Between the main Dutch trading post of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island and the distant outpost of Fort Orange in today’s Albany was a third 17th century settlement called Wiltwyck, Dutch for “wild woods.” The wildness in the woods turned out to come mostly from the local Esopus Indians and after a few unpleasant incidents the leader of the Dutch colony, Peter Stuyvesant, built a stockade of eight-foot palisades to protect the settlers. The village remained under Dutch rule for only a dozen years before the English took over and renamed the place Kingston. Although it was no longer needed, the wooden wall remained standing until almost 1700.
As the American Revolution flared Kingston became known as “the breadbasket of the Revolution” as area farmers supplied the Continental Army with wheat. In September 1777 the nascent New York State Assembly met in a stone house to draw up a new constitution and Kingston briefly became New York State’s first capital. On October 7 the legislature disbanded before the advance of a British force under General William Clinton on the way to meet troops coming down from Canada. Seeing a chance to punish Kingston, Clinton landed and put the torch to every house in the village - some 200 structures - but one. The evacuated residents returned and quickly set about rebuilding their limestone houses, many of which stand today.
In 1805, Kingston was incorporated as a village. In 1828 the Delaware and Hudson Canal opened, reaching back 107 miles to the coal fields of northeast Pennsylvania. Valuable anthracite coal shipments arrived in the town of Rondout, now a part of Kingston, which became an important freight hub as the terminus of the canal on the Hudson River. Also shipping out of Kingston was native bluestone used to create the sidewalks of New York City. The dominant industry in town was cement-making after deposits began being quarried throughout the valley. Cement production reached its peak about 1900, when Kingston produced 3,000,000 barrels annually. In the winter ice was cut from the Hudson River and stored in large warehouses in town to be shipped throughout the year.
Kingston has evolved into distinct neighborhoods. The uptown area, the Stockade District, and the downtown area where the village of Rondout was located are the main ones. Our explorations will take place in the stockade area bounded by Green Street, Main Street, Clinton Avenue and North Front Street but first we’ll begin in a spot that was just outside the 1658 stockade where Peter Stuyvesant met with the leaders of the local Esopus Indians...
Academy Green Park
238 Clinton Avenue at Albany Avenue
Governor Peter Stuyvesant negotiated a peace treaty for the local settlers and the Esopus Indians on this ground and two centuries later Ulster county troops mustered here before marching off to the Civil War. The park takes it name from the Kingston Academy that was located here and which gave the ground to the City in 1918 for a single dollar. Proudly looking over the passive grounds are the three men instrumental in the development of early New York: Henry Hudson, Peter Stuyvesant and George Clinton. The statues were installed in 1950 but actually cast back in 1898 and were destined for the scrap heap when Emily Crane Chadbourne rescued them and orchestrated their installment on slabs of native Kingston bluestone.
WALK OVER TO CLINTON AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT, CROSSING OVER THE INTERSECTION WITH ALBANY AVENUE, ANGLING IN FROM YOUR RIGHT.
2 Main Street at Clinton Avenue
This Tudor Revival commercial building appeared on the Kingston streetscape in 1899, replacing a lumberyard on this prominent corner. Under various ownership the hotel evolved into the place to gather in town, known popularly as the Dutch Rathskellar before closing in the late 1960s. The Kirkland received a $4.7 million facelift in the early 2000s and stands as a rare surviving example of a wood-frame urban hotel.
312 Fair Street along Clinton Avenue
Colonel Wessel Ten Broeck built this one-story limestone house about 1676. A century later it was the home of merchant Abraham Van Gaasbeek when the first meeting of the newly elected New York State Senate convened here. The session was interrupted on October 16, 1777 when the British plundered and burned the town. The rooms in the Senate House appear as they did in 1777; a museum in the rear features more objects relating to the government’s work, including the crafting of the first New York constitution.
CONTINUE ON THE STREET AS IT BENDS TO THE LEFT AND BECOMES FRONT STREET AND YOU ENTER A COMMERCIAL AREA, SPRINKLED WITH MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY ITALIANATE STRUCTURES. CONTINUE TO GREEN STREET.
