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Hoffman’s Landing

The Saga of Tivoli, Part I: Hoffman’s Landing by Cynthia Owen Philip

Martinus Hoffman The more I get to know about the early Dutch river front settlers the more I like them. They had an advanced way of life. Not at all the stolid, backward folk of legend, they were both enterprising and tolerant. They owned their land as freeholds, buying and selling it at will. Women as well as men farmed, traded and entered into business. Daughters and sons inherited equally. I must confess, too, that I particularly like the Tivoli Dutch, for the Hoffmans, the most ubiquitous family in that 18th century settlement, were among my husband’s progenitors.

The family line began with Martinus Hermanzen Hoffman, who was born in Revel on the Gulf of Finland and, in 1657, after a stretch in Holland, emigrated to New Netherland. He first settled in Kingston, but soon removed to New Amsterdam, where he became so successful an auctioneer of commodities that he was able to live on De Heere Straat, the fashionable thoroughfare that later became Broadway. Around 1672, he moved upriver to Fort Orange (Albany). Six years later, he resettled in Kingston, where, in 1688, he received a patent for just over 92 acres outside the boundaries of the town and a house and lot within it. There he resided until his death.

It was Martinus’s son Nicolaes, born in Kingston in 1680, who first bought land that would eventually become Tivoli. In 1721, he acquired a slice of land that was part of the immense patent granted to Peter Schuyler who, happily entrenched in Albany, had been selling it off for some time. It was in the area known as “Roode Hoek” or Red Hook, a name that probably stemmed from the local ruddy vegetation. He did not move there, however. Rather he continued to live in fine old stone house in the northwest corner of Kingston’s Stockade area that had been given by her father to his wife Jannetje Crispel, a Hugenot from Hurley. It was in this house, with its fences, gardens, orchards and out-buildings, that their nine children were born.

In 1731 Nicolaes plunged in deeper by buying two developed lots, around 150 acres, from the brothers Knickabacker. Contiguous to the first purchase, these were bounded in the north by the Livingston Manor and in the west by the Hudson River. He built a spacious stone dwelling on the high river bluff called Sycamore Point (now Callendar House property), operated a grist mill near the mouth of the White Clay Kill, and ran a ferry to Saugerties as well as a freighting business to New York City and Albany from his docks on the river. The area was soon called Hoffman’s Landing.

Nicolaes died in 1750. His will is fascinating not only because of the amount of property he had to bequeath to his wife and to each of his five surviving children, but for its indication of just how bustling the two settlements had become–the one by the river and the one up near the White Clay Kill and the road that led to Livingston Manor (now Route 9G). For use during her widowhood, Nicolaes left Jannetje two large parcels of land with their dwellings, barns, orchards, gardens and outbuildings as well as the use of all his cattle, horses, sheep, wagons, farm implements, and household furnishing. To serve her during her natural life he gave her a female slave.

He also gave his four sons extensive property. Martinus, the eldest, received a tract encompassing the lower White Clay Kill, the house with its numerous outbuildings he was then living in, and the grist mill they had operated together, with the proviso that he grind his mother’s corn free of charge. In addition, he got a half interest in two farms he had bought from Schuyler. He was given one male slave. Nicolaes’s second son Anthony received the Knickabacker and Shever lands with their many improvements and a female slave. The third son Zacarias, got the Viele house with its barns, gardens, orchards, and lots, including a piece of swamp near the river lately belonging to Robert Livingston. He also got land that ran down to the river. He, too, received a female slave. Nicholas left Petrus Loundert property, the other half of the Schuyler land, fifty pounds from Martinus and fifty from Zacarias and two negro boys. Instead of land, their much younger, still unmarried sister Marytie was given mortgage bonds worth one hundred pounds. (The cost of building a substantial house and outbuildings at this time was about sixty pounds.) In addition she received a silver teapot, a silver salt box, a large cupboard, a bedstead with bedding, and two female slaves.

An interesting aspect of this will is the number of slaves Nicolaes had at his disposal. The Hoffmans were, in fact, the largest slave owners in Dutchess County; the census records that by 1759 Martinus alone owned ten. An even more remarkable clause enjoins the sons collectively to defend the title to their property against suit by the Livingstons and to compensate any one of them who might lose land in such a suit. The Livingstons claimed the southern boundary of their patent lay opposite the mouth of the Esopus Creek at Saugerties, putting a sizeable chunk of the Hoffmans’ northern holdings into their hands. During the next several decades, the Livingston-Hoffman land dispute lay dormant.

