Local History

Containing documents, postcards, books, and artifacts, the Walter C. Stanfield Collection of Local History seeks to preserve the legacy of our region’s past. Walter C. Stanfield (1927-2022), was a life-long resident of Highland Mills, NY and a trustee of the Woodbury Historical Society. Walt’s memory was astounding, with an ability to recall detailed facts about families and businesses from over half a century ago. His passing was a heavy loss to the town of Woodbury, yet some of his memories are preserved within my podcast series, “A Walk Through Woodbury:” https://alexprizgintas.com/mypodcasts/. Just as Walt was able to do so with his mind, the preservation of local artifacts of this collection can inspire a new generation of historians to promote Orange County’s fascinating history.

A Glimpse of Orange County, New York

The Tri-State Region is a diverse center of culture, history, and geography. To the east is Long Island as well as the coastal plains of Connecticut with its charming New England towns. Towards the west and south, one enters the State of New Jersey–known as the Garden State with its rolling hills and fertile plains.  Then, there is the unique land north of New York City. Heading up the Hudson River, there are a wide number of mountain ranges including the Hudson Highlands, Schunnemunk, Shawangunk, and Catskills. It is here, on the west side of the river between the northern Ramapo mountains and the Shawangunk  range where one enters Orange County.    

Henry Hudson’s expedition of 1609 was the first recorded time Europeans entered Orange County. However, the crew did not step onto present-day Orange County, but rather at a point near the village of Haverstraw which is now a part of Rockland County. It appears the closest that Hudson ever approached the county was on his return journey towards New York harbor when it was said he dropped anchor near Newburgh Bay and stated: “This is a very pleasant place to build a town on.” During this time, Orange County was still an “Indian domain” with local tribes belonging  to the Lenni-Lenape nation that spoke the Algonkian family of languages. It would take another seventy-five years for the first white man, Patrick MacGregorie, to settle on the New Windsor/Newburgh border. Shortly after his settlement, many land patents that covered large swaths of land became available to new settlers. Some of the better-known land patents include the 1702 Cheesecock patent that included the town of Monroe, the 1703 Wawayanda Patent, and the 1704 Minisink patent. Other patents often overlapped into Orange County, such as the one granted to the French Huguenots that included Peter Gumaer and Jacob Cuddeback who settled in the village of Deerpark around 1690 and received rights over their 1,200 acres by 1697. 

Orange County was created in November of 1683 as one of New York’s twelve original counties, taking its name from King William III, Prince of Orange. The borders were vastly different upon its creation; everything north of the towns of Cornwall, Goshen, and Wawayanda were a part of Ulster County and all of present-day Rockland County was encompassed by Orange. The county was sparsely populated as the 1698 census indicated a population of 29 men, 31 women, 140 children, and 19 negro slaves. The counties of Orange and Dutchess were the only two in New York that were at first put under the government of surrounding counties (Orange was governed by Manhattan and Dutchess by Ulster). This changed over time and by the year 1703, the county had its own governing board. The geography of Orange County soon proved to be challenging, with the Ramapo Mountains nearly slicing a portion of the county away from the rest. Traversing this area became so treacherous that two county seats were established, one in Orangetown to the south and another in Goshen to the north. This geographical dilemma also led to the creation of  Orange County’s present-day borders. In the year 1798, Rockland County was created in the region south of the Hudson Highlands, while the lands north remained in Orange County. To compensate for this loss of land, the towns of Deerpark, Montgomery, New Windsor, Wallkill, and Newburgh were added, accounting for the final area of 833 square miles.

The majority of Orange County’s agricultural activity located in its central region, encompassing the towns of Wawayanda, Wallkill, Goshen, Chester, Blooming Grove, Hamptonburgh, and Warwick. Grasses within these low-lying regions tended to produce the richest quality of milk while mountain pastures produced less cream. Here, many pioneering events in the dairy industry occurred, such as the first shipment of milk by train in 1842 and the opening of the country’s first butter factory in 1856. The landscape here is primarily flat and fertile with a balance of isolated hills and streams. The southeastern edge is bordered by the Schunnemunk, Warwick, Bellvale, and Ramapo ranges while the northwestern border is morphed by the foothills of the Shawangunks. This low-lying region, known in the southern part of the county as the Drowned Lands, extends northward to the towns of New Windsor and Newburgh. The region gets its name from the three-mile-thick glaciers that, even after thousands of years of melting, left large lakes and expansive swamps. Here, the fertile plain ends just north of Blooming Grove and becomes more mountainous. This can also be said of the northern region where the Shawangunks give the towns of Montgomery and Crawford a more elevated terrain. In the county’s southeastern and western regions, two prominent mountain ranges of Orange County with elevations reaching over 1,000 feet in some areas. In the southeastern region, the Ramapo Mountains extend north from the New Jersey Highlands to the Hudson River just south of Newburgh. It is in this range where the Highlands slice the land in a series of diagonal striations, creating numerous valleys known as cloves such as Smith’s Clove in the town of Woodbury. Here, within the valleys, the towns of Cornwall, Woodbury, Monroe, Arden, and Tuxedo are found. Likewise, to the west, New Jersey’s Kittatinny Mountain becomes the Shawangunk Range in Orange County where the city of Port Jervis is practically separated from the rest of the area. This obstacle, however, did not hinder the city from being an industrial and transportation hub.

The collection welcomes those seeking to research the history of Orange County, New York. Some materials are on display while others are stored in the humidity-controlled archive room.

For research inquiries or other questions, please contact me here: