The Saugerties Public Library’s postcard collection is a visual and historical lens through which we can gain a glimpse of the scenery and interests of the citizens and visitors. Postcards hold interest not only because of the image on the front, but for the hints and clues of everyday life. This collection focuses on the water, both creek and river, because it flows through our area, connecting the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River.
The flow of water attracted the first industry in the early 19th century, when Henry Barclay built the Ulster Iron Works and his paper mill. Water supplied the power needed for industry, transportation, as well as pleasure. A selection of postcards along with illuminating quotes and images from materials in our local history collection, non-fiction collection, online historical newspaper collection, online digital image collection are reproduced here to reinvigorate this piece of the story of Saugerties.
The effervescent area where Saugerties is located has attracted sightseers and history scholars since the area was first settled in the early Eighteenth Century. There are several lovely accounts in our collection.
One of the earliest is from 1866 which highlights the importance of the area and the Esopus Dam (featured in many postcards) to the industrial life of Saugerties and the surrounding area:
Opposite Tivoli, in Ulster County, is the pleasant Village of Saugerties, Near the mouth of the Esopus Creek, which comes flowing from the south through a beautiful valley, and enters the Hudson here. Iron, paper, and white-lead are manufactured there exclusively, and between the river and the mountains are almost inexhaustible quarries of flagging stone. A once picturesque fall or rapid, around which a portion of the village is clustered, has been partially destroyed by a dam and unsightly bridge above it, yet some features of grandeur and beauty remain. The chief business part of the village lies upon a plain with the Katzberg for a background, and on the high right bank of the creek, where many of the first-class residences are situated, an interesting view of the mouth of Zaeger’s Kill, or Esopus Creek, with the lighthouse, river, and the fertile lands on the eastern shore, may be obtained. Near this village was the West Camp of the Palatines…1
Water has long been used as a marker for regional boundaries. It is also important for trade and pleasure, even more-so at the beginning of the economic development of a town:
In old descriptions of county boundaries the limits of Ulster are set at Murderer’s Creek on the south [now Moodna Creek in Orange County], and Sawyer’s Creek on the north. The Sawyer’s Creek, or Sawkill of local maps, was the scene of an unaccountable activity on the part of a man whose name, antecedents, residence, mode of life, and fate are all unknown, yet from whom a populous town drives its appellation. The ‘Little Sawyer,’ who established himself on the bank of a stream some ten miles above Kingston and antedated the earliest settlers whose names are recorded, has been referred to in old accounts as de Zaagertje and his mill as Zaargertje’s, of which Saugerties is a simple corruption.2
An account from about half a century later highlights the shift from using the river as a mainstay of industrial transportation to using the river as an area for personal pleasure boating:
The Esopus Creek flows south from Ashokan, turns abruptly behind Kingston, and swings north to join the Hudson at Saugerties. Saugerties’ tidy little harbor, cupped on the hillside, is ideal for the shallow-draught runabouts that skim like water bugs across the Hudson’s eel grass in Esopus Meadows south of Kingston. A lighthouse helped to keep ships off the mud flats there for more than a century…3
The Lighthouse and Ferries:
The Saugerties Lighthouse is probably one of the most famous landmarks in Saugerties. The current Lighthouse was erected in 1869 to replace an older building from 1835. The lighthouse was originally built at the mouth of the Esopus Creek to guide passenger and trade ships to Saugerties, a major port at the time. The Saugerties Lighthouse keeper was also the director of the Saugerties-Tivoli Ferry which, thankfully, seems to have had less incidents than the Albany-New York Ferry.
