“Springtown was one of the first areas that settlers started moving out to when they left this road,” historian Richard Heyl de Ortiz said of the original stone houses on New Paltz’s Huguenot Street. “It was really around the second generation of the Huguenot families who started the settlement in Springtown.”
Heyl de Ortiz delivered his Springtown lecture called “Springtown Road: The Other Huguenot Street” to a group of about 30 Springtown neighbors last Sunday.
In the late 1700s, the original 12 founding families had overpopulated the area with their offspring, and the Duzine began a land grab for sons and daughters over the Wallkill River.
“Today, we don’t think of there being a relationship between both sides of the river,” Heyl de Ortiz said. With no bridge, a ferry boat was the only way for travelers from the Huguenot village to reach their destination in Springtown. As can be expected with extended families and friends, they always liked to visit one another, making New Paltz’s ferrymen quite busy.
Up and down the street, familiar names -- including Deyos and LeFevres -- dotted the roadside, building brick houses just like the ones across the river in New Paltz. The road they lived on was an important carriageway leading straight up to Kingston.
“All of this was one important road at one time,” he said.
At first the next generation of Huguenots called their new village Bunticoe, after the nearby Bonticou Crag in the mountains. Local historians aren’t exactly sure why they renamed the area Springtown, and they’re also not sure why somebody named their homestead White Duck Farm.
Springtown also was the setting for one of New Paltz’s most gruesome crime scenes -- the 1801 triple murder and suicide where Maria Terwilliger Deyo killed herself and three of her children. Despite serving as the setting for “perhaps the most scandalous event in New Paltz history,” the murder-suicide house, Heyl de Ortiz pointed out, still stands and is currently resided in.
Only 20 years or so later, Springtown had become as big as New Paltz proper. With its close access to the river and rock-free soil constantly fertilized by floodwater, the area became a breadbasket for New Paltz and Ulster County.
“One of the reasons Springtown grew is because of the soil,” he explained. With acres of land and hired workers living in tenant houses nearby, Springtown farmers raised potatoes, onions, strawberries, wheat, rye, grains, cattle, chicken and started dairy farms.
During the early 1900s, the agricultural strength of Springtown gave rise to hyperbolic nicknames for its leaders and locales. For instance, there was a farmer known as “The King of Chickens,” the Deyo farmstead known as “The Million Dollar Farm” and one place called Happyland Farm.
“Before there was Frank Perdue, there was Springtown,” joked Heyl de Ortiz about the chicken king’s farm.
In 1955, big water came Springtown’s way. A record flood filled some houses up to the ceiling of their first floors, and it also totally drowned out some of the squat ones. “Flooding was one of the reasons for settling Springtown, but it was also one of the things that changed its history.”
In its heyday during the 1800s and early 1900s, Springtown grew to have a nice commercial center where it intersected with Coffey Road -- complete with a wagon wheel shop, ice cream parlor, possibly a restaurant, a post office, a 65-person boarding house and its own railroad stop.
Since some of the farmers rented out extra houses as cottages, railroad traffic also made Springtown into a tourist destination. People who couldn’t afford to vacation in luxury at Mohonk rented the cheaper cottages to swim in, or rowboat around, in the then-pristine Wallkill.
Broadhead Driving Park -- the horse racing track where gamblers placed their bets -- also shone the media spotlight on New Paltz’s forgotten neighbor. The New York Times wrote about big spenders from the city coming to gamble and relax in the country.
When they wanted to add a touch of class to their home, they called their tree-lined, riverfront pathway Springtown Boulevard, he said.
Following the lecture, Heyl de Ortiz got a deafening round of applause.
Springtown Road neighbor Karen Cathers helped organize the presentation when she heard that she and many other of the current Springtown residents had missed Heyl de Ortiz’s lecture the first time around.
“I always think that history is important,” Cathers said, who added that she hoped to get people interested in local history. “It’s really a nostalgic look at Springtown Road.”
Recently, Springtown has been in the news for its politically active, chronically flooded-out neighbors and their fight with the Town Board. Cathers said she also wanted the event to help people get their minds off the seriousness of the current strife.
“We all know about the flood issues, but we’re not here to talk about the flood issues,” she said with a wry, sassy grin.
Right now, Springtown has evolved into a sleepy rural road. Much of its former industry and glory has faded away -- a phenomenon that Heyl de Ortiz attributed to the railroad making New Paltz the No. 1 stop and the rise of the college.
For more information about the history of New Paltz, head to www.huguenotstreet.org.