Stockport Creek, only a little over two miles in length, originates in the village of Stockport where the Kinderhook and Claverack Creeks join. The quantity of water and numerous drops of elevation in its brief journey made the creek an early center of water-powered industry.
We began our exploration by following the aptly-named Footbridge Road downhill from Route 9 toward the juncture of the streams. The footbridge was built in 1914 to accommodate the numerous mill workers of that era who were were employed in the villages of Stockport and Columbiaville. The bridge also provided access to the Albany & Hudson electric railway.
There was talk some years ago of restoring the footbridge but its present deterioration makes such a prospect unrealistic. The wooden floorboards are completely rotted and any attempt to venture upon the bridge might be fatal.
There is little trace of the mills in Stockport village, although doubtless foundations could be found along the creek. Private land ownership and luxuriant poison ivy precluded a closer investigation on our part.
From Stockport the creek flows into Columbiaville Gorge, which is easily viewed from the Route 9 bridge. Looking downstream from the bridge, we saw the brick walls that mark where James Wild’s five story cotton mill once stood. In those years Hudson River sloops could make their way as far upstream as the first falls, expediting the shipping of cloth, paper and other manufactured products.
James Wild, who was born in Stockport , England, was a driving force of that era, and imported raw cotton from the slave states, to be processed into cloth. Wild’s brother Nathan played a similarly influential role in the village of Valatie.
St. John’s Episcopalian Church, modeled after a gothic church in James Wild’s native Stockport, England, was consecrated in 1847 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The old wooden church is in good repair and has an active congregation.
However, the Methodist church at the juncture of County Road 22 and Chittenden Road has been vacant for at least 20 years, according to a neighbor. Reportedly, a private owner has declined several offers to sell the deteriorating church and adjacent church hall.
Before resuming our downstream journey, we ventured north a mile or so on Route 9 looking for an oddly shaped house supposedly haunted by a friendly old spirit belonging to the once-prosperous Smith family. According to local historian Mindy Potts:
"A member of this family, Rachel Smith, known as "Aunt Rachel" was a member of a group of spiritualists who met regularly to hold seances. She was reported to have supernatural powers and could read minds. She was also a very good story teller and was very well liked. Aunt Rachel lived a long life, and upon her death in 1875, according to her family, she became a congenial spirit. She would not terrify the living. She would rock her old chair by the stove or playfully yank out pillows from sleeping peoples' heads. After her death, Aunt Rachel's nephew also died from Typhoid fever. His wife, also ill, was too sick to be told. Upon her recovery, a relative went to break the news, but the woman stopped him before he could speak, saying, "You don't have to tell me. I know everything. You see, Aunt Rachel was here."
One well-maintained house did meet the description, but we found no one at home to verify any continued presence by Aunt Rachel.
Turning back to the route 9 bridge, we took Station Road toward the river where, according to tradition and a New York State historic marker, Henry Hudson first met with the local Mohicans back in 1609. This was supposedly the place where Hudson saw so many Indian children that he named the region Kinderhook, or “childrens corner.”
Although Hudson never returned and lost his life to a mutinous crew a few years later, the Dutch soon established farms, mills and trading posts in what is now Stockport. The oldest house in Columbia County is still standing near where Station Road ends at the river. The Abraham Staats house is privately owned and kept in very good repair by its current owners. Staats came to New Amsterdam from Holland in 1642 and owned this land by 1654. According to Edward Collier, the first house on the site was burned by Indians in 1664 and quickly rebuilt. The three-foot thick stone walls and foundation may be part of the original structure or the second, but in either case, the house is about 350 years old.
(For those interested in a fictional recreation of that early era, I recommend my own historical novel, The River That Flows Both Ways, which is centered on the life of Staats’ predecessor as physician at Fort Orange, Harmen van den Bogaert. He was unusual for his time in his understanding of the native cultures but later ran afoul of the colony's moral code and was condemned to death.)
Stockport Creek empties into the Hudson amid a region of freshwater tidal wetland. The nearly five miles of public shoreline, marshes, islands and peninsulas of Stockport Flats are accessible primarily by boat, and include the Stockport Creek State Wetland Preserve and the Hudson River Islands State Park. The Flats are an important spawning and/or nursery ground for a variety of freshwater fish species, and osprey, egret and heron are frequently seen. We caught a sizable small-mouth bass here during our visit.
At the end of Station Road there is a public boat launch with plenty of parking. But do be aware of the hazard of high speed trains. The river's banks are well worth a visit, either by boat or on foot, and present many scenes that seem little changed since Hudson's time - except, of course, for the absence of the aboriginal tribes who lived here for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans.
A Sanford R. Gifford Discovery
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