The Reindeer, among others, was an Albany-New York Ferry which became part of Saugerties history on an otherwise bucolic Saturday. The New York Times reported the incident as follows:
…We are called upon to record a fearful calamity on the waters of our placid Hudson. The steam boiler flue of the Reindeer exploded on Saturday noon, as she was about leaving the Malden… landing, instantly killing several persons, blowing others overboard, some of whom were drowned, badly scalding many others, and inflicting alighter [sic.] injuries upon an additional number…4
Luckily for one passenger, a brave onlooker was present:
A most praiseworthy act was performed by a resident of the village named Alexander German, who saved the life of a lady by leaping into the water, and swimming with her safely to the shore. It appears Mr. G. was standing on the pier when the boiler exploded – observing this female jump overboard in her fright, he quickly went to her assistance in a boat, seizing her by the waist of her dress, as she was going down- in her struggles his hold gave way. It was at this time that the heroic gentleman jumped into the river, and by main strength saved her from a watery grave.4
|The beautiful Reindeer, a steamer of note
As any that on the bright waters float,
Has met with an awful disaster of late,
Surpassing in horror the Henry Clay’s fate.
While making her land, at the Malden House dock,
This incident moved Henry S. Backus the “Saugerties Bard” to write Explosion of the Steamer Reindeer. On the Hudson at Malden and also encouraged discussion about reforming steamboat inspections, several articles regarding which appeared in the New York Times after the incident was first reported.6
The most serious accidents due to exploding boilers occurred in the period prior to 1852 when steamboat racing was not prohibited by law. The General Jackson, the Reindeer, the Alexis, and the Aetna are the names of some of the steamboats that were destroyed by bursting boilers with considerable loss of life. The disaster of the Henry Clay, which caught fire during a race with the Armenia in 1852… led to the enactment of a rigid Steamboat Inspection Act by the New York legislature. Disasters were less frequent after that date.7
Depression and Refuge:
Most people do not experience such harrowing circumstances as described above. Saugerties and its environs was a refuge from city life and the Depression for one writer in her youth:
I was born in 1925 in the small back bedroom of my grandparents’ house in Livingston Street in Saugerties, New York…
Moving upward from job to job, my father, an accountant, found himself and family on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when the 1930’s depression struck. He was out of work for almost three years. It was a painful time for my parents.
The time was made bearable by our returning to Saugerties every summer for two months or more. In or out of work, my father stayed in Philadelphia during these periods, coming north to join us for the occasional weekend or his week’s vacation…
Whatever our small transgressions in city life, we children were able to start anew in our country life with fresh adventures. It was as though, with our first dip in the Esopus Creek, We were reborn in the clear air that swept down from the Catskill Mountains nearby.
With our life thus renewed each year, we acquired an appreciation of this village and its country’s people…8
We hope that you have pleasant memories of the water. If you would like to learn more about the Esopus Creek or Hudson River history and culture in and around Saugerties, stop in or give the library a call. Contact information and services can be found on the About page.
1 pg. 171-172. The Hudson: From the Wilderness to the Sea by Benson J. Lossing, 1972 (orig. 1866). http://midhudsonlibraries.org:80/record=b1287479~S1
2 pg. 471 The Hudson River From Ocean to Source by Edgar Mayhew Bacon, 1902. http://midhudsonlibraries.org:80/record=b1076768~S72
3 pg. 41 Biography of a river : the people and legends of the Hudson Valley by John Mylod Bonanza Books NY 1969 http://midhudsonlibraries.org:80/record=b1326004~S1
4 Another appalling catastrophe on the hudson river. (1852, Sep 06). New York Daily Times (1851-1857). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/95786878?accountid=35824
5 pg. 317 Olde Ulster, vol. 10, 1914. http://midhudsonlibraries.org:80/record=b1041556~S72
6 See: 1) Defective boilers. (1852, Sep 11). New York Daily Times (1851-1857). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/95773397?accountid=35824, and 2) JOSEPH, C. (1852, Sep 13). Boiler inspections. New York Daily Times (1851-1857). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/95807397?accountid=35824 in the ProQuest historical newspapers database.
7 pg. 345n8 Chronicles of the Hudson by Roland Van Zandt ca. 1971. http://midhudsonlibraries.org:80/record=b1434805~S72
8 pg. 18-19 Stories from the west bank of the Hudson River by Carolyn Darrow Luce, 2003. http://midhudsonlibraries.org:80/record=b1653045~S1