History of Schodack Islands

History of Schodack Islands

History of the Schodack Islands
Adopted from the Schodack Island State Park Master Plan
By Schodack Town Historian Diane L. Hutchinson

 The history of the Schodack Islands is closely related to the development of the southwestern part of the Town of Schodack and the changing uses of the Hudson River.  Schodack Island State Park lies along the east shore of the Hudson River and includes three large and at least three smaller islands now joined into one land mass by Hudson River dredging spoil and attached at the north end to the mainland south of the Village of Castleton-on-Hudson.  The original islands were Upper Schodack Island, Lower Schodack (Moesmans) Island and Houghtaling (Schutters) Island.  The smaller islands were Mull’s Platt (Plaat in Dutch), Mull’s Island and Little Schodack Island.  Only Little Schodack Island remains as a separate entity.  The source of the following information, unless otherwise noted, is the Final Master Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement for Schodack Island State Park, produced by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, August 1998.

The Schodack Islands were fertile, alluvial islands ideal for agriculture and were probably occupied before recorded history. The first contact with Native Americans in this area occurred in 1609 when Henry Hudson’s mate visited a Mohican chief who lived in the area near Castleton-on-Hudson. The Mohican Indians evidently cleared and cultivated nearby Upper Schodack Island.  Over time deeds to the Schodack Islands were obtained from the Mohicans by Dutch settlers,  Mohicans sold land and mill sites on the Muitzes Kill in 1648, and on Upper Schodack Island in 1650 and 1663.  The Mohicans sold Lower Schodack Island in 1670 and Houghtaling Island in 1671.  The Mohicans lived on Lower Schodack Island in 1730 when they again sold part of that island.  Nevertheless, they were still living on Lower Schodack Island apparently as late as 1748.  A document in 1773 refers to “Indian Houses” also on northern Houghtaling Island.

While most early settlers lived on the mainland around present day Castleton-on-Hudson and Schodack Landing, structures were built on the Schodack Islands as early as 1650 when a hay rick was built on Upper Schodack Island to store grain.  By 1664, tenants were plowing and sowing Upper Schodack Island; and, by 1670, there were probably houses and barns there.  Between 1663 and 1677, timber was evidently being cleared from Lower Schodack Island, and a farm was established there in 1730.  A building, probably a farm house, was built near the center of Upper Schodack Island sometime during or before the 1750s and was still standing in 1779, as shown on maps.  The farm house may have been occupied into the 19th century.

After the Revolutionary War and continuing into the first half of the 19th century, intense land speculation through purchases and sales of relatively small lots occurred in the southern parts of both Upper Schodack and Lower Schodack Islands.  The southern point of Upper Schodack Island is bisected by the Binne Kill, and the southern point of Lower Schodack Island is bisected by the Mosesmans Kill.  These streams served as land boundaries.  The economic value of these areas suggests that they may also have been locations for some of the structures of the 17th century.  Larger farms were established farther north on these islands.  Until 1845, the Shakers owned about 20 acres on the northwestern part of Upper Schodack Island.  The rich, alluvial soils of the Schodack Islands were used for agriculture for many more years.

In 1863 the State of New York began constructing dikes along the west shores  of the Schodack Islands.  Later the Federal government took over the tasks of constructing dikes to control erosion and cutting channels to divert water establishing conditions for the construction of a deep water channel in the Hudson River.  Dredging of the Hudson River channel began in earnest in the 1920s. The spoil from the dredging covered the original islands eventually creating the present long peninsula that is now Schodack Island State Park.

By the third quarter of the 19th century the new industry of cutting, storing and shipping natural Hudson River ice developed around the Schodack Islands to meet the growing need for ice in the rapidly developing population centers in and around New York City.  In 1872 the Knickerbocker Ice Company constructed a storehouse on Lower Schodack Island for ice cut from the Hudson River and Schodack Creek, the channel between Schodack Landing and the Schodack Islands.  The Knickerbocker Ice House was probably the first of the many ice houses to be built on the islands.  At least eleven ice houses were built on the Schodack Islands in the next fifty years.  By the 1920s the natural ice industry went into steep decline due to the development of electric refrigeration.  Today a chimney from the Miller & Whitbeck Ice House along with a few concrete quays and partial foundations are all that is left from the natural ice industry on the Schodack Islands.  The following link has interesting historic photographs of the Schodack  ice industry: http://www.schodack.org/hist_feature_ice.htm.

The only other recent reminder of the ice industry was a house, built by the Knickerbock Ice Company in the early 1870s on Lower Schodack Island.  Near the house was a large hay barn for the horses used by the ice company.  Hay was grown on the islands for the horses.  Bill Hamilton, who worked for the company, once occupied this house.  After World War II the house was occupied by Captain Berger Johnson and his wife.  The last occupants were Joseph and Mary Suckup. The unoccupied house burned in the mid 1980s.

Castleton Bridge In 1923, the Alfred H. Smith railroad bridge was built across the Hudson River high above Upper Schodack Island. The New York State Thruway Bridge just north and adjacent to the railroad bridge was constructed in the 1950s.  Today the continued maintenance dredging of the Hudson River has raised the elevation of much of the Schodack Islands covering archaeological sites and fertile farmland.  As late as 1967, some fields on Upper Schodack Island were still in corn cultivation. With the subsequent acquisition of the land for the Schodack Island State Park the cultivated fields have grown up into brush and trees.