Learn more about Orange County and its rich history, here’s some of the top fun facts and trivia answers about Orange County:
Orange County Name
Eight counties in the United States share the name Orange. New York’s was the first. It was named after William III of Orange who became the King of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1689. Orange is one of the oldest counties in New York State, and the only one located between two rivers, the Hudson and the Delaware.
The first section of the Appalachian Trail was created at Bear Mountain, taking hikers south to the Delaware Water Gap. It opened on October 7, 1923, and served as a pattern for the other sections of the trail developed independently by local and regional organizations. In Orange County the trail is more wooded and removed from civilization than one might expect. Elevation changes are generally moderate and vary from relatively flat and gentle to short, steep rocky pitches. There are many rocky ledges along the way that provide excellent valley and lake views, and this 30-mile portion is said to be the most scenic on the trail.
Oldest Tree in America
America’s Smallest Forest (348 square feet) has only one tree, an Eastern Cottonwood that is over 302 years old and thought to be the oldest in the United States. The Balmville Tree outside Newburgh is on the national Register of Historic Places as well as the New York State Register.
Bear Mountain State Park
Nestled along the Hudson River, Bear Mountain was supposedly named because the profile of the mountain resembles a bear lying down. In the early 1900’s, a group of wealthy businessmen donated land and large sums of money for the purchase of the property on the condition that it always be preserved as a park. Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park became a reality in 1910. By 1914, more than a million people a year were coming to the park. Offering a wide variety of outdoor activities including a zoo and trailside museums, it welcomes more visitors every year than Yellowstone National Park.
Bear Mountain Bridge
When it opened, the bridge held the title of the longest main suspension span in the world, with a length of 1632 feet. Prior to its construction, there were no fixed vehicular crossings of the Hudson River south of Albany. Ferries crossing the river between Peekskill and Bear Mountain State Park had waits up to four hours. The three-year-long construction project was completed on Sept. 10, 1924 at a cost of $4.5 million. Today, the Bear Mountain Bridge carries four lanes for vehicular traffic and two walkways for pedestrians and cyclists. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Hudson River via this bridge.
In 1881, John Gail Borden, heir to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, started a self-sufficient utopian community on a 2,000 acre farm in Montgomery. It was developed as a place where beauty and respect for nature were as important as functional productivity.
Boston Tea Party
Dr. Thomas Young (1731-1799), born in Little Britain within the Town of New Windsor, was the leader of the infamous Boston Tea Party. His brother, Dr. Joseph Young, wrote the first medical textbook in the United States.
Located in Washingtonville, it holds the distinction of being America’s oldest continuously operating winery. John Jaques planted his first grapes in 1835 and was ready to bottle his first vintage by 1839. The small winery prospered, producing several varieties of wine including Dry Isabella, White Catawba and Blooming Grove. By 1904, Brotherhood was crushing 400 tons of grapes and producing over 250,000 bottles of champagne annually. In the 1970s, it produced over 700,000 gallons of wine and hosted over 500,000 visitors annually.
The 25-acre park featuring a commanding view of the Hudson from its central hilltop was designed for free in 1887 by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. Their design was a tribute to their mentor Andrew Jackson Downing who believed parks were vital to human existence in a city. Born in 1815, Downing received no formal training in architecture. At age 16, he joined his older brother in running the family’s nursery business in Newburgh. His designs and books on landscaping have earned him the title of America’s first landscape architect.
One of the country’s first planned communities, Tuxedo Park, opened in June 1886. Its 22 “cottages,” twin lakes, luxurious clubhouse and 24-mile, eight-foot high stone fence were all completed in less than a year. The enclave was designed by resident architect Bruce Price whose daughter Emily described it as the “the most formal place in the world,” thus the name Tuxedo for the formal men’s dinner jacket. She eventually went on to become the Grande Dame of proper deportment and was better known by her married name, Emily Post.
Port Jervis has the oldest continuously run firemen’s parade in the United States. Over 160 years old, the parade honors those who serve.
First Cross-Country Flight
For Calbraith Perry Rodgers, Sept. 18, 1911 had its downs and ups… On his way to what turned out to be America’s first cross-country flight, he smacked his Vin Fiz into a chicken coop in Middletown. Residents pitched in to repair the craft and Rodgers continued his history-making trip. Rodgers, who was deaf, landed the Vin Fiz in Pasadena, California on November 5th. The Armour Company of Chicago paid Rodgers $5.00 a mile as a promotional stunt for their new grape soda “Vin Fiz.” The total flying time for the 4,321-mile trip was 82 hours, 2 minutes at an average speed of 52 MPH.
Firsts in America
The first outdoor flea market in the U.S. was held in Newburgh in 1752.
The first butter factory in America was located in Campbell Hall.