94 North Front Street at Green Street
Although constructed in 1679, after the British replaced the original Dutch settlers, this rubble-stone house was raised in the traditional Dutch style and is a rare example of the form to survive basically unchanged. The Hoffman family occupied the house for 201 years, until 1908. Since then it has served as headquarters for the local Salvation Army and, most recently, as a restaurant.
TURN LEFT ON GREEN STREET AND TURN LEFT ON JOHN STREET AND CONTINUE ONE BLOCK TO ONE OF THE MOST UNIQUE INTERSECTIONS IN AMERICA AT CROWN STREET.
southwest corner of John and Crown streets
This two-story limestone structure housed New York’s first academy, chartered in 1773 and opened a year later. The Academy was burned by the British in 1777 but classes were going again by the following year. Among its distinguished graduates were Governor DeWitt Clinton and painter John Vanderlyn, whose, Landing of Columbus is located in the Rotunda of the nation’s Capitol in Washington, DC. After 1830 the building was no longer used as a school and has seen duty as a carpenter’s shop, newspaper office, radio station and more.
Matthew Jansen House
northwest corner of John and Crown streets
Matthew Jansen built the core of this house with 20-inch thick limestone walls before the Revolutionary War. After the British got through sacking the town in 1777 only those walls were left standing. The house was rebuilt in 1796 and after a one-story addition came along in the 19th century the property became a favorite of town doctors. It was then commonly known as “the House of Doctors.”
Franz P. Roggen House
northeast corner of John and Crown streets
This Dutch Colonial house was built by a Swiss emigrant, Franz P. Roggen, in 1750. It suffered the familiar British torching during the Revolution and afterwards the gutted stone shell’s sturdy wooden beams were used as an unofficial gallows. Or so the story goes. When the house was rebuilt in the early 1800s the nefarious beams remained and local lore maintains the house has been haunted ever since.
Matthew Person House
southeast corner of John and Crown streets
After serving in the defeated Dutch military ,,Sergeant Matthew Person, unlike many of his fellow soldiers, decided to stay in Kingston after being vanquished by the British in 1664. His house is one of four pre-Revolutionary War buildings still standing on the corner of John and Crown streets. The Person family resided here until the 1820s.
TURN RIGHT ON CROWN STREET.
Cornelius Tappen House
10 Crown Street
Cornelius Tappen was the deputy county clerk when the British burned Kingston and he managed to save many of the town’s records. The salt-box style house (the sloping rear projection gives it the appearance of a wooden-lidded saltbox) was the first post office in Kingston and reputedly the oldest house on town. The uncut and uncoursed stones betray this as a “rubble” house.
Henry Sleight House
3 Crown Street at Green Street
Filling this prominent triangular plot is a splendid stone house blending Dutch (hipped roof) and English (symmetrical five-bay proportions) elements. The original house dates to the 1690s; Hendricus Sleight, Village President, rebuilt it after the burning of the town during the Revolution. In 1905 the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution rescued the house from the wrecking ball. The DAR hired Myron Steadman Teller to do restorations, one of the first commissions for the 30-year old architect. Teller would become Kingston’s leading architect in the first half of the 20th century and cultivate a national reputation as an expert on the restoration and revival of early stone houses but at this point historical accuracy was not a priority. Teller improved the building’s appearance with a Federal-style entrance and small porch.
CONTINUE ON GREEN STREET AND CROSS MAIN STREET. AFTER ONE BLOCK TURN LEFT ON PEARL STREET AND LEFT AGAIN ONTO WALL STREET.
St. Joseph Church
242 Wall Street
The core of this building began as a Dutch Reform church in the 1830s. After putting in time as an armory during the Civil War it was converted into the church for the new St. Joseph’s Parish in 1868. The original Greek Revival structure was transformed through the years; in 1898 a new facade was installed and the bell tower installed.
Van Leuven Mansion
63 Main Street at Wall Street
This Federal-style house was constructed by 30-year old John Sudam around 1812. A prominent attorney, Sudam was a New York State senator who entertained the movers and shakers of the day in his fashionable home. The Van Leuven family moved in during the 1880s. It is now the Fred J. Johnston Museum of American Antiques. Johnston, one of the first consultants to the world famous Winterthur Museum of decorative arts, purchased the deteriorating house in 1938 and spent over 50 years caring for it, restoring the exterior totally and making only necessary subtle changes to the interior.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
48 Main Street
This brick building is an original creation of architect Myron Teller, not a restoration. He dipped into the Dutch architectural playbook with patterned brickwork and stepped gables although the original Dutch settlement most likely did not have any buildings with such affectations. The building was commissioned by Mary Kenney around 1910. She operated her Wiltwyck Inn that catered to the emerging automobile touring trade. The enterprise lasted only a decade or so and has operated as a commercial building ever since.
