The Village of Monticello
On March 20, 1801, an act was passed authorizing the building of a new turnpike road from the Hudson River to the Delaware through what was then Ulster and Orange Counties. There were two important reasons for this undertaking. One was to facilitate travel between Newburgh and the rich coalfields of Pennsylvania and the other was to provide a suitable passage for large droves of cattle and wood products taken from the virgin forests of Sullivan. The proposed Newburgh and Cochecton Turnpike ultimately brought about the founding of the village of Monticello.
Two brothers, Samuel F. Jones and John Patterson Jones, built Monticello. The turnpike company entrusted Samuel F. Jones to explore the vast forests west of the Mamakating valley to find the best route for the new turnpike. While so engaged, Mr. Jones foresaw that Ulster County would undergo many changes and growth when the new turnpike was completed, He also realized that because of this growth a new county would ultimately be formed out of the southwestern part of the county. He predicted the county seat for this new county would be located along the new turnpike and envisioned a village of his dreams. Returning home, Samuel related his predictions and vision to his younger brother, John.
John joined his brother in his enthusiasm and in the early part of 1803, they bought two tracts of wilderness totaling 1861 acres for which they paid $4,613. Since Samuel was occupied surveying the route for the new turnpike, it was left to John to start making immediate improvements to their land. John arrived later that year with eleven men, and after putting up a temporary shelter east of Monticello, they commenced working on a sawmill. The work halted when the brothers returned to their New Lebanon, Connecticut, home for the winter but resumed the following spring. John returned to his work on their lands in early April 1804, while Samuel continued working for the turnpike company. After John put the sawmill in operation, he started clearing and seeding the land west of Monticello. He also built a gristmill that was used mostly for grinding their grain.
The final route for the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike was determined that spring and it was precisely where Samuel Jones wanted it. The brothers then determined where to build their intended city. It was at this time that the name Monticello was given to the planned village. The brothers were ardent admirers of Thomas Jefferson, who invented the word from two Latin words meaning heavenly mountain, which Mr. Jefferson gave to his home place.
Before the log house was built in Monticello or the first tree cut, the farseeing brothers first surveyed their planned village, laying out broad streets and a central park. Trees were marked to indicate the lines. Consequently, Monticello became a grand town with wide streets, magnificent shade trees, and a beautiful "public square." In addition, as Samuel Jones planned, the Newburgh and Cochecton Turnpike ran straight through the village.
Soon after the survey was completed, John Jones selected a lot for his residence, and on September 4, 1804, with his own hands he fell the first tree that marked the site of his future home. The house was located on the turnpike (Broadway) across from the park and was completed by December. John lived there until he died. Samuel was still involved with the turnpike so John later built the first part of his brother's house. In 1807, Samuel built a large addition to his dwelling.
As an inducement to inhabit their village, the brothers offered one-acre lots to anyone who would build and settle there. Advertisements were inserted into many newspapers of southern counties that enticed many to take advantage of their offer. One of these pioneers was Platt Pelton of Putnam County, a tanner by trade, who came to Monticello in 1804. He built a sawmill and, a temporary shanty. The following year erected the second house in Monticello. In 1805, John P. Jones built a blacksmith shop and Miles Curtis put up a house. Sometime that summer Curtis Lindsley commenced building a hotel, where later the county court would be held until a courthouse was built.
On March 27, 1809, by an act of the Legislature, Sullivan County was created from part of Ulster. In June the new county government was organized and John P. Jones became the first County Clerk. He was later elected state senator and held several other public offices. Samuel F. Jones became one of the county's first judges and in 1811, when a postal route went into operation from Newburgh to Ithaca, Samuel became Monticello's first postmaster.
David Hammond, who became an active businessman in the village, came to Monticello in 1805 or 1806. In 1811, he built the Mansion House. Eli Fairchild came to Monticello in 1815. He built the first iron foundry on Main St. and a gristmill and sawmill on the Cold Spring Road. All his businesses were conducted successfully for many years. Ephraim Lyon Burnham came to Monticello about this time and established a large tannery, which was later owned by Strong, Starr and Company.
By 1813, there were twenty houses in Monticello as well as various places of business. The village has grown from that nucleus into the Monticello of today. The village was incorporated on April 20, 1830.
