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New York - Rockland County

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Other County Resources

Books on County Genealogy and History

Dutch Genealogy

Genealogical Society of Rockland Co.

Genealogies in the New City (county seat) Library

Historical Society of Rockland Co.

Map of Rockland Co. (1895)

New City Library

Official NY State Website

Official Rockland Co. Website

Ramapough Mountain People

Rockland Co. GenWeb Project

Rockland Holocaust Museum and Study Center

Town of Orangetown

Town of Ramapo

Rockland County was formed from Orange County on 23 Feb 1798.

The great outcroppings of rock that tower above the Hudson, jut out from the mountainsides, and thrust up through the earth in field and meadow, gave Rockland its name. Known as Shatemuc (the river that flows two ways) to the Indians, the region became a county in 1798 when it separated from the County of Orange.

Long before this, however, the county was important historically. In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson and dropped anchor in Tappan Zee, near what was later called Piermont. When Hudson landed, he found a long-established primitive society of Algonquin Indians living more or less peacefully together, enjoying the fertility and abundance of the pristine woods and streams.

The river swarmed with fish and shellfish, and the woods were alive with game. The Indians farmed with very little effort in very fertile soil. They cultivated corn, beans, squash--plants unknown to the Europeans--and other vegetables. Thus the first settler found, not an unbroken forest, but many open spaces in the woods made by the Indians, who, as they exhausted the soil or moved to another tribal settlement, abandoned their vegetable patches.

It was not until around 1675 that permanent colonization of the land began. In that year a Dutch immigrant, Harmon Dowsa (whose family name of Talma has been variously spelled Tallman, Taulman, and Talman) established a home in Nyack. Eight years later he induced several families to move into the area; this was the County's first permanent settlement. Also in 1683, the County of Orange, which included present-day Rockland County, was formed. In 1686, Orangetown was created by a royal grant.

Most of the early settlers were Dutch, with a sprinkling of Huguenot families. Later, the English began to colonize the county. The building of the county went slowly. In 1702 there were fewer than 300 people in the Orange County, most of them settled in the southeast corner around the Nyack-Tappan area. Relations with the Indians, except in a few instances were friendly; but as the European settlements grew, the Indians moved away to wilder land, leaving behind only a few stragglers.

The first half of the 18th Century saw much of the land cleared, homes built, grist and sawmills erected on the numerous small creeks, and general stores opened at Haverstraw and Tappan Slote. Sloops made regular trips up and down the river, for it was often less arduous to go by river than by land. While most of the houses were log cabins, a few were built of the native sandstone-the DeWint house at Tappan, which served as Washington's headquarters, was built in 1700.

The settlers lived almost entirely off the land, farming hunting, fishing, and trapping. They formed governments and built schools and churches. In 1691, the first county courthouse was built in Tappan. The natural barrier of the Ramapo Mountains and the size of the County made it difficult to carry on governmental activities. At one point there were twin governments, one on each side of the mountains. For this reason, Rockland split off from Orange in 1798 to form its own county. That same year the County seat was transferred from Tappan to New City, where a new courthouse was built.

The Orange-Rockland region already came into prominence during the Revolutionary War era. In 1774, the people of the Orangetown gathered in Yoast Mabie's house to sign the famous Orangetown Resolutions, which contained the seeds of the Declaration of Independence. Two important battles later took place in the County-- the capture by the British of Fort Clinton at Bear Mountain in October 1777, and the victorious attack by "Mad Anthony" Wayne's army on the British-held fort at Stony Point in July 1779.

In 1780, another significant event took place with the trial of British Major John Andre, a spy who worked in concert with General Benedict Arnold, to try to gain plans for West Point fortifications. General Washington was in Tappan as Andre was tried by a military tribunal in the Old Dutch Church there and later hanged. Still another important chapter in the story of the Revolution was written on May 5, 1783, when General Washington received Sir Guy Carleton at the DeWint house, where they discussed the terms of the peace treaty. Two days later Washington visited Sir Guy aboard a British war vessel. On this day the King's Navy fired its first salute to the flag of the United States of America.

The distinction of being a battleground for seven years had its drawbacks. Parts of Rockland County had been ravaged by outlaw raiders who burned and pillaged in the name of one side or the other, but really to enrich themselves. Troops passing through the region had to be fed; enemy troops sometimes overran the land, and the men of the county were often as not off to the wars and unable to carry on their work of protecting their homes and providing for their families. Much had to be done to restore the county and the people set to work, not only restoring, but also improving. They built new roads; quarried stone; established a huge bricking industry; and pioneered in shipbuilding.