CROSS THE STREET INTO THE CHURCHYARD OF OLD DUTCH CHURCH.
Old Dutch Church
272 Wall Street
The congregation of the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston was organized in 1659 after an appeal to Peter Stuyvesant for a house of worship in his third oldest settlement in New Netherlands. The present church structure, built in 1852 of local bluestone, is the third to be sited on the same plot of land inside the original Stockade Area of Kingston. Influential early American architect Minard Lefever contributed the much-admired Classical Revival design. The burial ground surrounding the church has existed since its inception. The earliest gravestone, preserved in the museum, dates to 1710. There are at least 71 Revolutionary War veterans buried in the churchyard and the first governor of New York, George Clinton, is also interred here. For over 175 years, Old Dutch was the only church in Kingston and spawned over 50 daughter churches throughout the Hudson River Valley.
WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED EXPLORING OLD DUTCH CHURCH WALK BACK OVER TO WALL STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Ulster County Courthouse
285 Wall Street
Laws have been bandied about this site since 1683 when the newly formed County of Ulster put up a two-story stone building to serve as a jail and courthouse. The present Ulster County Courthouse was constructed in 1789. Ulster County native Sojourner Truth, the famous abolitionist and women’s rights activist, successfully saved her son from slavery by arguing his case here.
288 Wall Street
This ornate brick building was constructed in 1888 as the Leventhal Bros. Furrier and Showroom. Note the etched stone window lintels and the decorative metal cornice at the roofline. The Leventhals switched from furs to fine casual and dress wear in the mid-1900s and remained in business until 1992.
295-299 Wall Street at John Street
Look up above the compromised street level facade of this substantial late 19th century commercial building to see its well-preserved mansard roof punctuated by decorative gabled windows. The roof retains its fanciful metal cresting as well.
TURN RIGHT ON JOHN STREET. TURN RIGHT ON FAIR STREET.
Opera House Office Building
275 Fair Street
This building was constructed right after the Civil War in the 1860s and was known for years as the Kingston Music Hall. It was a second floor theater capable of seating about one thousand people and in its day was a good stage, well supplied with scenery, and hosted all the famous players of the age. The ground floor hosted various businesses and the town post office for years.
Volunteer Fireman’s Museum
265 Fair Street
The citizens of Kingston ordered their first fire engine from England in 1754. It arrived three years later and served for two decades until the pumper was burned with the rest of the town by the British. This Italianate-flavored building was the home of the volunteer Wiltwyck Hose Company, constructed in 1857. In 1981 Kingston’s firefighters, then seven companies strong, leased the old firehouse from the city and converted the first floor into a museum featuring antique firefighting artifacts and apparatus including an 1898 streamer.
Kingston Trust Company/Rhinebeck Savings Bank
27 Main Street at Fair Street
The Kingston Trust Company was organized in 1836 and set up shop in this Greek Revival headquarters behind a pair of fluted Doric columns. The brick building supports a wooden entablature and cornice with a classical wreath set into the frieze.
Saint James United Methodist Church
35 Pearl Street at Fair Street
Methodism in Kingston dates to 1810 when St. James was founded by Edward O’Neil, an native of Ireland who was converted from the Roman Catholic Church. The current Romanesque-style church was dedicated in 1894, its massive walls constructed of green serpentine stone imported from Chester County in southeastern Pennsylvania. The corner bell tower is 100 feet high and surmounted by a pyramidal roof.
Fair Street Church
209 Fair Street
The congregation of the Reformed Church of America organized by the Classis of Ulster on January 29, 1849 when the Old Dutch Church could no longer accommodate its 275 families. The Second Reformed Dutch was busy constructing its own Gothic Revival church a year later. It is a fine example of a spare rendering of the style in the years before the introduction of exuberant Victorian Gothic details.
TURN LEFT ON MAIDEN STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN ACADEMY GREEN PARK.