The Story of Liberty
by Delbert E. Van Etten, Town Historian
The Town of Liberty area is credited with providing 303 men who fought in the Revolution. Liberty was carved originally from the then large township of Lumberland and was itself at this time so large that it included the present Towns of Callicoon and Fremont. The Town today covers 85 square miles.
When the first white settlers came to this area, known as the Blue Mountain country, they settled to the Northwest of the present village at the existing Revonah Lake, formerly known as Broadhead Pond. The early settlers came here from Connecticut and some of the oldest remains left in the Town are the laid up stones in the outlet of Revonah Lake which were probably placed there in 1797 for the purpose of building the first sawmill in the area.
As the land was cleared of the dense dark hemlock forest that the early settlers found, the area went through various stages of development. After the farms were cleared one of the earlier forms of industry to be established was the tanneries which ran through the Civil War era. Following this, the dairy farming came into its own, to be followed by the taking in of “summer boarders” which gradually led to the founding of the large hotels, the Wawonda, Liberty House and many others.
It was along about 1900 that the large Loomis Sanatorium was established for the care of TB or tubercular patients and Liberty in general went through another stage of its development which lasted until other cures beside the fresh air and rest were found.
It was also early in the century that the Workmen’s Circle, a leading Jewish fraternal order, built a sanatorium east of Liberty, the property now occupied by the County Home and Infirmary and also the site of the Social Service Buildings.
Then the town in general fell back to it dependency upon the tourist and its so called summer season. Being blessed with an abundance of rural beauty and nearness to the metropolitan area provides many advantages in this respect.
As the years went by, and different settlements began to develop, they eventually became the Village and Hamlets that we know today. Some of the old settlements either changed their names or were lost in the ways of progress. Doubtenville, Glen Cove, Egypt and Red Brick are just a few of the lost communities.
Still remaining within the confines of the Town of Liberty today are the Village of Liberty and the smaller hamlets of Ferndale, Parksville, Swan Lake and White Sulphur Springs.
The Village of Liberty, incorporated on September 17, 1870, is by far the largest of the Town’s communities, being located at the crossroads of the Quickway (Route 17) and State Highway Route 52.
Liberty can boast of its tanneries, of the old Liberty Normal Institute, established in 1847, its famous Coaching Day Parades, and its hotels of the 1900 era. The Liberty House was the greatest and was the site of many Lincoln Dinners and reunions of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Of the smaller hamlets, Parksville is the only one to maintain its original name. Even before the formation of the Town of Liberty there were people in this area. The Martins and the Halls were early settlers, arriving in 1804. At a later date the Parks family came to the area and proved to be extremely active and productive and through their efforts came the name Parksville, otherwise it more than likely would have been known as “Martinsville.”
White Sulphur Springs was originally called Robertsonville, being named for Bradley Robertson who left Connecticut and settled in the area in 1809, and later fought in the war of 1812.
The Hamlet has always been a rural area. At one time it was surrounded by many small dairy farms and had a cheese factory operating within its bounds.
In the 1890’s and early 1900’s it was doing a thriving hotel and Boarding House business. It was during this period of time that a large hotel, called the White Sulphur Springs House was built. The hotel took its’ name from the Sulphur Spring whose waters were supposed to have medicinal benefits which were obtainable either by drinking or bathing in it.
In December of 1890 Robertsonville officially changed its’ name to White Sulphur Springs, no doubt to further help the promotion of the tourist trade.
In later years many additional hotels were constructed in the Hamlet and the business flourished in the summer for many years.
Ferndale, originally known as Liberty Falls, was settled by Roswell Russell in 1807. It had, during the Civil War era, thriving tanneries within its confines. The tall brick chimney of one of the tanneries stood until sometime in the 1950’s when it was taken down for its bricks.
The name was changed from Liberty Falls to Ferndale by the O & W Railway because of a mix up of the mails.
The name Ferndale covers a much larger area than the hamlet itself.
Ferndale is credited with having the Grossinger Hotel within its boundaries. This large layout all started by the Grossinger family taking in a few summer boarders to help meet expenses in 1914.
Swan Lake, originally called Stevensville, was named after the Stevens brothers who built a large sole leather tannery there. The tannery was in existence until about 1873.
Since the 1880’s the Swan Lake area has been noted for its hotel and tourist industry .Many of the local farm girls found jobs there in the early 1900’s. The lake has always had an abundance of fish and brings sportsmen into the area.
Alden S. Swan arrived there from New York about 1895 and by the time of his death in 1917 owned much of the land and all of the lake. The name was changed to Swan Lake in January 1927.
The Swan estate was purchased by Siegel and Kretchmer and the Siegels went on to build the Commodore and Stevensville the latter developing into a large sprawling hotel run by the Dinnerstein family.
Delbert Van Etten, Town Historian