A Brief History of Amenia Union

(Also Called Hitchock’s Corner)

SHS Publications Committee, Frank N. Spencer, Jr. Chairman 1985

There is a small and little know hamlet, a gem of rural beauty that is shared by the towns of Sharon, Connecticut and Amenia, New York. It may be little appreciated by those who hurriedly and perhaps warily pass through its miniature traffic circle where the road from Leedsville joins the Sharon-Wassaic road. The travelers should pause and look about them to enjoy the tranquility of the scene. We now know this village as Amenia Union. Long before the days of traffic circles there was a real corner where the roads met, and throughout most of its past, when the locality hummed with the sounds of various industries, it was called Hitchcock’s Corner. In this history it seems appropriate to honor that name.

Here a slow flowing brook meanders down a fertile valley, spills through a cleft in a limestone rib in a series of falls and rapids from which it emerges into the Oblong Valley, and again slows to join Webutuck Creek, and then to the Ten Mile River. It was the good soils of those valleys and the falls themselves which drew the first settlers here in 1724 long before the founding of either Amenia or Sharon. There is little doubt that the area was explored by the early colonials even before that date, for the Ten Mile River had received its English name prior to 1694.

The geographical fate of our village is interwoven with the long and tedious dispute over the boundary between Connecticut and New York. After having made a tentative agreement with the New Amsterdam Dutch in 1650, the Colony of Connecticut in 1664 was confronted with a new adversary in the Duke of York, who was granted a patent by the King conflicting with the Royal Charter which he had previously granted to Connecticut. It appears that there was either skullduggery on the part of the Duke, or that the King and his advisors had some sort of mental lapse. It was not until 1683 that things even began to get straightened out. In that year the previous proposal of 1650 to set the line 20 miles east of Hudson’s River was tentatively changed to 21 ¾ miles. The two colonies agreed to this in order to compensate New York for lands taken by Connecticut along Long Island Sound. The charade continued for another 48 years when finally the two colonial commissions met at Dover Plains and settled the dispute. The following year, 1732, the line was surveyed by Edmund Lewis, Captain Stephen Noble and William Gaylord. On its completion it was found that the survey split the poor village, later to be named Hitchcock’s Corner, down the middle, half in each colony.

hitchcock-corner-map

One might have though that the survey would have solved the matter, but, alas, no! In 1885, because of destroyed monuments and shilly-shallying by certain good people whose lands were divided between the states, the line had to be re-surveyed. Again, a dispute arose as to how to do it. Without going into the bitter details, Connecticut claimed that the line should be west of where it was originally laid out. To quote Clarence W. Bowen on the matter: “If the mistake were corrected, Connecticut would gain several hundred inhabitants, and a small village called ‘Hitchcock’s Corners’, on the borders of the Town of Sharon. New York refused to yield, and the matter rested until 1859 when new commissioners were appointed by each state. To make a long story short, Connecticut lost the battle of Hitchcock’s Corner in a final settlement made in 1880. On the questions of whether New York rightfully won half the village, and whether its triumph was good or bad, the answers will have to be left to the judgment of others. The first recorded colonial settler in the area was Mr. Richard Sackett, said to be a sea captain, who arrived at Wassaic, New York, some four miles southwest of the “Corner” in about 1703. In that year the New York authorities granted him license to purchase 7,500 acres of land from the Indians. Part of what he purchased later turned out to be in Connecticut and included Hitchcock’s Corner, likely a bitter pill to swallow for one versed in the arts of navigation and surveying.

Mr. Sackett had association with the Hudson Valley Livingston family and had been instrumental in settling the German Palatine refugees at East Camp near Red hook. As a consequence Captain Garret Winegar, a Palatine, took residence on Sackett’s land at Hitchcock’s Corner in 1724. It appears that he built his house west of the boundary, as later determined. Its location is not precisely known, but that of his son Hedrick, built in 1761 , still stands, a large house of stone and brick about one quarter mile west of the traffic circle. It is in need of repair, and plans for restoration of the structure are being formulated by a group of his descendents.