The Hoffman family, however, continued to prosper as the years rolled by. Martinus became a colonel in the Dutchess County militia during the war against the French. Shortly afterwards he was appointed Justice of the Peace, then Justice of the Dutchess County Court of Common Pleas. After his wife Trintje Benson died in 1765, leaving him with eight, mostly grown-up, children, he wed the widow Alida Livingston Hansen, daughter of the second lord of the Livingston Manor, by whom he had a son named Philip.

Zacarias moved from Kingston to the landing in 1755. He built a mill upstream on the White Clay Kill (just west of the present intersection of Stony Brook Road and Route 9G) and built “Hoffman’s Castle,” a handsome stone house with a gambrel roof that survived into the 20th century. He donated the acreage for the Red (Dutch Reform) Church and its burial ground. Martinus who had been a member of the Reform Church at the Rhinebeck Flaats, joined it, as did Margaret Beekman Livingston and her eldest son Robert R. Livingston.

Anthony continued to live in Kingston having inherited his mother’s house. There he served as the town’s Trustee and Civil Magistrate. In 1774 he became a member of the Provincial Congress. He would become a Judge and a Regent of New York State.

Marytje married Archibald Laidlie, a Scots minister in the Dutch Reform church who came up from New York City from time to time to preach in the Red Church, the first to do so in English in Dutchess County. Married in 1768, they made their home in Albany.

It could not have been entirely surprising, given the Hoffmans’ wide and highly visible political connections, that their property became a target of British wrath during the Revolutionary War. When the redcoats burned Kingston to the ground in October 1777, Anhony’s house lost its roof and interior woodwork, but miraculously its walls and beams survived, and Anthony rebuilt and enlarged it. (It was inhabited by Anthony’s direct male descendants until the 1920s. Today it is the Hoffman House Restaurant.) The British continued their rampage upriver by first burning Zacarias’s mill, two other mills, and Palmer Cook’s wool factory (the much-changed house and millpond still exist on Stony Brook Road), before moving north to torch Margaret Beekman Livingston’s Clermont. All were rebuilt.

As soon as peace came, the lawsuit Nicolaes had anticipated in his 1749 will burst into reality when Chancellor Robert R. Livingston claimed a wedge of the Hoffmans’ riverfront land as part of the Livingston patent. The Hoffmans engaged the eminent lawyers Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Ogden and Egbert Benson (Martinus’s former uncle-in-law) to defend their claim, but the Livingstons prevailed, apparently through the spellbinding eloquence of the Chancellor, who defended himself. Ultimately, however, the case was settled through compromise induced when New York State fixed the line between Columbia and Dutchess Counties.

There any future contest ended, for Martinus had died in 1772 and his heirs had begun selling the property they inherited. New Yorkers John Reade and Jacob Bogardus bought the dock and ran the ferry and freighting service. Then in 1790 Reade, who had become Robert Gilbert Livingston’s son-in-law, built Green Hill (now The Pynes) as a speculation. He sold it to his brother-in-law Henry Gilbert Livingston. It remained in Livingston descendants’ hands for two hundred years. In 1794, that same Henry built Sunning Hill, as Callendar House was called early on, and almost immediately sold it to his cousin Philip H. Livingston.

During the same period Pierre Delabigarre, a refugee from the French revolution, bought the northern waterfront half of Martinus’s erstwhile holdings. A self-styled inventor who persuaded Chancellor Livingston he could make paper out of a riverweed called conserva (or more familiarly “frogs’ spit”) as well as a visionary who laid out an ideal settlement called Tivoli on his purchase, he provided one of the most bizarre and one of the most long enduring episodes in the village’s history. According to the charming map designed and engraved in 1795 by the illustrious artist Charles de Saint-Memin, it was to have a grid of streets with such names as Diana, Peace, Plenty, Flora, Friendship, Liberty and Chancellor. Its Pleasure Garden, a narrow east-west, formally landscaped strip commencing at the waterfront, included the Chancellor’s disputed land. To bolster the scheme, Delabigarre built himself a handsome mansion called the Chateau de Tivoli. (Totally remodeled, it existed until 1926; a piece of the wall that surrounded it still stands.)

Unfortunately little more was accomplished. Delabigarre went bankrupt and was sent to Poughkeepsie’s debtor’s prison. The Chancellor fished him out, but to no avail. In 1807, Livingston bought Labigarre’s land at auction. Thus, the strong Hoffman presence in Tivoli came to an end. It was superceded by the self-isolating estates of the entwined Livingstons whose hegemony was buttressed by the vast lands and personages of the extended family. However, Flora and Friendship Streets persist as well, of course, as does the name Tivoli, by which the entire existing village is now called. (De Memin’s engraving is preserved in the Village Hall.)