We noted that Monticello was fortunate that the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike ran through its center. However, the village was not as fortunate with the railroad. Although one survey for the Erie Railroad went to Monticello, when the final route was determined it did not go near the village. Later when the Midland Railroad (later the O&W) was built through Sullivan County, it too missed Monticello by going through Fallsburg five miles away. A railroad line between Monticello and Post Jervis was launched in 1869 with the formal opening taking place on January 23, 1871. The name of the little railroad was changed several times before it was taken over by the New York 0 & W in 1903. The 0 & W ran the line until it was suspended in 1935.
On August 10, 1909, Monticello suffered its worse calamity in history when a fire wiped out most of the business section of the village. It was thought that the fire started from a large burned out smokestack belonging to the Hurray power plant. The fire broke out on a Tuesday evening about 8:30 when the evening mail was arriving. The streets, stores and hotel porches were thronged with summer visitors when the alarm sounded. By the time the firemen responded and the hoses were laid the power house was roaring in flames. The fire quickly spread to the huge Palatine Casino, which was consumed in fire in a matter of seconds. A strong wind spread the fire from building to building and in less than an hour, both sides of the street were a fury of fire. When it was over forty buildings had been consumed along with a million dollars worth of property. Fortunately, no lives were lost as hundreds of horrified people watched, powerless to save one hundred years of growth and industry. Monticello was quick to rebuild; replacing many of the wooden buildings with more fire resistant ones made of brick. Unfortunately replacing the beautiful trees that once lined Broadway would take a great deal longer.
Some pioneer hotels in the county were located in Monticello; the Mansion House and the Rockwell were important places during the Sullivan County resort era. There was a lot of summer activity and entertainment in Monticello. During the early 1900s, there was a Driving Park Association that held races in the village. In 1910 the "Lyceum," the largest theater in the county opened in Monticello. It was successful until 1922 when the moviegoers visited the Rialto Theater, the new showplace in town. The Monticello Amusement Park was popular until it burned in 1932. Monticello played host to the Sullivan County Fair for over fifty years until it closed in 1931. Although few of Monticello hotels successfully made the transition into the later resort age, the village continued to draw the tourists who stayed at nearby hotels and bungalow colonies.
The village of Monticello is rich in history. It has been a center of commerce and trade since the days of the Newburgh-Cochecton Highway. Many important people, such as State Supreme Court Judge Lawrence Cooke have made Monticello their home. The people of Monticello still enjoy the Jones' brothers carefully planned village with its wide Broadway and village park. The future holds promise of many more good things and good times to come in Monticello.
THE TOWN OF THOMPSON
The Town of Thompson was formed from the Town of Mamakating on March 19, 1803 when Sullivan County was still part of Ulster County. When the town was first formed, it was much larger than it is today. A part of Fallsburg was taken off in 1826, a part of Forestburgh in 1837 and a part of Liberty in 1842.
The town was named in honor of William A. Thompson, who is thought to be its first permanent settler and founder of the first settlement in the town. There were other earlier pioneers and settlements in the Town of Thompson, but they were not permanent. In 1794, Mr. Thompson, a native from Litchfield County, Connecticut, purchased between twenty and thirty thousand acres in the towns of Thompson, Neversink, and Bethel. On May 5, 1795, he and his family moved from their New York City residence to his small log cabin in the wilderness. When Mr. Thompson arrived he brought with him several mill wrights, who immediately commenced building a saw mill on the Sheldrake Creek. After the saw mill was completed, work Lien began on a gristmill. The latter was completed in the summer of 1796. A few years later, the gristmill was accidentally destroyed by fire. Mr. Thompson replaced it with a larger affair but it was so badly constricted the machinery caused the whole affair to shake so violently that it was thought it would tumble to the ground. The Thompsonville Custom Mill suffered two more fires but was rebuilt, enlarged and improved each time. It later belonged to John Billings
Mr. Thompson called the area around his improved lands Albion Mills. He and his family left the Mills each winter and returned to New York City until 1801 when they moved into a fine frame house and became year-round residents. In 1810, Mr. Thompson built his mansion house, by far the most imposing building in the county. He named his home Albion Hall. His settlement of Albion Mills was renamed Thompsonville at the insistence of its inhabitants.
When the Town of Thompson was incorporated in 1803, Mr. Thompson was justly proud that it bore his name. In 1802, Mr. Thompson had been appointed one of the Judges of Common Pleas of Ulster County by Governor Clinton, and in 1803 he was appointed First Judge of Sullivan County.