam County, Upstate NY Marks 200 Years During Bicentennial Celebration in June 2012

Party on, Putnam: The county celebrates its bicentennial this month

As revolutions go, this one is, frankly, kind of lame. It won’t ever be confused with the American colonies’ war for independence from a tyrannical monarch. It inspired no glorious mottoes like “liberty, equality, fraternity.” It failed to foment similar uprisings around the globe, like the recent “Arab Spring.” No, the revolution, 200 years ago, that resulted in the dissection of Dutchess County and the creation of Putnam County was precipitated, mostly, by mud.

Still, a bicentennial is worth celebrating, and Putnam County plans to mark the anniversary of the day — June 12, 1812 — that it came into being. To fully appreciate this event, however, requires dipping into history. And into the aforementioned mud.

The first people to get muddy in what would become Putnam County were the Wappingers, Native Americans who thrived on the region’s fertile soil and abundant waters. The Dutch, of course, eventually took hold of the land, which became part of Adolphe Philipse’s Patent in 1697. It was incorporated into Dutchess County, one of just 12 New York State counties, in the early 18th century. Back then, Dutchess included all of what became Putnam County, and a small bit of the future Columbia County. It was named for the Duchess of York, whose husband became King James II. And its business was administered by Ulster County until 1713, when Poughkeepsie became the seat of government in the county.

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luddington millLuddington Mill

The southern end of the county grew slowly, but its location made it valued territory during the Revolutionary War: Both sides wanted control of the river and the Hudson Highlands. If not for Paul Revere, the most famous midnight rider in our history might well have been an area teenager named Sybil Ludington. In April 1777, the 16-year-old daughter of Col. Henry Ludington took to her horse in what is now the town of Carmel and mustered her father’s militia to march to Connecticut, where they forced the British to retreat to Long Island. For a time, the Colonial defense of the river’s western shore was commanded by Gen. Israel Putnam, who was renowned for his courage on the battlefield (and for whom the county may — or may not — be named; historians are unsure on this point). And the infamous Benedict Arnold, who was outed as a traitor after trying to help the British overtake West Point, made his escape through the county.

After the war the population grew, and by the end of the century there were enough residents to start complaining about the Dutchess county government. And here’s where the mud comes in.

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» Click here to see photos of and read more about Putnam County

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new courthousePutnam County’s modern courthouse

Everything governmental had to be transacted in the city of Poughkeepsie. Legal work was done there. Deeds were filed there. Grievances were adjudicated there. Banking was conducted there. Every male between the ages of 16 and 60 had to serve in the militia, and every officer had to go there once a year to be sworn in. Town supervisors had to spend several days there, unpaid, every year. The problem? “In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Poughkeepsie was just too darn far away,” says Sallie Sypher, Putnam’s deputy county historian and former county executive.

It took a full day to get there. Travelers had to find a place to stay, pay for meals, and conduct their business. Then it took another day to get back home. If they were carrying cash — electronic fund transfers were two centuries down the road — they were literally subject to highway robbery. “It was a big drag,” Sypher says.

The drag was worst in spring and fall — mud seasons. And there was no DPW to maintain the thoroughfares. “People were chosen to work stretches of the road when needed, to push the mud out of the way,” Sypher says. They weren’t paid, and in fact were fined if they didn’t do their jobs.

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Those in the southern half of the county began debating separation at the end of the 18th century, and in 1806-07 asked the state legislature to allow their own town clerks to conduct business. They were turned down. When the Poughkeepsie courthouse burned down a short time later, the county considered building a new one north of Poughkeepsie. Residents in the south became even more agitated when, in 1808, the legislature passed a new tax on dogs. “Farmers in the southern part of the county needed their dogs for work, and they found this and other bits of overregulation very annoying and irritating,” Sypher says. Taxation without canine representation was the last straw.

In 1812, a petition to create the new Putnam County was approved. The paper trail as to how this happened is, well, muddy. Records are sparse, Sypher says, and there was no newspaper there at the time.

We do know that, once the dust had settled, Dutchess tried to stick it to Putnam one last time. “They sent the Putnam supervisors a bill for $222.70 for outstanding fees and services,” Sypher says. That’s about $12,000 in today’s money. “It was just one more irritating thing. The Putnam legislature said, ‘Forget it. You lost.’ ”

woman and flag

Party Like It’s 1812

Putnam County has lots of events planned to celebrate its bicentennial. Up-to-date listings can be found at www.putnamny200.com.

  • June 2: Bicentennial Lecture Series: “America the Beautiful: Women and the Flag.” Curator Dr. Trudie A. Grace presents a lecture on the museum’s current exhibit, which documents the important role that images of women and the flag had on the war efforts from the Civil War through World War II, and even into the 21st century. Putnam County Historical Society & Foundry School Museum, Cold Spring
  • June 3: Patterson Day Celebration. Special church service, food, games, cannon and musket demonstration. Patterson Baptist Church, 599 Rte. 311, Patterson
  • June 9: Hamlet of Carmel Firefighters’ Parade with Bicentennial Tribute. After the parade, the time capsule that was interred 50 years ago for the county’s sesquicentennial will be opened
  • June 16: Patterson History and Cemetery Tour. Starting at the Hudson Valley Trust, Rtes. 164 & 311; ending with lunch at Thunder Ridge Ski Area (site of the Revolutionary War Artillery Encampment). With cannon demonstration.
  • July 28: Bicentennial Lecture Series: “The Old Post Road and the Revolution.” Barbara Hobens, vice president of the Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot, presents a lecture on the important military role of the Post Road, the creation of the supply depot and encampment, and the revolutionary history of the North Highlands. Putnam County Historical Society & Foundry School Museum, Cold Spring
  • Sept. 15: Bicentennial Lecture Series: “The Cornish Estate and the Northgate Ruins.” Estate living was a major party of Putnam County’s development in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially in Philipstown. Learn the history behind the evocative ruins found on Rte. 9D across from Little Stony Point. Lecture (with rarely seen photographs of the original estate) presented by Thom Johnson, coauthor of Postcards of America: Bannerman’s Island; and Rob Yasinsac, coauthor of Hudson Valley Ruins (see Yasinac’s select ruins here). Following the lecture, Johnson and Yasinsac lead a hike through the ruins. Putnam County Historical Society & Foundry School Museum, Cold Spring
  • Sept. 22: Bicentennial Harvest Dance. Thunder Ridge, Rte. 22, Patterson
  • Oct. 13: Fall Foliage Walk at Patriots Park. With Bicentennial Community Tag Sale. Hudson Valley Trust, Rtes. 164 & 311, Patterson
  • Nov. 11: Town of Carmel entombs a new time capsule

» Click here to see photos of and read more about Putnam County


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