The great formations of rock that overhang the Hudson, jutting out from the mountainsides and thrusting up through the earth gave Rockland its name. The region became a county in 1798, when it was separated from the County of Orange.
Long before this, however, the county was important historically. In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River and it is believed, dropped anchor in the Tappan Zee. When Hudson landed he found the long established society of Algonquin Indians.
Relations with the Algonquin were generally friendly but as the European settlements grew, the Indians were moved away to wilder land, leaving behind only a few stragglers. The settlers lived almost entirely off the land, farming, hunting, fishing and trapping. They formed governments and in 1691 the first county courthouse in Tappan.
The natural barrier of the Ramapo Mountains and the size of the county made it difficult to carry on governmental activities. For this reason, Rockland split off from Orange in 1798 to form its own county.
Meanwhile, the region became a battleground for Colonial and British soldiers. It was appropriate that so much of the Revolution was fought on its soil, for the famous Orangetown Resolutions, which contained the seeds of the Declaration of Independence, were passed by the people of the Town of Orange in 1774 in Mabie’s Tavern. This house, in which the spy Major John Andre was later imprisoned, still stands today. The infamous meeting of General Benedict Arnold and Major John Andre, for the purpose of selling the plans of the fort at West Point, took place along the shore of the Hudson at Haverstraw in 1780. Andre’s subsequent trial and execution took place in Tappan.
The nineteenth century saw the growth of the industry in the county. Quarries in the county provided stone for the old Capitol at Albany and the old Trinity Church in New York.
Haverstraw became the brick-making center of the east when James Wood discovered in 1817 that coal duct could be mixed with clay, reducing the price of bricks. Clay of high quality was dredged up from a two hundred foot deep bed in the Hudson River.
In 1852 Richard A. VerValen, a native of Rockland County invented a practical brick machine which ended centuries of making brick by hand. For the next seventy years, North Rockland was the source of building material for the colossal growth of metropolitan New York City. At one time the town of Haverstraw had over forty brickyards. The use of steel in construction together with the depression of the 1930’s contributed to the end of the industry in the county.
For many years, shipbuilding was Nyack’s leading industry. Famous racing yachts were built in the village’s shipyards. Steamboats were constructed that carried passengers and freight up and down the Hudson. When the railroads were built in the valley between Albany and New York City, the steamboats became obsolete and Nyack lost its major industry.
Outside the towns and villages prosperous farms and orchards were operated year after year, generation after generation. From the nineteenth century on, the people of the county carried on with their lives – farming, working in factories, operating in small businesses, and seeing service in time after war.
Construction of the Palisades Interstate Parkway the New York State Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge led to continuing population growth. With all of the county’s growth and the passing of its wilderness, the words of the Reverend Cole written in 1884 in the “The History of Rockland County” still apply to much of the region: “The County is first of all unspeakably rich in its natural features of soil, streams, hills and scenery. The beautiful Hudson flows along its entire eastern side. Unsurpassed mountain scenery completely encircles its three northern towns, presenting a succession of ever-varying but continuously beautiful views, while at its southernmost point it breaks upon the grand old Palisades.