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The Town of Poughkeepsie

WHY CAMELOT?


The article itself is copied directly from a book called the Town of Poughkeepsie, (pages 130-132). I have added some photos and some of my own notes to the story to help further identify the area.

Arthur Adams in the Hudson River Guidebook writes that dolomite or magnesium limestone was quarried extensively on both sides of the river for concrete and road building. Many of the quarries belonged to the New York Trap Rock Company which was a division of Lone Star Industries.

This photograph was taken from a website created by the Poughkeepsie Journal (linked). I borrowed the photo because it represents the look of the river edge at Camelot/Barnegat from what I could see on my visit. Perhaps it looks much as it did when our ancestors were there in the late 1800's.

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Kaal Rock, Poughkeepsie - Photo by Kathy McGloughlin
 
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Of all the place names in the county, Camelot seems to have been the most lightly given.

Chauncey M. Depew did the naming in the spring of 1886. The names of two railroad stations, Milton Ferry on the East side of the Hudson and Milton on the West shore, were confusing to travelers. At the time Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" (a story of Camelot, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table) was new and much quoted.

Mr. Depew (1834-1928 Boyd, James P. Men and Issues of '92. Publishers' Union, 1892) pictured to the left was then president of the New York Central and Hudson River railroad.

Read the story of Camelot below.

You can read about the Hudson Line of the New York Central Railroad, as written by Pierce Haviland by clicking here. Click on this button
To understand the renaming you must dip back into the rich history of the area. In 1729 Captain Tjerch Van Keuren, a Kingston blacksmith, bought wilderness land on the north side of the mouth of the Spackenkill, the little stream which empties into the Hudson almost due west of the main Poughkeepsie plant of International Business Machines Corp. Mill rights on the stream were included in the puchase, and Van Keuren later bought land on the south side of the kill.

Matthew Van Keuren was living on the property when his father bequeathed it to him in 1742. By that time he had a home on the riverfront and a mill on the Spackenkill, and was operating a ferry between his property and the west side of the river.

That ferry was the first in this area, started some 60 years earlier than the ferry three or four miles north at Poughkeepsie. It is said to have been a rude barge or scow with both sails and oars, operated on signals rather than a schedule. People traveled for miles to use the Van Keuren's ferry, and many of the early settlers of Ulster county moved their families, cattle and household goods on it from earlier settlements in Westchester county and on Long Island.

There was also a forge on Matthew Van Keuren's property, and on this forge he is said to have made some of the links for the great chain which was stretched across th3e Hudson at Fort Montgomery in 1776. This chain was made to prevent the British from going further north on the Hudson in the Revolution.

In January of 1777 Theophilus Anthony, also a blacksmith, bought the Van Keuren property at the moutch of the Spackenkill. He continue to operate the ferry, and it is said that Continental soldiers crossed and recrossed on it, and the specie, currency and provisions were carried on it for the Continental Army. Wahsington is said to have used it at least once or twice.

When the British forces did sail up the Hudson in the autumn of 1777, Theophilus Anthony's property was, quite logically, a target. Some British soldiers were sent ashore to do as much damage as they could. They fired the mill, but left the house.

There are two explanations for that. According to one story, the Anthony family had taken to the woods vefore the soldiers arrived, but Diana, a slave, had just removed a big batch of bread from the oven. She bribed the soldiers with the bread to spare the house.

According to the second story, the British soldiers were commanded by a man named Gill, who saw a pretty Anthony daughter and was so impressed by her that he didn't burn her home. After the war, this story continues, Gill came back and married the pretty Anthony girl.

That story sounds too romantic - except for evidence that it may be true. Roberty Gill certainly owned the Van Keuren-Anthony property in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Mrs. Gill was a member of the Anthony family. Road records of 1798 show that the Anthony family then owned land immediately south of the Gills, in the Barnegat area. That was later Gill property, too.
I hope to be able to return to Poughkeepsie to research these same road records in hopes of finding the Carlows and Bussell's in the area during the 1870's - 1890's.

The old ferry continued to operate in the late 18th century, but with a series of West shore owners, Benoni Lattermore in 1779; Elijah Lewis in 1789; and the Powell family in 1797. The Powell family is said to have earned enough on the ferry to buy a larger river craft. The famous Mary Powell of a century later was owned by this family.

One reason for the success of the ferry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was that the line kilns which were in operation for many years at Barnegat. One 1797 map shows 20 kilns there, and both Theophilus Anthony and the Gills burned lime.

This presumably places the ferry in the Barnegat area, for it carried large quantities of both lime rock and lime across the river. The lime was used for the building of many Ulster county homes, and Ulster residents used the ferry to go to and from work at the kilns, where the pay was $1 a day when farm workers were receiving 50 cents.

River sloops also carried both lime and lime rock from the Gill dock as far as New Jersey. In the heyday of the lime business, Barnegat was a little hamlet with a store, a schoolhouse, a church and a scattering of homes.

The old ferry was discontinued about 1810. By that time the lime industry had begun to decline, and the ferry which had been established in Poughkeepsie about 1798 had cut into the earlier ferry's business.

Captain Sears of Milton established another ferry in 1849 to carry passengers and mail from the Milton area to the Gill dock near a station of the new Hudson River railroad on the east shore. This railroad station was moved, to the south, apparently.

Milton Ferry on the East bank of the Hudson and Milton on the West were satisfactory names until the West Shore railroad began service in the 1880's. Then travelers began to complain of confusion because of the similar names on the two timetables. Milton Ferry's name was abruptly changed to Camelot early in 1886.
Just a couple years before the births of Rosalie and Richard.

"Idylls of the King" was probably the most quoted literary work of that year. Tennyson had been publishing the Idylls since 1859, and finally published the last of them in 1885. As you may remember, the Idylls are the poet's version of the old English legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. King Arthur's palace and court were at Camelot.

Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle of June 2, 1886, tells of Mr. Depew's change of the name of Milton Ferry to Camelot, a change adopted by the hamlet which had grown up nearby. That renaming took place at a meeting of the executive board of the railroad.

"Mr. Depew had just come from a dinner where he had been indulging a little in ancient history," the Eagle said, "and the legendary tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table had usurped his attention."

"Leaning back in his chair, with his hands clasped over his shapely head, he said to his fellow members of the executive board, 'I guess, gentlemen, we'll call it Camelot,' and recited musingly from the Idylls."

"'Yes' said Mr. Depew to his private secretary, 'strike out Milton ferry and insert Camelot!'"

"And now every time a passenger train stops at Milton ferry," the Eagle added, "the brakeman shoves the car door wide open and yells, 'Camelot!'"

It's seldom possible to nail down the naming of a place so precisely.

"Camelot Post Office was ... established June 22, 1884 and Joseph H. Porter was the first postmaster ... It was discontinued February 15, 1914."

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