The first liquid propelled airmail rocket flight in America took place at Greenwood Lake on February 23, 1936.
The first cattle ranch was established by a New York City meat dealer, Philip Fink, on a 1,000 acre parcel near Craigville.
The first dog-powered butter churn was patented in 1821 by Finchville resident, Joseph Ketcham.
The churn sold for $15 and enjoyed great popularity.
In April 1874, the first homeopathic mental hospital in the world opened in Middletown. Patient care at the asylum was considered revolutionary because of the founder’s belief that insanity was a treatable disease that responded to gentle, humane care.
In 1887, Dr. Julia E. Bradner, Middletown’s first female physician, started a home for elderly women.
In 1894, one of the earliest child care organizations, the Newburgh Day Nursery, was established in Cornwall.
First Female Soldier
Deborah Sampson, disguised as a man, served in Washington’s army in Vails Gate during the Revolutionary War. She holds the distinction of being America’s first female soldier.
Gomez Mill House
Aware of the suffering his parents experienced during the inquisition in Spain, Lewis Moses Gomez left Europe for America. Arriving in New York City in 1703, he quickly became prosperous. Around 1714, he and his sons built a stone trading post north of Newburgh along a major Indian path, now known as Mill House Road. The Gomez Mill House is the oldest surviving Jewish residence in America.
Jasper Francis Cropsey, the famous Hudson River School painter, moved to Warwick in 1869 and built “Aladdin,” an opulent 29-room mansion and studio on a hilltop along Route 94.
In 1909, George M. Cohan’s family purchased Sunny Croft in Highland Mills which remained the composer’s summer home until his death in 1942. Playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer, and producer, Cohan is considered the father of American musical comedy. His statue stands in Times Square in New York City.
Arden House, built in 1909 by E.H. Harriman, has commanding views of the Hudson Highlands in all directions. Set high atop a 1,300 ft Ramapo Mountain ridge in the town of Woodbury, the massive mansion is positioned in isolated splendor amidst 8,000 acres. It is designated a national historic landmark.
Mount Rushmore has local ties in New York lawyer Charles Rushmore for whom the South Dakota monument is named. In 1908 he built a lavish Spanish Colonial-style mansion in Highland Mills. Rushmore was a young attorney in the early 20th century who was sent to South Dakota to investigate mining enterprises. As he stood in front of a mountain, he asked its name and was told it would be named for him. Several years later he contributed to the project that would carve the faces of four presidents into the side of the mountain.
Witchwood Manor in Highland Mills was owned by the burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. Later it became the home of “Titanic” actor Victor Garber.
Originally called Long Pond until a dam was built in 1836, the lake is nine miles long and a mile wide at its widest point. In 1875, the Erie Railroad established a stop on the east side of the lake in the hamlet of Sterling Forest. Described in travel brochures as the “Switzerland of New York,” it became a popular destination with many fine resorts located along its shores. Today it’s known for being a summer playground and a winter capital for ice-boating, fishing and skating.
Probably one of the most famous horses in history, the stallion Hambletonian was owned by William Rysdyk of Orange County. The name of the horse was derived from the village of Hambleton in Yorkshire, site of one of the oldest race meetings in England. Foaled in 1849, he never raced, although he took a time trial mark of 2:48 as a 3-year-old. In 24 seasons as stud, he produced over 1,300 foals and generated over $200,000 in service fees for his owner. Today over 99 percent of both trotters and pacers in North America trace their pedigrees to him.
A part of Route 97, this one and a half mile stretch of highway snakes and curves above the Delaware River. Because of the gorgeous vista, car companies like Honda, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have filmed commercials there as well as American Express.
Henry Hudson had been commissioned by the Dutch East India Company to find a shorter route from Holland to India. In September 1609, with hopes of finding a northeast passage, he sailed his ship the “Half Moon” up the river that now bears his name
An 11-mile trail that winds through a bird and wildlife sanctuary, historic landmarks and rolling meadows between Goshen and Monroe. Heritage Trail is built on the abandoned right-of-way of the Erie Railroad. The tracks were originally completed in 1843 and were used until 1983. When the original train tracks were being laid, they literally bogged down in the black dirt region of Chester. The spongy soil, containing pockets of quicksand, could not support the railbed. Hundreds of pilings were sunk and then crisscrossed tree trunks to make a stable path.
Newburgh’s East End is home to more than 4,000 historic buildings, making it the largest historic district in New York State. A.J. Davis, A.J. Downing, and Calvert Vaux are among the many renowned architects who designed homes and buildings in Newburgh.
The cereal H-O Oats was created at a grist mill in Craigville near Chester.
