Greenkill Mills were far more widely known one hundred years ago than in this twentieth century of our Lord. It will be interesting to trace somewhat of the history of what came to be known during the dark days of the War of the Revolution as a source of supply for hungry troops and puzzled commissaries. During the suffering at Valley Forge and during the severe winters that followed in such rapid succession the ever-flowing stream that issued from the First Binnewater to urge the mill-stones to never-ceasing labor when drought or shortage of crop stopped others, was such a blessing to half starving troops and perplexed providers that the Greenkill Mills were known throughout the whole patriot army.
In the September, 1911 number of this magazine it was stated on page 262 that Captain Mattys Mattysen Van Keuren married Tjaatje, daughter of Tjerck Claesen DeWitt in 1677. Let us see the connection of both Captain Van Keuren and De Witt with Greenkill Mills. In the minutes of the court of Kingston of the date of April 24th, 1677
Mattys Mattysen was granted the Green kil, with the valley, if he builds a mill there--subject to the Governor's approval.
The next entry that will engage our attention is a record in Ulster County Clerk's office, in Liber A.A., page 49, where it is recorded that on the 13th day of September, 1686 Tjerck Claesen De Witt conveyed to William West one half of his interest in the mill "lying and being situate upon the Greenkill within the limit of Hurley," the said William West agreeing to "do his best to learn one of the said De Witts sons to be a miller."
On the 5th day of June, 1709 the owners of the land along the Greenkill "sold alienated and set over to Johannis Hardenberg, merchant of Kingstowne,"
All yt Certaine kill brooke or river of water commonly called or known by ye name of Green kill, beginning at a certaine place called ye great fountaine, being ye head of ye sd green kill and thence running down as ye stream runs to ye bounds of William West as by patent unto ye sd William West of his predecessors Captn. Thomas de Lavall & Tjerck Clase de Witt or either of them will more at large appeare and likewise two feet of ground on each side of said kill or brooke, as also twenty & four acres of meadow land swamps etc."
At the opening of the Revolutionary War the mills were in possession and operation of Colonel Charles De Witt, who was known as "Charles De Witt of Greenkill." He was a great-grandson of Tjerck Claesen De Witt, mentioned in the previous part of this article, the first of the De Witt family in New Netherland.
During the terrible winter of 1777-78 the patriot army under Washington was encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Their sufferings were intense. They had scarcely clothing for their nakedness and this was rags. They were almost without shoes and stockings in the snow and drifts. They suffered that winter more than any other during the long war. This magazine has told the story in Vol. III, pages 365-69. Governor George Clinton was appealed to by Washington for help. His energy soon sent ox-teams with loads of pork and flour through the drifts from Ulster county to Valley Forge. Farmers were urged to send in grain to Newburgh and Greenkill to be ground. The ground was frozen so badly that streams had no water unless they were fed from an inexhaustible source, as was that of Greenkill.
This winter succeeded the burning of Kingston, the loss of the forts in the Highlands and the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga in the October preceding. This county had been feeding the troops that had captured Burgoyne, the impoverished people of Kingston, had supplied the army with Governor Clinton in the Highlands and had been constantly provisioning the New England states with flour and grain.
The two winters that followed were not much better. The army must be fed, New England continued to look to the valley of the Hudson for its grain, and the alliance with France required the provisioning of the French fleet. It was to the same region that the patriot leaders must look for the supply. Commissary Commissioner Daniel Graham was in constant service in securing the supplies. We call attention to the following correspondence between him and Governor Clinton. It will be found in Vol. IV, page 749 of "The Public Papers of George Clinton":
New Paltz, ye 23d April 1779.
Sir, In consequence of the appontment your Excelency Sent me for the procuring Flour &c., I have Procured a Quantity of Wheat unmanufactored, and no mills nearer than the Green Kills for that purpose. If it must be Transported to that place for grinding, perhaps it may be proper to Store it there, as it be much Easier Taken frome thence, Either to the Highlands or to the Fronteers. Your Excelency will pleas to Signify your Pleasure to me in this Matter, which Shall be Strictly Observed by your very Humble Ser't.
To his Excelency
Poukeepsie 23 Apl. 1779.
