Photo Essay: Patterson, New York


Patterson, New York:



Houses in South Street, Patterson


The earliest records show that, in 1691, the area on the east bank of the Hudson River (which now makes up the western part of Putnam County) was purchased from the Wappinger Indians by two Dutch speculators.

The first settlers seems to have been Trappers. Beaver pelts sold for high prices at that time and the trappers could use the River Hudson to transport the skins to the little Dutch port of New Amsterdam (now New York).


Seven years later the land was sold to Adolph Philipse, the son of a very wealthy Dutch merchant, and the holding became known as the Philipse Patent. The Patent included all the land from the Hudson River  to the Connecticut border.
Adolph Philipse’s Patent was eventually inherited by his nephew's three children and divided up between them. Two of the inheritors forfeited their land to New York State after the American Revolution because they had sided with England.


Over the ensuing years, the third Philipse sibling sold off parcels of land to his tenants but the Philipse family still retains ownership of all of the Mineral Rights. (My house stands on one of those parcels.)


During the next half century more settlers arrived, many from Scotland including a certain Matthew Paterson, and the Settlers established a town called Fredericksburg in 1720.

The mid-eighteenth century saw the eruption of the French and Indian War and some of the older houses in the area still have a hidden “Indian Cellar” where the settlers could hide if the Indians raided.

1776 brought the American Revolutionary War right to the town’s doorsteps and a local sixteen-year-old girl, Sybil Ludington, was the heroine of the hour when she galloped 40 miles, by herself and in the middle of the night, to warn the local militias in the various surrounding villages that the British were advancing on the arms supply depot in Danbury. Both she and her soldier father survived the war and are buried in Patterson.








After the war, the local people renamed the town “Franklin” ( in honour of Benjamin); then its name was changed again in 1808 to Paterson. The name changed, yet again, in the mid-nineteenth century, to Patterson (with two Ts: to differentiate it from Paterson, New Jersey).

More settlers and tenant farmers arrived and, by 1800, the population of Franklin had grown to 1,506 and the first one-room schoolhouse was built.

Big changes came during the 19th Century:
A railroad was built and opened in 1861 which connected all the little communities along the Croton River to each other and to Manhattan.

The burgeoning population of New York City became desperate for a clean and plentiful supply of fresh water because there had been outbreaks of cholera and typhoid due to the filthy conditions of the pond (known as The Collect) in Lower Manhattan which was the only source of fresh water.
Consequently, the city bought-up more than 8,000 acres of the best and most fertile valley-bottom farmland all along the Croton River on which they built the Croton Water Supply System: a continuous chain of dams and reservoirs which flows, entirely by gravity, down to Manhattan where it crosses the East River on an aqueduct and empties into a lake in Central Park.

Although additional water-supplies have since been constructed, the Croton System is still actively maintained and its creation has resulted in many very beautiful tree-lined lakes throughout the region.
However, the Croton Water System, and the land-seizures, produced a major disruption to the lives of local farming and milling communities.

In 1864 Gail Borden built a cannery in neighbouring Brewster, to handle his new invention: Condensed Milk. This proved to be extremely timely because Abraham Lincoln desperately needed supplies for his troops during the Civil War. Borden made a fortune — as did those farmers who still had land on which to raise cows: all that they needed to do was to squeeze a little harder and cart the churns down the road to Brewster — or, alternatively, put the churns on the new trains instead.

The Steinbeck family (who built my house) were among the fortunate ones: they already owned or leased more than six hundred acres and filled their fields with cows. Early maps show that a small cottage existed here but in 1867, obviously with the proceeds from the previous five years, John Steinbeck was able to build a much larger and very lovely house on the site. John Steinbeck’s descendants owned the house until 1948. (Interestingly, John Steinbeck, the author, was the Great Nephew of the builder of my house.)

The last Steinbeck owner, Elsie Steinbeck, was in her late eighties when I met her when we moved here in !977 and most generously gave us numerous old maps and photographs of this house.

The Steinbecks hit hard times financially during the Prohibition years (in the 1920s) from which they never really recovered.
It seems that Dan Steinbeck (Elsie’s husband) was, along with several other locals, caught making and selling illegal Hooch! He was apparently fined heavily and had to sell quite a lot of land to pay the fines and the loss of acreage damaged the profitability of his farm. Rumour has it that Dan was also jailed but this was obviously a very sensitive subject and not one which I wanted to ask Elsie about — although I would love to have learned the full story.

It seems that they were caught by aerial surveillance. Apparently, the local police had a camera-carrying Autogyro which they flew over the barn where the whiskey was being distilled. When everyone ran out from the barn to see the gyroplane, the camera captured clear photographs of all the up-turned faces!