Edward H. Harriman, the railroad tycoon, was a tremendous fan of harness racing. A fountain for thirsty horses was dedicated to his memory by his widow on Feb 25, 1911 in the center of Goshen, not far from the Historic Track.
Originally called Mahicanituk by Native Americans it meant “continually flowing waters.” The 315-mile long river was created as a result of a process that started more than 65 million years ago during the Cenozoic Era. The north to south advance of ice was so powerful in Orange County, it gouged out the riverbed to a depth of over 200 feet near West Point, the Hudson’s deepest point. It is a tidal river, and as the tide rises in the Atlantic Ocean, salt water is pushed up the Hudson River as far as Newburgh.
Willie “the Lion” Smith, a colorful fixture on the jazz scene, was born in Goshen in 1897. He became world famous as one of the developers and expert practitioners of the Harlem “stride” piano school. He was mentor to Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Artie Shaw, among others.
Pronounced Kow-a-way-say, it meant “place of small pines” to the Native Americans of the Lenape Nation who once lived there. It was the first European settlement with the limits of the present Orange County when a Scottish immigrant created a trading post at the site along the Hudson River in 1685. Also known as Plum Point, this beautiful location is now a county park.
Our favorite madcap comedienne made her stage debut at the Ritz Theatre in Newburgh in 1941. Ella Fitzgerald, Milton Berle, and Frank Sinatra also performed there.
A popular outing around 1910 was a trip to Cuddebackville to watch D.W. Griffith filming one of his silent movies there. Griffith has been hailed as the father of modern day cinema, a great innovator and artist who invented many of the cinematic techniques still used today. Movie greats like Max Sennet and Mary Pickford made the trip to Orange County and acted out their parts against recognizable backdrops such as the D&H Canal store on Oakland Valley Road.
Although mastadon bones have been found elsewhere in New York, Orange County is the source of the first complete skeleton ever assembled. In 1801, Charles Willson Peale uncovered two mastodon skeletons at digs near Newburgh and Montgomery. Since then, more mastodon bones have been uncovered in Orange County than anywhere else in the world. It is believed that the extensive black dirt deposits in the county helped preserve the bones.
Built in 1906, this structure in Salisbury Mills is the highest railroad trestle east of the Mississippi. It was seen in the movie Michael Clayton starring George Clooney with long shots of the beautiful scenery that surrounds it. Metro-North runs its commuter line to Port Jervis on these tracks, but many ride the train just for the experience of crossing the trestle to see the landscape, particularly in the fall.
The nation’s most famous lexicographer started out as schoolmaster at the Farmer’s Hall Academy (now Goshen Town Hall) in 1782. Several signers of the Declaration of Independence sent their children to this school. Because school books were scarce, Webster worked on a series of textbooks that would give children a uniquely American education. The work changed his life and determined the course of his career.
Orange County Fair
First held on Nov 17, 1841 at the courthouse in Goshen, the one-day event attracted farmers from across the county to exhibits of cattle, horses and vegetables. The women brought baked goods, flowers and fancy embroidery that were displayed in the old courthouse. The fair grew, attracting increasing numbers of spectators and patrons. In 1897, with attendance of over 10,000, the fair moved to its current site on 31 acres in Wallkill. Currently, the fair draws in excess of 250,000 people during its mid-summer spectacle of carnival rides, concessions and concerts.
Orange County Onions
One half the onions grown in New York State come from 5, 500 acres in the black dirt area in the southern part of Orange County.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese
This popular spread was invented in 1872 in Chester. Back then, Philadelphia symbolized the gold standard for products, so David Lawrence decided against naming it Chester Cream Cheese.
The Purple Heart
While headquartered in Newburgh, George Washington instituted the Badge of Military Merit, the forerunner of the Purple Heart, the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Legion of Merit. One of the first medals awarded is now on display at the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor.
A Room at the Met
The Verplanck Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was constructed from the 18th century Colden Mansion in Montgomery. The room contains pine paneling, doors, window jams, fireplace and floorboards from the home. It was built in 1767, the home of Samuel and Judith Crommelin Verplanck.
In May 1712, 18-year-old Sarah Wells accompanied by three Indians, three carpenters and various farm animals, took a sloop from New York City to New Windsor. They then headed west on an Indian Trail to the Otterkill River in Hambtonburgh, where they proceeded to carve a home out of the wilderness. The foster daughter of Staten Island carpenter Christopher Denne, Sarah had made the trip at his request in order to establish a residence in the county. Denne felt he would be better able to induce settlers to purchase the land he owned if he built a few homes and made the wilderness trail passable.
Orange County’s highest point at nearly 1700 feet. The eight-mile long ridge offers expansive views of the Hudson Highlands, Shawangunk Mountains, Catskills and the Hudson River.