A second family, presumably Palatine, headed by Johannes Rouh (Rauh, Rau, Row or Rowe) came to Hitchcock’s Corner, according to Reed , prior to 1731. Obviously, it has to be the same Johannes Rau who. According to DeCost Smith , removed from Crum Elbow to Shekomeko near Pine Plains, New York, shortly after 1712. Smith further states; “To this section [referring to Hitchcock’s Corner] in 1746, came Johannes Rau, settling at a point on the Webutuck almost on the New York-Connecticut boundary line, and on the age-old trail from Wechquadnach (Indian Pond) to Scaticook (Kent).” No matter as to the date. He came, died in 1768, and was buried at the nearby cemetery on the New York side. Again, the site of the home has not been identified.

Both Captain Winegar and Mr. Rau were, according to the various sources, men of influence, integrity and character, greatly respected by both whites and Indians.

As mentioned, Mr. Lewis and party completed the boundary survey in 1732. At that time they also laid out the “Jackson Patent”, 300 acres of which included what is now the Connecticut part of Hitchcock’s Corner and the waterfalls which were to provide power for its industries. There were two parcels, the second, of 100 acres, being a little farther to the north. The grants were to Samuel Orvis and Jonathan Bird of Farmington, who sold their rights to Daniel Jackson in 1734.

Sedgwick stated in this first edition, “Daniel Jackson was the first white man that lived in Sharon . His house stood where the house lately owned by the Sharon Manufacturing Company stands.” (1842) “His son, Jehiel Jackson, was the first white child born in Sharon. Mr. Jackson lived but a few years in the town. In February 1739, he sold his patent to Garrit Winegar, and himself removed to Great Barrington, Massachusetts. This last named gentleman built a grist mill at the Corner within the limits of Sharon, and it was at this mill that the corn was ground which fed the first settlers of Sharon.” (This statement was in error. Daniel Jackson had already built the mill.) Obviously, business acumen went along with Mr. Winegar’s other good qualities.

The attractions of the “Corner” must have been considerable, for it drew more settlers of enterprise and standing as time went on. In 1748 or thereabouts came the Reverend Ebenezer Knibloe, a Scotsman, minister of the Round Top Meeting House for 25 years, a church which gathered together in harmony several protestant branches. It was built prior to 1755 and stood on the New York side 20 yards west of the colony line, “on the hill west of E. Lambert’s store”. The Reverend Knibloe, although accused of having Tory leanings during the early part of the Revolution, was described as a sound, sensible and sincere man. His descendents lived in the area until recent years.

Samuel Hitchcock, for whom the village was named, arrived in about 1757. He had moved to Sharon in 1752 at which time his son, Asa, had settled at the “Corner”. He had seven sons, and the name remained in Sharon and Amenia until late last century.

Dr. Thomas Young, described by Reed as a “learned gentlemen”, lived at the “Corner” for several years and married a daughter of Captain Winegar. Reed said that he was a close friend of Ethan Allen and that “-they were often together, and they were also in sympathy in the violence of their patriotism and in their religious unbelief.”

Probably the prime source of whatever wealth came to the “Corner” was its waterpower. Mill Brook, whose origin is high on Sharon Mountain to the northeast, is an ever flowing stream which meets near the state line a smaller brook flowing north-westerly from Knibloe Hill. The former had sufficient volume and fall to support two dams and at least two water wheels. The latter had one dam which appears to have provided power to the Sharon Manufacturing Company’s works, and later to Mr. Buckley’s plow manufactory and foundry which occupied the same premises. The location of three dams is shown on the small map of Amenia Union appearing on the reverse side of the map of Sharon, in Beer’s Atlas of 1874.

From 1739 until late in the nineteenth century Hitchcock’s Corner was a hive of industrial and commercial activity. Sadly, little evidence of this fact remains to be seen. The first was Daniel Jackson’s gristmill which he built prior to 1739. It is included in his deed in February of that year to Garret Winegar and is also mentioned in the minutes of Sharon’s first town meeting on December 11, 1739. Sedgwick states, “He [Jackson] built a grist mill at the place where the present one stands in that neighborhood.” No record has been found to show exactly where the two mills stood. Doubtlessly it was somewhere below one of the falls on Mill Brook a short distance north of the traffic circle.

