The Palisades Historical Committee Reconvenes

The history of European settlement in Palisades goes back to 1687, when William Merritt bought land by the river and built the first house. Later, that same house became the home of Robert Sneden, who ran a ferry across the river. Winthrop Gilman, who moved here in 1861 and built the former Norman house on Ludlow Lane, became fascinated by the history of the hamlet and began to interview local residents and to collect a wide range of materials relating to the past, including the Gesner diary.

Gilman’s material was stored in the Palisades Library and discovered by my mother Alice Haagensen when she helped to move the library from one location to another in 1944. She had recently moved to Palisades and she too became enthralled by its history. In 1957 she and others created the Palisades Historical Committee, an affiliate of the Palisades Library, to investigate the community’s past. Members worked on a number of projects.

Tyler Grey painted a mural of Palisades history in the Community Center (later covered over). Some people collected old photographs, and others worked on the cemetery records. Evelyn Angell and Charlotte Shimizu began copying Mr. Gilman's Local History. Gerald Murphy did research on Snedens history in connection with the history of his house. The Herbert Kelloggs rediscovered the old Gesner burying ground. Mrs. Hill, Winthrop Gilman’s daughter, wrote a lively account of the Palisades of her young days and Mrs. Van Blarcom also shared her memories of early days in Palisades.

Alice Haagensen chaired the committee until 1959, followed by Rosie Kennison until 1961. The group continued its collecting and investigating. They persuaded the Rare Book Department of the New York Public Library to make copies of the 19th century Gesner diary, and one of the members, Dorothy Worzel, bound the copies in four handsome volumes. Liz Finck became chairman in 1961 and was so satisfactory that she was kept on as chairman for twenty-five years.

The committee was always informal. Members came and went. If supplies were needed, members bought them with their own money. But a lot got done, because everyone who came was interested and wanted to work. In 1962 members of the committee became involved in other affairs and the meetings were discontinued. From 1966 to 1968 the committee met again with mostly new members. They worked on various aspects of Palisades history and then recessed again.

The group was called together once in 1972 to authorize Mildred Rippey and Alice Haagensen to work on a map of the older part of Palisades, with definitive numbers for the houses. In 1973 the group was brought together again with the Bicentennial in mind, and it became a real committee, with a secretary who took minutes and a treasurer who kept the funds needed for the work being done. Mr. Gilman’s Story of the Ferry was copied in a limited edition of a hundred copies. Other activities were the setting up of a new tombstone for Molly Sneden and the engagement of an archivist to catalogue the valuable historical material.

Elizabeth Finck resigned from the committee in 1985, and Mary Chamberlin was elected chairman. In 1987 the group began another recess but met again in the early 1990s and chose Alice Gerard as chair. She began a program of publishing books about the hamlet’s history, including Historic Houses of Palisades, New York, and Palisades and Snedens Landing: The Twentieth Century. Recent committee members have included Ann Tonetti, Elena Morris, Tina Kister, Caroline Tapley, Mary Ellen Ledwith and Carol Knudson. The committee bought a map case for the library and helped to restore the gravestone of Jonathan Lawrence.

The committee took another recess from 2007 until this year, when we began to work again. Members today are Susy Felton, Harriet Hyams, Adriana Bartels, Blythe Chase, and Alice Gerard. All of us are impressed by the library’s excellent collection of photographs and local memorabilia, but aware that the library is very short of space for these materials. If any- one reading this has an extra room in their house and would like to fill it with historical materials, please get in touch with one of the members.