Soap Box Derby
Officially the largest local soapbox derby in the world is in Port Jervis. Begun in 1947, it was cancelled for a number of years before being restarted in 1999.
Orange County resident Stephen Crane who wrote the Red Badge of Courage was actually born six years after the Civil War ended. The book is based on stories he heard in Port Jervis’ Orange Square from Civil War veterans reminiscing about the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Lachlan Stewart, a Scottish sea captain, donated a 220-acre pasture to the City of Newburgh in 1930 for use as a municipal airport. In 1939, the U.S. Military Academy trained West Point cadets at Stewart for service in the Army Air Corps. Now the nation’s second largest airport in total area, its massive 11,800-foot runway was designated an alternate landing site for the space shuttle.
Storm King Art Center
The largest sculpture park in the country, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center in Mountainville is both a museum and a nature conservancy. Its collection of more than 120 large modern sculptures is world renown. Dramatic views of surrounding mountains and valleys provide a backdrop for large-scale abstract sculptures by Calder, Di Suvero, Noguchi, Smith, Snelson, Serra, Nevelson, Goldworthy, and others.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
Sugar Loaf Art & Craft Village is named for the nearby mountain that is shaped in the way that sugar was sold during colonial days. The mountain with its bare crest has always had unusual interest and speculation surrounding it. Originally the mountain was a Native American burial ground, and over the years various relics and bones have been uncovered there. Under its rugged surface is a vein of iron ore. Knapp Mine operated a mine at the base of the mountain for many years until ore from deposits near Lake Superior proved cheaper to excavate and transport.
The Thayer Hotel
Built in 1926, this massive granite hotel was named for Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, Superintendent of the United States Military Academy from 1817 to 1833. Under his guidance, West Point became a world famous training facility for military leaders.
On April 1, 1884, one of the country’s first central electric generating stations opened in Newburgh. Thomas Alva Edison personally supervised the construction of the facility which was designed to produce power for incandescent lighting. In 1905, Monroe’s Roscoe Smith started the Orange Electric Company, parlaying a $50,000 investment and some second-hand equipment into the major utility now known as O&R.
Remarkably, a person can stand in three states at one time on the Tri-State Rock in Port Jervis. This famous landmark is located at the junction of the Delaware and Neversink Rivers and is officially recognized as the site where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet.
U.S. Weather Service
The founder and father of the U.S. Weather Service, Albert J. Myer, was born in Newburgh on Sept 20, 1829. From 1854 through 1869 he served as Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Army, becoming head of the new Army Signal Corps as well. It was during his command that the precursor to the U.S. Weather Service was formed.
In 1917 Emil Frey, inventor of Liederkranz cheese, perfected the process for Velveeta cheese at a factory on Mill Pond Parkway in Monroe.
The first West Point graduating class in 1802 consisted of two cadets who had studied for only a few months. It seems that many in Congress were against the facility until the War of 1812 showed the strong need for professionally trained soldiers. Currently, 1200 new cadets enter the academy each year at America’s oldest military academy. The following are among the more than 60,000 graduates:
Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant
John J. Pershing
George S. Patton
Dwight D. Eisenhower
West Point Football
One of America’s best known athletic events is the annual Army-Navy football game. The first match between the two rival academies was held at West Point on November 29, 1891, with Navy winning 24-0. Douglas MacArthur, Superintendent of the Academy from 1919-1922, worked hard to revitalize the role of athletics in cadet curriculum. His famous quote about the importance of sports at West Point is inscribed over the cadet gymnasium and reads: “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days will bear the fruits of victory.”
West Point Museum
Since 1854, it has served as the official national repository of war trophies, as well as thousands of additional military artifacts. The museum numbers over 45,000 objects and is considered to be the oldest and largest public collection of militaria in the western hemisphere.
Orange County’s greatest land speculator, William Henry Seward, was born in Florida, New York in 1801. A prominent candidate for president in 1860, he lost the nomination to Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln became president, he named Seward as his Secretary of State. Seward was wounded by a would-be assassin on the same night that Lincoln was murdered. After his recovery, Seward remained as a Secretary of State in the administration of Andrew Johnson. In 1867 he negotiated with Russia for the purchase of the vast frozen wilderness known as Alaska and the annexation of the Midway Islands, both in 1867. Seeing no value in Alaska, the public named it “Seward’s Folly,” never dreaming that it would produce the vast resources it continues to supply.
World’s Largest Church Organ
The West Point Cadet Chapel was dedicated in 1910 and is constructed of native granite to blend in naturally with the surrounding landscape. The Cadet Chapel organ was originally built by the M.P. Moeller Company in 1911 and has been enlarged over the years. It now holds the distinction of being the largest church organ in the world. Concerts are given throughout the year, and the chapel is open daily.