The resident population of Patterson increased only slightly during the nineteenth century (and still numbered just 1,523 in 1875) but the beauty of the hilly wooded landscape and the many lakes began to attract people from New York City to build houses for summer holidays to escape from the heat (and stench!) of the city and also for the renowned Trout-fishing in Putnam County.

The centre of the village of Patterson is still quite small and most of the houses were built during the last 25 years of the 19th century and before the second World War. Some of them are quite grand and very lovely. Many of them were built in the classical Georgian and Regency styles, with fine proportions and beautifully hand-carved architectural details; while others embraced all the gothic exuberance and flamboyance of Victorian and Edwardian taste.




The coming of fast rail services, the advent of the affordable car and, especially, the completion of the Interstate 84 Highway in the mid 1970s; did of course, change everything.

Land was relatively inexpensive in the 1970s (both here on the New York side of the State Line and around neighbouring Danbury in Connecticut) so the new ease of communications (due to completion of the I 84) attracted a number of manufacturers, such as IBM and Union Carbide, to build plants here; or to move their Corporate offices to this region.  

With all the new jobs, came the people — and also a rash of new domestic and commercial building and the inevitable Shopping Centres—most of which are not very attractive.

People need “services” so, while earlier residents were content with a more simple life-style, the newer residents wanted all the facilities which exist in a modern big town —with the result that our taxes have also burgeoned to pay for all of this new infra-structure.














Until the 1980s, Patterson had managed with a Town Hall in a little wooden 19th century house a few miles from the Village Centre but our Legislators decided that they needed something a lot more imposing so a new grandiose, and distinctly disproportionate, construction has erupted besides the railway tracks in the centre of the village.



Patterson's new Town Hall

The population of the whole Patterson township was about four thousand when we came here in 1977: it is currently over twelve thousand!

The township actually occupies 40 square miles so there is a lot of open space between the hamlets of houses and the space is still filled with forested hills, lakes and open pastures: there is even space for a somewhat short Ski-run with the distinctly over-promising name of "Thunder Ridge"!


We also have a rather special feature: a true fresh-water Swamp (meaning a permanently inundated forest).

The Great Swamp covers 63000 acres in all and the section in Patterson is fairly impenetrable. We did take an inflatable into it once but the tangled roots, and numerous fallen trees, caused us to spend most of the time portaging the boat through deep mud — and getting ourselves covered in leeches.

The Great Swamp is the reason that we have so much wildlife here: it is a haven for birds and Beavers of course but, in my garden and woods alone, we have seen Bobcats, Coyote, Wolves (which may be a cross-breed with Coyotes), Racoons, Squirrels (Red, Flying and Grey), White-tailed Deer, Black Bears, Possum, Mink, Turtles, Foxes (Red and Grey), Skunks, Cotton-tail Hares, Woodchucks and, but only once, a Mountain Lion (Cougar)!.

I was warned, when we were planning our move to the United States, that I had seen the best of North America and that I could not live in a National Park.

Every time that I look out from my kitchen windows, I mutter to myself: “Can’t I just”!

Edited by Ann

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Thank you very much Ann for putting this article together, both photos and text. Being a Dutchman I read this with special interest. Although my work allows me to travel abroad a bit, I'm pretty sure it would not ever have taken me to Patterson! I like the people in the grocery store by the way.



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I am so pleased that you enjoyed the piece.


Maarten would probably feel quite at home if he came here as Dutch names are still very prolific in this area because for, 40 years (1624-1640) it was part of New Netherlands and it would seem that many of the descendants of those early settlers decided to stay put!

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What a wonderful historical essay Ann.  I can imagine this town and the amount of research required, well supported by your photography. I live in the Niagara region of Ontario and spend a great deal of time visiting the the small historical towns, many of which were settled by the Mennonites, Scots, Irish and English in the 18th, and 19th centuries.   Thank you!  

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Thank you so much for those extremely kind comments.

I wonder if your screen name might mean that you have a connection to Gail Borden of condensed milk fame?


There are still many of these fascinating and very pretty little towns in upstate New York and in Canada which are largely unspoilt and have a rich history filled with stories of great human interest and much humour.


I was at a town meeting in Patterson on one occasion when the felling of a huge, dead and dangerous sugar maple that stood on the corner of the church-yard was under discussion.


With deadly seriousness, the tree company explained why they had taken down most of the tree but were reluctant to winch out the trunk "because of what might come out of the ground with it" !!!


History laid a little too bare perhaps?


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Ann, I am a history buff.

Thank you for enlightening me about Patterson. The lovely images, and the lovelier piece of writing had me reading and seeing this post a few times.


Take care.

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Thank you so much Faris.

Patterson is only a very little place but so many interesting things have happened around here — and for a very long time too.

I actually have a Stone-age axe which I unearthed in my own garden while I was weeding one afternoon.

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