This is not to say that Hoffman offspring did not do well in life. They did. The fourth generation “married into meeting,” as the saying goes, adding to the family tree such Dutch and French names as Van Alstyne, Ten Broeck, DeLaMater and Roosevelt. They continued to acquire land and wield influence in Dutchess and Columbia Counties. Martinus’s son Anthony received a Master of Arts from Kings (now Columbia) College. From 1781 to 1785 he was supervisor of the Town of Rhinebeck, of which Red Hook was then still a part, after which he was elected to the state legislature .

Several descendants continued to live in the upper settlement and would be buried in the Old Red Church graveyard. Most important of these was Zacarias’s son, Zachariah, who married his cousin Jane, Petrus’s daughter. They would live out their lives in his father’s Hoffman’s Castle. The property would pass on, together with the mill, from generation to generation for over a hundred years. As more mills and factories were established south along the White Clay Kill or Stony Creek, that community became the core of the settlement’s local industry. At the same time, however, the two Post Road crossroads settlements that make up today’s Upper Red Hook and Red Hook Village were beginning to grow more quickly. They were nearer the best agricultural land and a better road infrastructure for daily use.

Still, the riverfront remained a center of freighting and when Robert Fulton’s celebrated steamboat made its maiden voyage from New York City to Albany and back in late summer 1807, it added a new dimension to its activities. Not only did Fulton rebuild his trial boat at the overhauling site on the North Bay, but he provisioned the increasingly elegant dining rooms of his fast growing steamboat empire from nearby farms. At the same time sailing vessels continued to flourish, carrying passengers with a leisurely schedule or a slim pocketbook and most of the freight.

During the War of 1812 and the financial panic that followed it, both Tivoli and the upper settlement along the creek fell on hard times. In 1815, a tutor hired for the Livingston children at both Clermont and Sunning Hill boarded in between the two mansions at Tivoli Landing. “The neighborhood in which I live is an abandoned place,” he wrote to a high-minded friend. “I have heard more swearing and seen more drunkenness within the space of less than one week that I have been here, than I have heard and seen within a whole year past.”

Certainly, attendance at the Red Church was low. The last marriage performed there was in 1810. In 1818, its domine decamped three miles further inland to St. John’s Dutch Reform Church in the burgeoning hamlet of Upper Red Hook. The Red Church’s rapidly diminishing congregation could no longer pay his salary. However, Episcopalianism was on the rise. The first service was held in Palmer Cook’s home, by his woolen mill. Construction of a proper church began in 1816. Named for St. Paul, it was familiarly called the White Church, not only because it was clad in white painted clapboard, but to differentiate it from the Red Church. St. Paul’s would become “the church of the Livingstons,” but it also drew residents such as the Lashers, Meyers, Parks, Van Steenburghs and Feroes.

By the 1820s the mills along the White Clay Kill were humming again. There were factories as well as grist and saw mills. One of them boasted a carding machine and five looms that employed five men. In addition there was a porcelain factory and a hat factory owned by Ten Broeck Myers. It was, perhaps, because of the latter that the settlement began to be called Myersville, a name that stuck well past mid-century. A hotel was built there in 1839 and a store that would later become the Hotel Morey was built in 1846. A Baptist and a Methodist Church were organized to nurture the more diverse population.

The waterfront freighting establishments also expanded. In the late 1830s, Peter Outwater was running four boats carrying such commodities as pork, eggs, chickens, vegetables and fruit to New York City from the northern dock (near the foot of today’s Broadway). There were also two freight houses at the southern dock (below Callendar House). Fishing, both for the market and for the family table, was another important local industry. And, during the winter when the river was frozen, men found work harvesting ice which, when summer came, added to the volume of trade.

In 1850 the enterprising freight forwarder Captain James Outwater, who also ran a steam ferry across the river and a shad and fishing business with payroll of $1380 a month, built a hotel just north of the northern dock. He did so in anticipation of the Hudson River Railroad’s arrival at Tivoli. Already under construction, this new form of transportation following the course of the Hudson would change both the riverfront settlement at Tivoli and the more industrialized settlement at Myersville with a force residents had never before experienced. No other event would be more decisive for both communities, not only at that time, but until the railroad station stop was closed in 1960. The only other contestant for that supremacy was the 1872 merger of the two settlements that formed the Village of Tivoli, with its own government.

The second installment of this brief history of Tivoli will not only tell those tales, but it will bring Tivoli’s remarkable story right up to the present day.