By an act of March 7, 1788, New Cornwall was founded. Known as the precinct of Cornwall since 1764, it was comprised of the present towns of Cornwall, Highlands, Blooming Grove, Monroe, and parts of Chester and Hamptonburgh. In 1797, New Cornwall was shortened to Cornwall and by 1872, shrunk to its present size.
Records exist of the MacGregorie party who came in 1685 to settle in New Windsor and the building of a trading post on Sloop Hill that gives them claim as the first European settlement in Cornwall. Early deeds document other families – Sutherlands, Clarks, Sands, Townsends, Van Duzer, and Ketcham settling along the streams and docks along the river and having business in town.
The Continental Army traveled through Cornwall’s Canterbury roads from West Point to Newburgh, and General George Washington was known to stop and visit David Sands and other friends during the Revolutionary War period.
It is said that a visit to the Sands Homestead was cut short when a kidnap plot was uncovered during an overnight visit from General Washington. A local Tories supporter informed Washington’s guards before the plan could be fulfilled.
The postwar period was a time of rapid growth. A mere 40 miles north of New York City helped to make the area appealing for business ventures during the 18th and 19th century. Ketchamtown (now Mountainville), had a grist mill on the creek of the Moodna. Canterbury lay along a stage coach route; stores, a post office, tavern, churches, mills, and a tannery dotted the landscape. Another settlement along the Hudson River at the Landing had sloops and steamboats docked at the wharves. Brickyards and lumberyards lined the shore and a general store was opened by Nathan Clark.
Cornwall’s natural beauty was brought to the forefront by the authors Nathaniel P. Willis, Lewis Beach and Amelia Barr, along with the Hudson River School of painters. Storm King Mountain in the majestic Hudson Highlands was the subject of many art and literature pieces.
During the 1960’s Consolidated Edison (Con-Ed) proposed a pumped storage hydroelectric plant at the base of Storm King Mountain, which would forever alter the beauty and views of the river. A citizen group called Scenic Hudson fought, and won, a court battle to preserve both the mountain and river scene.
Many private schools were founded in Cornwall, including New York Military Academy (NYMA) and Storm King School.
In 1892 population increased in Cornwall to 3827 in 1892. By 1910 the number increased to 5690, and by 1960, 9148 residents called Cornwall home. By 2010 the population had risen to over 15000.
Cornwall sent many young men to the Civil War. A number enlisted in the 124th regiment called the “Orange Blossom” unit. Three men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service to our Country.
In Cornwall, the Sands family, devout Quakers, used the Homestead in 1864 as headquarters for the Dorcas Society which prepared clothing and other supplies for shipment to military hospitals.
By the turn of the 20th Century, Cornwall became a resort town for summer boarders coming north from New York City. Many boarding houses, taverns, and stores were created to supply guests with daily, weekly, and especially nightly entertainment.
The Temperance movement brought an end to Cornwall’s tourism boom. By the 1920’s visitors found affordable housing in Cornwall and decided to stay and raise families in an atmosphere of scenic beauty, well rounded educational opportunities, and the small town feel.
The time between WWI and WWII in Cornwall was one of neighborly dependence with community-minded involvement of which this small town can be proud. Red Cross and the Cornwall Relief Association again headquartered at the Sands-Ring Homestead. (So named when Catherine Sands married Elias Ring. After her father’s death, the Old Homestead became known as Sands-Ring.)
After WWI, the French Government gave a captured German cannon to Cornwall as thanks for our efforts and assistance. On the Veteran Triangle of land donated by the Sands family also sits a cannon from the Civil War. This too was gifted to Cornwall for our efforts during wartime.
The 1950’s saw Cornwall as a commuter’s dream community. Many housing developments sprang up to accommodate the newest residents who decided to settle in Orange County. Route 9W was completed, connecting the New York State Thruway to New York City by car.
The Cornwall Central School District was incorporated in 1954. The Cornwall Town Hall, including a town park with a pool, tennis court, basketball court, and Little League fields found its current location in 1952. Cornwall’s education and business district became centralized.
The last half of the 20th century and early 21st century continually bonded Cornwall with the same small town feel of yesteryear. Many generations have remained in Cornwall to raise a family. Many residents are active in local politics, sports, and other community organizations. After the 2001 terrorist attacks in which Cornwall lost one of its sons, residents appreciated the bond of this small town.
As we journey forward, the Town of Cornwall will continue enveloping us with its rich history, natural beauty and resources, and good neighbors. It is what she has always done…