Quarries in and around Nyack and in other parts of the county provided stone for many structures outside Rockland as well as in it. Building stone from local quarries went into the old capitol at Albany, Fort Lafayette, and the old Trinity Church in New York, and the first building at Rutgers College. Haverstraw became the brick-making center of the East when James Wood discovered in 1817 that coal dust could be mixed with clay, reducing the price of bricks. Clay of high quality was dredged up from a 200-foot deep bed in the Hudson River.

In 1852, Richard A. VerValen, a native of Rockland County, invented a practical brick machine, which was a great step forward after centuries of brick making by hand. For the next 75 years, north Rockland County was the source of building material for the colossal growth of metropolitan New York City. At one time, the town of Haverstraw had over 42 brickyards. However, in January 1906, an entire area, undermined by tunneling below the surface, was engulfed in a landslide of clay, which took 20 lives, did much property damage, and destroyed part of the business section of the town. The use of steel and concrete in construction, rather than brick, further contributed to the decline of the industry; the depression of the 1930s struck the final blow.

Rockland was once rich in high-grade iron ore, though it was embedded in solid rock and difficult to extract. Largest of all the many workings was the Hassenclever Mine, on land now covered by the Palisades Interstate Park. The Harriman section of the Park even now is dotted with small abandoned mines. For a while the mines and industries connected with them, such as foundries and metal works, provided employment for many people; but when the rich fields around the many Great Lakes were opened, operation of the local mines was no longer profitable. Just west of Pearl River was a soft coal mine, opened about 1820. Worked by pick and shovel or by hand, it prospered until the modernly equipped Pennsylvania coal fields put it out of business.

For many years, shipbuilding was Nyack's leading industry. Famous racing yachts came out of the village's shipyards. Steamboats were built to travel up and down the Hudson, carrying both passengers and freight. At the peak of the steamboat's popularity, come of the best-known ships originated in Nyack's boatyards. However, steamboats soon faced competition from the railroads built in the Hudson Valley between New York and Albany.

Post-Revolutionary manufacturing was varied. Because of the proximity of iron mines, numerous metal products were made--plows, hoes, railings, machinery, and even cannonballs. Rockland County factories made shoes, straw hats, silk, sulfur matches, and pianos. Foremost among Rockland's early industry was J.G. Pierson and Brothers, a large-scale nail manufacturer whose over-whelming success spurred the settlement and development of western Ramapo. While reliable transportation was important to manufacturers such as Pierson, ever more essential was water for steam and timber for fuel. The Ramapo Pass offered a plentiful combination of both. For this reason, Pierson relocated his operation in 1795 from New York City to a site along the Orange Turnpike at the base of Torne Mountain.

Pierson immediately set work on a 120-foot dam across the Ramapo River. By 1813, his Ramapo works was producing a million pounds of nails annually. The addition of a cotton mill in 1814 nearly doubled the size of the Works, which were incorporated under the name Ramapo Manufacturing Company in 1822. With the passing of the Pierson Brothers, the Ramapo Works effectively shut down after 1850. During its heyday, however, the Pierson nail factory was a powerful economic stimulus to the region because of its links to existing agricultural and commercial trade. In the process, Ramapo developed into an agricultural marketplace and a locale for manufacturing innovations.

Outside the towns and villages, prosperous farms and orchards were operated by the same families for generations. While only a handful of family farms still remain today, roadside fruit and vegetable stands serve as reminders of the county's agricultural heritage.

The success of the Ramapo works during the early 19th century led to the construction of the Nyack Turnpike (1830) connecting Suffern and points west with Nyack and the Hudson River. Later several railroads were opened, principally, the New York and Erie (later the Erie-Lackawanna), the New Jersey and New York (later part of the Erie) and the New York Central. The need of the Erie railroad for more direct access to New York City led to the construction of the Piermont pier in 1841. Eventually all the trains became important commuter routes until after World War II when competition from automobiles and buses resulted in the abandonment of several railroad routes.

Another part of the county's history lies in the development of the Palisades Interstate Park system established in response to an ever-increasing degree of stone quarrying on the Palisades ridge in Nyack and Haverstraw. Lobbying the conservative groups led to the formation of the park commission in 1900, followed by construction of a park site at Bear Mountain, acquisition of Hook Mountain, and development of numerous other park sites during the 20th century.

During the 1950s, the construction of the Palisades Interstate Parkway, the New York State Thruway, and the Tappan Zee Bridge along with several important arteries, led to a dramatic increase in population--from 89,276 in 1950 to 265,475 in 1990. This increase, and the construction of major industrial, commercial, and office complexes, such as the Nanuet Mall and the Blue Hill Office Park, transformed the semi-rural countryside into a bustling community in the New York metropolitan area.

