A Short Overview of Palisades History

The recorded history of Palisades, NY begins in 1685, when Dr. George Lockhart bought 3410 acres of land along the west bank of the Hudson River. Two years later he sold the property to George Merritt, who soon afterwards built a house called Cheer Hall on the shore. In 1702 the population of the small settlement was 14 people, 8 of them slaves, living in two houses by the river.

Merritt sold his land to Captain John Corbett in 1705. In 1737 Henry Ludlow, the husband of Corbett’s daughter Mary, built the Big House at the top of the hill. In 1742 Robert Sneden, who was running a ferry across the Hudson with his brother-in-law Jan Dobbs, purchased 120 acres of land and Cheer Hall. Robert died before 1756 and his widow Molly Sneden took over the ferry with the help of her seven sons.

A few houses were built on Closter Road, the main route south to more heavily settled New Jersey. By 1750 the population of Palisades may have been as high as 75. At this time the hamlet was referred to as Rockland, Dobbs Ferry, or Snedens Landing.

During the Revolution the community was divided between Patriots and Tories. In 1776 all the Snedens except for John were barred, as Tories, from operating the ferry. Some of the family went to New York for the duration of the war; some chose to resettle in Nova Scotia. John ran the ferry during the war; Snedens continued to run the ferry until the beginning of the 20th century.

New settlers came to Palisades. Abraham Post bought land in the western part of the village in 1765 and planted fruit trees. George Mann built a stone house on Washington Spring Road in 1784. Nicholas Gesner built a wooden house on Closter Road in 1794.

By 1800 Palisades had a population of 114 people. It was a community of mostly self-sufficient farmers, fishermen and boat-builders. By mid century there were several stores and the economy was becoming more dependent on cash and outside jobs. A factory at the waterfall made bone meal from dead mules and horses; a quarry by the river cut sandstone for house building.

The first schoolhouse was built on Closter Road in 1825. A small Methodist church was erected in 1832. In 1836 Oak Tree Road, connecting our village to Tappan, was completed. But the development of the railroad and the steamship devastated the local economy. Shipbuilding decreased, and it was difficult to send local produce to New York because the water at the landing wasn’t deep enough for the steamships to stop here.

In 1855 the first post office was established and Palisades became the official name. A new Methodist Church was built in 1859 and a Presbyterian Church in 1863. A new school was built on Oak Tree Road in 1870; in 1971 this building, no longer used for classes, became the Community Center. Much of what we know about this period comes from the diary of Nicholas Gesner, which records his life between 1829 and 1850.

By the 1870s the convenience of railroad travel had led a number of wealthy New Yorkers to settle, at least seasonally, in Palisades. They bought up local properties and employed local residents to work on their estates. Among them were the Lawrences, Agnews, Parks, and Gilmans. They also became involved in community affairs; Mrs. Lawrence started a library in the Ding-Dong House in 1891. In 1899 it moved up the hill to the Big House. Winthrop Gilman was active in building the Presbyterian Church and in collecting local history materials.

At the beginning of the new century cars and telephones began to appear in the community. By 1910 there were 75 households and close to 400 people living in Palisades. Local industries included James Post’s general store and livery stable on Closter Road, Sam Brown’s florist business, and various blacksmith shops. Town water was first piped in 1910. Electricity arrived in 1920 and Route 9W was built in 1929.

By 1920 Mary Lawrence Tonetti, who had inherited property in the Landing when her mother Margaret Lawrence died, was beginning to rent — for low prices — houses to friends who were actors, artists, writers, and musicians. The Snedens Landing area of Palisades became known as an artists’ community. The rest of the village also expanded as more houses were build. In 1936 a new brick schoolhouse was erected on Oak Tree Road across from the old schoolhouse. In 1935 Tippy O’Neill started an auction house, Yonderhill, in the former Methodist Church.

The period after World War II brought major changes to Palisades. In 1949 the Thomas Lamont estate was given to Columbia University and became Lamont Geophysical Observatory. Several developments were built on Oak Tree and Closter Roads. The Palisades Library moved into its present home in 1953 and has been expanded several times since then. The Palisades Parkway cut through the village in 1955. In 1957 the South Orangetown School district was created and our local school closed in 1976. In 1961 a new post office, the present one, was erected. In 1963 our library became part of the Ramapo-Catskill Library system. In 1965 the Palisades Swim Club was launched by Nellie Knudsen. Palisades Gardens, a residence for senior citizens, opened in 1970 on Oak Tree Road; it is now the Esplanade. In 1989 the IBM Conference Center opened on 9W. The community newsletter 10964 published its first issue in 1977.

Palisades continues to grow; according to the Palisades Post Office, it now consists of 640 households. Many new houses have been built in the last 20 years, and they seem to be getting larger and larger. But Palisades remains a small, attractive, community, largely composed of one-family homes, with undeveloped woodlands to the north and south of a good portion of the village. The library, the church, and the post office are still centers of community participation; the village newsletter, 10964, keeps us all in touch.