Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Getting to the Point Again

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Sing Sing Prison drops behind on the steamboat Albany’s starboard side. Just to the north, on the same side, the Croton River enters the Hudson with Croton Point immediately beyond, jutting out into the river. Our English traveler John Fowler leaves the Tappan Zee behind and enters Haverstraw Bay, another wide spot in the river.

Around this time businessman John W. Frost is starting a brickyard in the village of Croton. The fields in the area will provide abundant straw for the process, the hills of yellow and blue clay deposits on both side of the bay provide the raw materials and the region will become a source for much of the building supplies used up and down the valley. The Croton area will eventually support 34 brickyards.

The community on the opposite shore, will soon outdo its neighbor, becoming the Brickmaking Capital of the World in the 1850s; by 1864 employing over a thousand men, and turning out 150,000,000 bricks a year. Its last brickyard will close in 1933. The unnamed community will soon gain the moniker Samsondale when an entrepreneur named Elisha Peck brings machinery here this year from England for the building of a rolling mill. He had arrived aboard the ship Samson and will dub the area Samsondale. It will soon take the name of its township and become Haverstraw.

The Albany continues on to the north, out of the bay and, passing Peekskill, enters into the highlands of the Hudson, running between Bear Mountain and Anthony’s Nose (supposedly named for an over-endowed Dutchman; whose story was made famous by Washington Irving). Then, as the river begins widening again, the military academy at West Point appears to the west.

Things will not have changed much since James Stuart’s visit a year previously. This year Fowler tells us the 250 cadets are between the ages of 14 and 22, the cost of each amounting to $336 annually (you may remember from last week that the cost of building Sing Sing was $333 per convict) and that the yearly operating budget is $115,000. “The cadets are instructed in all the practical minutiae of tactics; comprehending the lowest duties of the private soldier, as well as the highest duties of the officer.” They also spend six to eight weeks a year in the field, learning the ins and outs of encampment.

Fowler also mentions the 64-room West Point Hotel that had opened just previously to Stuart’s visit. He’s especially taken with its, “extensive piazzas, forming a delightful promenade . . . its rear is upon the Hudson, and presents a fine view up the river through the Highlands.”

William Gorgas, our Pennsylvania traveler, this same year puts the number of students at 650, rather than 250. Perhaps something got lost in someone’s transcriptions or, perhaps Fowler is counting only the first-year students. Even later, in U. S., Grant’s time, his graduating class numbered 39, so Fowler’s figure seems more accurate. One last thing - about five weeks before Fowler’s visit a young gent from Baltimore entered the Point - poet by the name of Edgar Allen Poe.

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