Sir, I have received your Letter of this Date & approve of your Proposal of having the Wheat you have procured for the use of the Army, ground & stored at the Green Kill Mills. I am with great Regard Your Most Obed. Serv't
This magazine published on page 237 of Vol. V., a letter from Washington to Governor Clinton urging the different mills that could grind to hurry up the flour and speaking of the reliance he placed in Clinton and on this region for supplies. On page 50 of the same volume of Olde Ulster, among the published "Letters of Charles De Witt," will be found the following letter from Assistant Commissary Flint of the Continental Army:
Newburgh, N.Y., Jan. 28th, 1783.
Col. Charles De Witt,
His Excellency Genl Washington has applied to the contractors for a quantity of the best superfine flour. Mrs. Washington has a preference for the flour manufactured at Esopus. I must therefore entreat you to send to this place as soon as possible ten or twelve barrels of the best flour that can be manufactured in your part of the country. You will direct the teams to deliver the flour at Head Quarters and send a weight note that a receipt may be taken for the exact weight.
In behalf of the Contractors
I am Sir Your Obdnt Servt
It is not out of place to add that the house of Colonel Charles De Witt at Greenkill was often selected by the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies against the Liberties of America as the place where prominent royalists who had given their parole were to report. On page 336 of Vol. IV. of this magazine may be found a letter from John Jay which speaks of this and of the regard in which Charles De Witt was held. In fact, when Kingston was the capital of the State of New York Greenkill Mills was the resort of many of the prominent men. This magazine has published (Vol. V., pages 272-74) a letter from John Jay, once governor of New York and Chief Justice of the United States, in which he speaks of the many agreeable hours he had passed under the roof of Colonel DeWitt at Greenkill. With Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and his brother, Philip Livingston, the Signer of the Declaration of Independence, he was on the most intimate terms. He had been the superintendent of Livingston Manor when a young man and each of them had visited him at Greenkill. So had Governor George Clinton, when he and De Witt sat as Ulster's representatives in the Provincial Assembly and Congress in the long years before the Revolution. It should hardly be necessary that this should be told to-day to recall the spot so well known in the days when our fathers were fighting for liberty and forming our system of government.
Greenkill Mills stood upon the outlet of the First Binnewater and at the date of the Revolution were in the town of Hurley. When the town of Rosendale was erected April 26th, 1844 that part of the town of Hurley was set off to the new town. These mills are along the state road and are just half way between the City of Kingston and the village of Rosendale, about four miles from each. The flouring mill is close to the state road and upon the east side. The saw mill was a little farther up stream, at the dam, and along the road to Whiteport. This mill was fitted up to grind cement in the beginning of the production of Rosendale cement some eighty years ago. The millstones then used lie along the roadside.
The present condition of the grist mill is much the worse for the process of the years. It is not the mill of the days of Colonel Charles De Witt, although it stands upon the site. We present an illustration of it and the raceway herewith. Across the road is the old house of Charles De Witt. After the death of the colonel his son Gerrit kept it as an inn. The quaint sign, bearing the picture of a crocodile, is preserved at the house, which was called "The Crocodile Tavern." The property is still in possession of the family, being the residence of Charles Richard, the son of Richard, the son of Gerrit DeWitt.
The present mill was erected in 1849 by Richard T. De Witt, the father of the present owner. The foundations of the mill of Colonel De Witt were used in re-building. The dwelling house, diagonally across the road, bears the date of its erection--1736. The family claim is that "The Crocodile Tavern" was opened, originally, to provide lodging and entertainment for those who came long distances and remained until the following day, to depart with the flour made from the grain they had brought from their farms to Greenkill Mills.
(end of Olde Ulster article)
(It is unclear who wrote this letter, or when it was written. A photocopy of the handwritten original was provided through the kindness of the people who run Cobra Systems, the business on the site where the mill once stood, along with a copy of a photograph of the old mill.)
Many many years ago probably as long ago as 1750, before the Revolution, the Old Grist-mill on the Greenkill brook was built and operated.
