Written by Eugene Kuykendall
The area above and below the
boundary of Orange and western Rockland counties in New York, was a major
site of industrial development in the late 1700's and early 1800's. There
were three natural contributing factors: Rich Iron ore deposits in the
area, timber from the heavily wooded hills as fuel
for furnaces, and the Ramapo river to provide water power to run mills and
other forms of manufacture. A fourth factor added in the early 1800's was
the Orange Turnpike and the Nyack Turnpike that permitted transporting goods
to the Hudson river for shipment to markets in New York City.
A common approach utilized by early entrepreneurs in utilizing the river to
provide water power was to select one of the wider and deeper sections of
the river, construct a dam to raise the water level creating a pond behind
the dam, and build a sluice gate to regulate the flow of water from the
elevated pond into a rapidly moving stream of water. This stream of water,
generally referred to as mill races, would be channeled to a paddle wheel at
a nearby mill operation to drive early mills, forges and other forms of
manufacturing. Examples in this area include the following three:
As early as 1792, Isaac Sloat built such a system to power
a saw mill and a tannery in what became the village of Sloatsburg in
northeastern Rockland county. Isaac's son, Jacob Sloat, built a textile
mill at that site in the early 1800's. This "Sloat Mill" was expanded over
the years into a major textile factory and continued in operation until it
was destroyed by fire in 1955. The dam and sluice gate were obviously
rebuilt from what would have originally been a stone and wood structure to a
cement structure during the mid 1800's. The "Mill Race" was filled in after
a local girl drowned there, but its path and culvert under the Erie Railroad
tracks remain visible. All remains of the "Sloat Mill" were razed by a
potential land developer.
Around 1795, Benjamin Pierson and his sons began constructing a similar and
even larger system for powering nail making and later other iron products at
"Ramapo Works" now the hamlet of Ramapo just south of Sloatsburg.
Ramapo Works , under the Pierson family, grew to be a major
employer, many of whose employees lived in company built homes in the
current hamlet of Ramapo.
Around 1800, Abraham Dater built a system for powering the first of six iron
forges in an area first known as "Dater's Works". The
Iron forges and subsequent grist mill and saw mill of the Dater family and
the community of workers they created, became the hamlet of "Pleasant
Valley" in the 1800's and, by the early 1900's, annexed to become part of
the village of Sloatsburg, still known popularly as "Upper Sloatsburg".
It is interesting that only the earliest system, that of Isaac Sloat,
remains virtually intact today.