Broome County is defined by the valleys and hills surrounding the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers and the rich contrast between urban living in the Greater Binghamton area and the surrounding rural environment.
The Dutch claims based on Hudson’s explorations made the entire river basin and coastal areas theirs, but more than half a century elapsed before any Dutch arrived here. The practices of the Dutch West India Company may have contributed to this. A charter of “Privileges and Exemptions” enacted in 1629 gave to the patrons who directed the Company title in perpetuity to enormous land holdings in the valley and virtually made their tenants feudal vassals, discouraging rather than encouraging colonization. Eager to make money, the company directors paid the Native Americans for the land but found few Dutchmen interested in the rigors of frontier life.
In 1683 the Governor of New York, Thomas Dongan, created Dutchess County and eleven others, by dividing up the province of New York. The county was named in honor of Mary Beatrice D-Este whose husband James Stuart had been made proprietor of the province by his brother, Charles II of England. The “t” in Dutchess reflects the former spelling and has naught to do with the Dutch.
Land ownership was the key to personal and public success. The new patent-holders were drawn from upriver Dutch-English manor lords, government servants, New York City merchants and a few farmers. In the late 1680’s, two Dutch farmers leased land from patent-holder Robert Sanders and built near the river at Poughkeepsie, starting one of the first settlements.
Refugees from Europe’s religious and political persecutions, and later immigrants from New England and Long Island added to the population. Industries generated by the river and creeks included fishing, lumbering, ship building, tanneries and gristmills. Iron mines dotted the south and eastern hills.
The area, sometimes called the “breadbasket,” was spared a role in the violence of the Revolution, protected by the southern highlands. A supply depot and encampment of Washington’s troops were situated at Fishkill. From 1776-77 Fishkill served as the capital of New York when the convention of representatives of the state met there. Frequent and necessary moves eventually gave a more permanent home in the Poughkeepsie Courthouse. From 1778 into the 1780’s Poughkeepsie served as the Capital of New York State. Between 1787 and 1788 federalists and anti-federalists among the representatives hotly debated the merits of the new United States Constitution.
During the 1800’s, technological improvements gave rise to a number of industries. Whalers from New England settled here, and a ship building industry grew in Poughkeepsie. Old families, found this the perfect spot for conducting a lucrative shipping trade as well as farming. Good transportation and cheap power made the county’s western border a likely spot for the development of manufacturing, with labor provided by the continued immigration from Europe. In the 1900’s, the county would host a burgeoning computer industry in IBM.
Landscape painters of the Hudson River school found inspiration and patronage here as well. Landscape architecture as an art was nurtured here through the work of Andrew Jackson Downing.
The full development of a railroad system in the latter 19th century gave added push to the industrial growth and brought Dutchess County within easy reach of New York City’s wealthy residents who chose to build their weekend and seasonal retreats here. Beautiful estates of prominent 19th century families dot the landscape along the river and eastern hills. Around them hamlets and villages, Hyde Park, Millbrook, Rhinebeck and Pawling grew, providing goods and services.
An inventory of a few of Dutchess’ contributions to history reveals an incredible treasury of human and environmental resources. Among its luminaries, Dutchess claims as its own the only President to win a fourth term in the White House, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We also have the only national historic site dedicated to a president’s wife at the home of Eleanor Roosevelt, “First Lady of the World” at Val-Kill in Hyde Park.