There is a record of an older mill than this which was located in Kingston near the head of North Front St. which was then one of the gates into the Palisade which surrounded and protected Kingston. That old mill was abandond after years of service because typhoid fever was very prevalent in Kingston and was said to be due from the stagnant water of the mill pond.
The Greenkill mill which began as a smaller local mill was extensively improved and altered in 1806 by Garrett Dewitt who built the old stone house which stood hard by the mill site. The mill soon became the scene of a big business. Farmers from all over the county brought their wheat rye corn and buckwheat to be made into flour and meal.
It is said that George Washington also had many sacks of flour ground in this mill for the Revolutionary Army.
My memory goes back to 1865. My Grandfather had a farm a mile distant from the mill. He raised grain for all the flour we used. I can remember going to the mill on the farm wagon drawn by our black team Prince and Nanny the wagon piled high with sacks of grain. The mill floor was all in one big room white dust over everything, the noise of the wheel and of the rushing water filling it with a roar of sound. The whole mill trembled and shook as the wheel turned the big grind stones. I was half afraid as I stood waiting while my Grandfather carried the sacks of grain and chatted with the Miller.
The first miller I remember was Dicky Dewitt son of Gerrit Dewitt. I always think of him as I saw him standing in the mill door powdered all over with flour dust his hair and beard white with age. His ruddy complexion looking redder still from the white surroundings no dust could dim his keen black eyes. I remember Mrs. Dewitt better. She was a great church worker and many a Church social was held in her roomy hospitable house. The kitchen in the house was a huge room. Plenty of room to swing your partner in the quadrilles we danced at the socials. They had one Son Charles who married Nettie VanWagenen. Their daughter is Mrs. Myers of Buc[?] renown. The Miller who ran the Mill after Mr. Dewitt became too old to carry on was Mr. Samuel Collard from New Jersey. He and his family Mrs. Collard Hannah, Carrie, Hattie and [????] lived in the cottage across from the mill. Many fine times I enjoyed in their [happy?] home. My brother Will older than I was very much in love with Hattie Collard. I had a lot of sleigh rides from Will taking Hattie and with some young man taking me for company. It was not considered good form for one couple to go sleigh riding alone though each couple had their own cutter and horse with bells. This romance ended some what abruptly as Mr. Collard went to New Jersey he could make more money there. The next miller was Mr. Benjamin Apgar. That family lived in the cottage too but the son was much younger than the young people who composed our set at that time. They lived here a long time and Alfred grew up with the next lot of young people.
After Mr. Apgar removed to another town Mr. Christian with his family came to take their place. Mrs. Christian I remember was very successful with flowers and sometimes presented the neighbors with lovely tea roses she raised. Charles Dewitt by this time married Nettie Van Wagener and took over the mill. His uncle Simon Peter [????] did most of the mill work. They continued the business [until?] 1920. Perhaps 1919 when the mill was condemned as unsafe. The business had fallen away. Only local orders were brought in, and it was decided to abandon it. The old building was torn down, but the wheel fell to decay bit by bit, seemingly so strong and sturdy it was hard breaking it up. It had been made in times when building was a fine art and men made things to last: but now no trace of the old mill remains. Greenkill brook still rushes along its course to the Rondout Creek, for men may come and men may go but the brook goes on forever.
On a visit July 5, 1999, all the buildings referred to in the 1911 Olde Ulster article were no longer standing. The sign on the site of the old Charles DeWitt house explains:
We found the current house standing there was for sale; the people in it explained that it had been built on the site in 1933.
Across the road from there are a couple of buildings (a fence company and some other company) on what seems to be the foundation of the old flour mills. If you skirt around behind the buildings, you can see the old enclosure for the millrace and the wheel, thoroughly overgrown now. This sign is along the state road:
Up behind the mills is a stone abutment for something, standing idle in the underbrush now. Go far enough back in, and you'll find DeWitt Lake, which from the road can't be seen because someone's got a wooden fence penning it in.
Nice looking lake. The houses along there seem to want their privacy, judging from various signs around.
If you go up the state road a bit, then up the Whiteport road, you will find on your right, not too far along (before you hit the Thruway), a sign that says:
It was very dark by then, so the only pictures we took were by the light of the car headlights.
(Pictures on this page are by Doug Bradley)