The Name “Claverack”
According to one version, the name “Claverack” is a Dutch term, signifying a clover reach or field and, according to one tradition, was applied by Henry Hudson during his voyage up river in 1609 when the explorer noted vast fields of white clover covering the landscape. Yet by another account, the real origin of the name is unknown. However, the early mariners that sailed from New Amsterdam (New York City) to Fort Orange (Albany) divided the river into raks or reaches. A reach was the distance a ship could sail in one day. This part of the Hudson River was called Claver Rak (or Reach). The word “Clavers” also appears on the 1799 Penfield map and may have referred to physical marks that existed on the landscape.
Then by way of a third accounting, we have the following. From the time that the colony of Rensselaerwyck was opened for settlement in 1630 through 1700, the Hudson River was the only practical means of communication with the Island of Manhattan, just as it had been for the early explorers and traders in the valley area. Scattered development was located along the water’s edge until the last quarter of the 17th century when farmers began to settle in the uplands. Claverack, Catskill, Coxsackie and Kinderhook were sites of early upland settlement. In the instance of Claverack, Jan Van Hoesen purchased a large tract of land from the Indians in 1662 and shortly thereafter an upland settlement called Klauver Rachen, or Clover Reach, was established in the vicinity of today’s hamlet of Claverack.
While it is truly difficult to establish the real origin of the name “Claverack,” it is probable that it resides within a combination of the explanations above and may well have been Clavers Rak or Clover Reach in days gone by.
Claverack’s Founding & Development
Claverack, like other local farm communities, was connected to a Hudson River landing by a primitive wagon road. Eventually, this roadway extended to eastern Massachusetts and Connecticut establishing an east-west route of travel on land and continues to be important to this day. In 1783 a significant turning point occurred in the economic history of the area when a group of New Bedford and Nantucket merchants purchased Claverack Landing.
These men laid out a city, which was to become the City of Hudson, and actively promoted its development. Following their own particular interests, whaling became the principal industry, but trading in lumber and farm products was also a major part of the economy. As a result, the City of Hudson was established as a port of entry to the United States in 1790. During the War of 1812, the shipping and fishing industries were temporarily checked and manufacturing began to take their place. In later years, the construction of the Erie Canal extended the reach of the shipping industry.
Land travel became a possibility during the 1700s with the establishment of the Kings Highway on both sides of the river. In the 1800s these routes became a part of a turnpike system and eventually, in the 1900s, a part of the state highway system. Nevertheless, the river transportation continued to be the most important through the 1700s and most of the 1800s.
A second significant turning point occurred with the construction of the New York Central Railroad in the middle of the 1800s. First, Irish and Italian immigrants came to work on the railroad and Polish immigrants came to work on the farms. Second, with this addition to the work force and the African American population already living in the area, Hudson became a coal transfer station where coal barged from Pennsylvania was transferred to railroad cars for inland distribution. Other industries that sprang-up included the mining of clay and cement, the cutting of ice, and knitting and textile mills.
Throughout these periods of change, the Claverack-Philmont Community remained essentially rural with an agricultural economy, except in the Mellenville-Philmont area where several mills were established. The availability of process water was a significant factor in attracting them. Some of these mills were active until relatively recently. As time went on, the railroad took over the shipping from the riverboats and eventually the highways took over from the railroads. Today, river traffic is virtually non-existent with the exception of some bulk cargoes, and railroad service has been curtailed. Passenger service to Albany has been eliminated and the Boston and Albany track running through the Hamlet of Claverack to the east has been taken up. The Harlem Division of the New York Central Railroad no longer runs through Philmont and the track has also been taken up. During the 1900s the highway system grew dramatically. This continued to improve in quality and the extent of its reach. The Catskill Bridge across the Hudson River, the New York State Thruway and the Taconic Parkway have been among the most important features of this growth.
Today the Town of Claverack is still relatively undeveloped. It retains many architectural reminders of the various periods of its history. The most interesting concentration of such buildings is naturally in the Hamlet of Claverack. In terms of economic activity, the principal one within the unincorporated area of the town is still agriculture. In the Mellenville-Philmont area the mills are no longer a factor. However, most of the resident labor force is employed outside the community. Many of the jobs are in the Hudson-Greenport Community, although there is also commuting to other major employment centers, such as Albany, Poughkeepsie and even New York City. However, the Claverack-Philmont Community is generally beyond the regular commuting range of the major employment centers.
It is worthy of note too that the Town of Claverack originally was approximately 60,000 acres in area and was the Lower Manor region of Rensselaer. Claverack became a township on March 7, 1788 with an area of 60,000 acres by virtue of an act of the New York State Legislature. It was reduced to its’ present area of 30,224 acres of rolling farmlands by the foundation of the Town of Ghent.
Among the early settlers in the township were the Palatines, who had moved inland from the Livingston Manor and their names can still be found among the Township’s current residents -the Esselstyns, the Philips, the Millers, and the Ten Broecks to name a few.
In 1875 the Town’s population was 3,817. Today’s population is 6401, including 1600 residents in the Village of Philmont, which is located within the Town of Claverack. The principal streams are the Claverack and the Agawamuck Creeks and their tributaries, which once provided water power for the many mills that dotted the stream banks. Today these mills are gone, but some of the buildings still adorn the banks of the streams. The streams still provide excellent fishing.
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