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My August vacation guide
to the area is preserved here by popular demand
My Riverby Tour along with an update

Barclay's Bridge

My contribution to a fourth grader's oral history project.

Major events in history aren't made up of just dates and names. They come about through a network of actions and interactions that are seemingly unconnected at the time. Here's a good example:

On September 1, 1825, Henry Barclay, who is acknowledged as the founder of Saugerties Village and its industries, bought 150 acres of land in Saugerties. Four months later he purchased approximately 60 more acres on both sides of the Esopus, including an island known as "Persen's Island," from Robert Livingston.

Do you remember who Robert Livingston was? At one time he boasted that from his estate on the East shore of the Hudson River, called Claremont, (some of you may have been there - it's just across the river from Saugerties) anyway, he bragged that he owned all the land that he could see! You know when you cross the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge into Ulster County, that beautiful view of the Catskill Mts you see? That's what he was looking at! Over 1 million acres by one estimate. It was called the Hardenberg Patent, but that's another story. I just wanted to remind you how important Robert Livingston was. He's connected to this story in another way, too. Have you learned about "Fulton's Folly" yet? Robert Livingston financed it. In 1807 a steamboat named the Claremont, after Robert Livingston's home, made the first successful steam voyage from New York City to Albany. That made shipping produce and goods on the river cheap and fast. Soon many boats were build . . . and they all needed cargo.

Then along comes Henry Barclay, ready to take advantage of the water power of Saugerties falls and the inexpensive steamboat transport to markets. You know what he did on that land he bought from Robert Livingston? He build an iron factory and a papermill. At the same time he built the dam on the falls of the Esopus and the sluiceway to channel the water to power his factories. You can still see them today.

So what happens when you build a dam? Besides harnessing the water power you create a huge body of water. Upstream a bit from where the beach is now was a small ferry for crossings, and there was one downstream too. But it was soon obvious that Henry Barclay's hub of industry needed a bridge.

So, in 1831 Henry Barclay hired a Yankee bridge builder named Silas Brainard to build a bridge over the Esopus in Saugerties. This first bridge was a wooden arch bridge. You occasionally see the postcard of it that was done from a photo taken in 1850. I believe it was a toll bridge until Henry Barclay's death in 1851. I seem to remember reading that he willed the bridge to the village with the provision that there would be no tolls.

In 1879 the wooden bridge was replaced with an iron bridge, and sometime later, another iron bridge replaced that one. I don't know when that last one was done, but I remember hearing, when I was about your age, that the original rusting skeleton of the old iron bridge was just dropped in the water under the new one, and we were all told not to jump off the bridge into the water because it was too dangerous.

But, remember I said how seemingly unconnected events come together to make history? Well, Silas Brainard, the man Henry Barclay hired to build the wooden bridge, was a very clever and observant fellow. While he was getting stones for the foundation of this bridge he realized that Saugerties had huge bluestone deposits. He bought land and began quarrying bluestone. Does the name Quarryville sound familiar? It's the community that grew up around the many bluestone quarries there.

Anyway, the bluestone business grew into one of Saugerties' major industries. By the late 1800's, $750,000 worth of bluestone was shipped annually from Saugerties' docks (remember those steamboats?) and over 8 tons of paper and books were produced daily! Millions of dollars were made in these businesses. Workers were brought in to run them. Houses, schools and churches were build, and in 1831, the Village of Ulster was chartered. After Henry Barclay's death it was changed to the Village of Saugerties (in 1855.)

So, you see how a village, its industry and people came about - all because of Henry Barclay and his bridge.

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