Some of the earliest Dutch settlers - eager to escape "city life" in the New Amsterdam colony"- moved to Rockland (then part of Orange County) in the early 1600's. Together with a sprinkling of Huguenot and English families they farmed, hunted, fished, and trapped prosperously.

During the first half of the 18th century, they cleared the land, built homes, schools and churches. They erected sawmills and gristmills along the numerous creeks. General stores were opened at Haverstraw and the Tappan Slote. They also formed local government, erecting the first county courthouse in Tappan in 1691. It was burned down by the Tories in the early pre-Revolutionary War years and the County seat was moved to New City. Rockland County became its own entity when it separated from Orange in 1798.

Rockland County's rich history is immortalized by the Stony Point battlefield and more than fifty historical markers in every part of the county. It's made even more real by four historic churches and five historic farms - several in the same family since the 1600s. Unique to Rockland County is the Colonial and Victorian eras.

There are ten museums starting with the DeWint House, our oldest standing residence. Orangeburg's new Camp Shanks Museum memorializes the site where more than a million GI's were processed for embarkation to World War II fronts.

Source: Rockland County Archives Historians


Click on the links below for book titles and history specific to that county.

From what or whom did the name of each county originate? Click here to find out.

County Date
Parent County County
Albany 1683 original county Albany
Allegany 1806 Genesee Belmont
Bronx 1914 New York Bronx
Broome 1806 Tioga Binghamton
Cattaraugus 1808 Genesee Little Valley
Cayuga 1799 Onondaga Auburn
Charlotte 1772 Albany renamed Washington in 1784
Chautauqua 1808 Genesee Mayville
Chemung 1798 Tioga Elmira
Chenango 1798 Herkimer, Tioga Norwich
Clinton 1788 Washington Plattsburgh
Columbia 1786 Albany Hudson
Cortland 1808 Onondoga Cortland
Delaware 1797 Ulster, Otsego Delhi
Dutchess 1683 original county Poughkeepsie
Erie 1821 Niagara Buffalo
Essex 1799 Clinton Elizabethtown
Franklin 1808 Clinton Malone
Fulton 1838 Montgomery Johnstown
Genesee 1802 Ontario Batavia
Greene 1800 Ulster, Albany Catskill
Hamilton 1816 Montgomery Lake Pleasant
Herkimer 1791 Montgomery Herkimer
Jefferson 1805 Oneida Watertown
1683 Original county Brooklyn
Lewis 1805 Oneida Lowville
Livingston 1821 Genesee, Ontario Geneseo
Madison 1806 Chenango Wampsville
Monroe 1821 Genesee, Ontario Rochester
Montgomery 1772 Albany (as Tryon to 1784) Fonda
Nassau 1899 Queens Mineola
New York City
1683 Original county New York
Niagara 1808 Genesee Lockport
Oneida 1798 Herkimer Utica
Onondaga 1794 Herkimer Syracuse
Ontario 1789 Montgomery Canandaigua
Orange 1683 Original county Goshen
Orleans 1824 Genesee Albion
Oswego 1816 Oneida, Onondaga Oswego, Pulaski
Otsego 1791 Montgomery Cooperstown
Putnam 1812 Dutchess Carmel
Queens 1683 Original county Jamaica
Rensselaer 1791 Albany Troy
Staten Island
1683 Original county St. George
Rockland 1798 Orange New City
St. Lawrence 1802 Clinton, Herkimer, Montgomery Canton
Saratoga 1791 Albany Ballston Spa
Schenectady 1809 Albany Schenectady
Schoharie 1795 Albany, Ostego Schoharie
Schuyler 1854 Tompkins, Steuben, Chemung Watkins Glen
Seneca 1804 Cayuga Ovid, Waterloo
Steuben 1796 Ontario Bath
Suffolk 1683 Original county Riverhead
Sullivan 1809 Ulster Monticello
Tioga 1791 Montgomery Owego
Tompkins 1817 Cayuga, Seneca Ithaca
Tryon 1772 Albany (renamed Montgomery 1784)
Ulster 1683 Original county Kingston
Warren 1813 Washington Lake George
Washington 1772 Albany (see Charlotte) Hudson Falls
Wayne 1823 Ontario, Seneca Lyons
Westchester 1683 Original county White Plains
Wyoming 1841 Genesee Warsaw
Yates 1823 Ontario, Steuben Penn Yan

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