The train of events which brought about subsequent industrial development of the “Corner” is obscure. Various deeds of the early 19th century mention dams and other works. A thorough search of the Sharon Land and Probate records would doubtless provide much information on these industries and their locations. Suffice it to say that Van Alstyne lists those that existed at various times up to about 1900: two foundries, a satinet mill, a carding mill, a broom factory, a tannery, two shoe shops, a wagon maker’s shop, two blacksmith shops, a grist mill, a saw mill, a shingle mill, a cider mill, a cigar and tobacco factory, and a cabinet maker’s shop which produced furniture and coffins, and various retail stores. Perhaps the best-known industry at the “Corner” was Edward M. Buckley’s plow manufactory and forge located to the southeast of the present traffic circle on the stream from Knibloe Hill. He purchased the property, that of the Sharon Manufacturing Company, in 1864. His plows were shipped far and wide, even to the Mid-west. The early products were made of wood and shod in iron and steel. Later they were made entirely of those metals. Several still survive in the area, one in the center of the “Corner” traffic circle. He died in 1876 and the stock, equipment and tools were sold.

With Mr. Buckley’s passing also passed the industrial era of the village. In 1874 the Beers Map shows in addition to Mr. Buckley’s works the remaining industries to be the “J.D. Barnum Cigar Manf.” on Mill Brook and a blacksmith shop just south-east of the bridge, all long gone from the scene. Since that time there has been little change in the Corner; a few houses have disappeared, a few have been added, the general store building at Knibloe Hill Road corner has been moved back, the Methodist Church became the Webatuck Grange and then a private house.

Finally, in the relatively recent past those former adversaries, the States of Connecticut and New York, got together and installed the traffic circle, that complicated modern invention designed to protect man from himself, but nevertheless graced with the Buckley plow and the American flag fluttering in the breeze at the center of the circle.

A seemingly simple question about the village is why, when, and how its name was changed from Hitchcock’s Corner to Amenia Union. All recent maps show the latter name. Every known historian in the two towns has been queried on the question and none has an answer. In the late 19th century there was a post office on the Amenia side of the line, which could have been a reason for or perhaps as a result of the change. The Amenia Post Office has no record of it. The answers must lie somewhere, but their hiding place is yet to be discovered. It is noticeable that deeds in the Sharon Land Records refer to Hitchcock’s Corner until the 1880’s. Starting in the 1890’s references are to Amenia Union. However, the 1865 census of Amenia referred to numerous residents of “Amenia Union.” Perhaps this weighty matter deserves further inquiry, but such will be left for future historians to grapple with.

But to steal from what was said long ago: “What’s in a name? That which we call Amenia Union by any other name would smell as sweet.” Let Mr. Hitchcock’s Corner Live on as it is now in peace and quiet with its residences and farmlands, and its fields and streams, where newcomers have a choice of the state in which they wish to live.

 

Sources:
Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth, Wadworth’s Journal, 1694. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol., I, Fourth Series.
Clarence M. Bowen, The Boundary Disputes of Connecticut, 1882.
Newton Reed, The Early History of Amenia, 1875.
Decost Smith, Martyrs of the Oblong and the Little Nine, 1948.
Frank N. Spencer, The Original Home Lots of the Town of Sharon, Connecticut, Publications Committee, Sharon Historical Society, 1963.
C.F. Sedgwick, General History of the Town of Sharon, 1842.
Baltus Lott, a Dutchman, had previously settled on the Sharon side of the line in Sharon Valley, as corrected in Sedgwick’s second edition.
Reed, 1875; Sedgwick, 1842.
Sedgwick, 1842. Reed, 1875.
F.W. Beers, County Atlas of Litchfield Connecticut, F.W. Beers & Co., New York, 1874.
C.F. Sedgwick, “Sedgwick Notes”. 1839, Poconnuck Historical Society’s Collections, No. 3, 1915.
Lawrence Van Alstyne, Manufacturing in Sharon, Poconnuck Historical Society’s Collections, Number One, 1912.
Beers, 1874.

 

Additional Sources Cited:
Town of Amenia, Census of 1865, at Amenia Free Library.
James D. Smith, History of Duchess County, New York, 1882.
Philip H. Smith, General History of Duchess County, 1877.
Henry Noble MacCracken, Old Dutchess Forever, 1956.
Henry Noble MacCracken, Blythe Dutchess, 1958.
Myron B. Benton, Indians of the Webutuck Valley, Poconnuck Historical Society’s Collections, No. 2, 1912.