Preface: The following letter was sent on February 11, 2010 to Carol Ash, then the Commissioner of New York State Parks. A reply to this letter was never received. Carol Ash resigned her position as commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, in September 2010, and took on a position as adviser to the Alliance for New York State Parks. She was replaced by Rose Harvey, who was nominated for this position in January 2011 and received confirmation for the position from the State Senate on March 8, 2011.
ADDRESS CHANGES. My original address for this letter was 848 South Grant St., Denver, CO, 80209; my address since April 2010 has been in NY; my address as of 7/15/12 is 126 Spring Valley St, Beacon, NY 12508. [Former addresses from 3/15/11 to 7/15/2011 was 242 Osborn Hill Rd, Fishkill NY 12524; followed by 81 Bowman Rd, Pine Plains, NY 12567].
Brian Altonen MS MPH
848 South Grant Street, Denver Colorado 80209
242 Osborn Hill Rd, Fishkill NY 12524
March 11, 2011
NY State Office of Parks
Recreation and Historic Preservation
Empire State Plaza
Agency Building 1
Albany NY, 12238
I am contacting you regarding the recent passage of H.R.1694 – Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act.
I am requesting that you seriously consider immediately implementing the projects needed to preserve the Fishkill Encampment site located in Fishkill, New York as a National Historical Preservation Site.
If there is some assistance needed by local communities in producing or writing the grants needed for this project, please feel free to contact me regarding this. If you are in need of validating or providing such evidence for this sort of action, I may be able to assist you with providing some of this information as well. I am also willing and able to produce a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) project into which important historical, maintenance and project management evidence could be stored, secured and maintained, such as in the Van Wyck Homestead or any other location of such choosing.
My background is as an epidemiologist and historian, whose 25 years plus of research experience is focused on the history of community health and medicine in Dutchess County, New York. Since 1981, I have been involved as a researcher, professor and writer in several college, university and local npo settings involved with this work. Most of the knowledge I apply to this work pertains to Colonial, Revolutionary War, and pre-1850 Post-War medical history of the Hudson Valley.
I believe we Hudson Valley historians have a golden opportunity to preserve a part of American history that hasn’t been preserved at any of the other Revolutionary War historical site locations. Therefore, I cannot emphasize enough the value of the Fishkill site for the preservation of this important part of United States history.
What makes the Fishkill Revolutionary War Historical Site unique is the size of the facilities established at the dawn of the War, its various purposes, and the value of each of these purposes to the overall War effort. I was first introduced to this concept as a child/boy scout raised in the Wappingers Falls-Fishkill setting, but began researching this topic more as a personal area of interest during my undergraduate and medical school years at SUNY Stony Brook. Since then, I have uncovered and determined a number of additional reasons why we should view the Fishkill historical site as a unique historical site, and why and how it should be preserved.
As you may recall, the Fishkill Encampment/Barracks/Depot site served the following major roles in the Revolutionary War:
- as one of the first and final places of passage and retreat for patriots and members of the government retreating from New York City following its occupation by the British in late fall of 1776.
- as an important storage Depot for foods, clothing, and other important war supplies such as clothing and blacksmithed iron products; this site was protected from British capture due to the highlands to the south and the well-fortified West Point portion of the Hudson River a few miles to the southwest;
- as an place for important supplies to be stored or developed regarding national transportation needs, where such supplies were produced, stored and kept, including a sizeable horse stall, horse feed and towage accessories for the horses with all the necessary supplies.
- as an encampments site for local recruits and various troops passing through this region for numerous military-related reasons;
- as an important hospital for the wounded and sick soldiers, with much needed medical supplies in storage and immediately available in large amounts during times of need;
- as a meeting and show place for important leaders and upper echelons from other countries, nations or governments who visited during the War;
- as part of an essential communication route established between successive military settings situated along the Hudson River (the Mount Beacon fire signals)
- to serve as a site where government officials could meet and where war plans could be developed and discussed by various middle and high ranking military leaders;
- to serve as a training facility for tactical training sessions, such as those designed by important international military leaders like Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben.
- to serve as an important site for espionage duties to be planned and administered on a per need basis (the tale of Enoch Crosby)
- to serve as an highly important place of additional military and medical support and protection for all military actions to be defined, developed and implemented for the Northern Department, including such as battles as the Battle of the Bunker Hill well to the north in Massachusetts, the Battle of White Plains immediately to the south, the victims of several skirmishes which took place in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and the Battle of Saratoga which ultimately led to British Surrender.
Still, one of the most important parts of the history of this location and its military facilities is the value this location served as a medical depot and hospital for the Northern Department. Other medical facilities are known to exist within the original Colonies and Revolutionary War settings, but none of these bear, or are capable of producing, as detailed a history of War medicine as the Fishkill Hospital. For the most part, these other facilities utilize a shared history related to an overall and fairly general understanding of history of medicine, injury and disease during the war, a history due mostly to well-documented medical leaders like John Morgan, William Shippen, Jr., James Tilton, and Benjamin Rush. What is lacking are the specifics of what took place at these facilities and the value that place and settings had on how these various medical events took place during the war.
For the Village of Fishkill and the Fishkill Hospital setting, we are provided with substantial amounts of information on this due to the local publication of the New York Packet, the region’s regularly published newspaper and the site of official printing press employed by the local government and military. There are also numerous state and local historical records, publications and archaeological remains that we can review as well. But the Fishkill site is also exceptional because it is standing on a fairly unaltered environmental setting (relatively speaking), with undiscovered artifacts yet to be uncovered. Therefore, an additional asset Fishkill provides to us with is derived from this “virgin territory”, i.e. we can reconstruct this site such that its bears an original ecological setting and its original appearance in terms of several building structures, in particular the Revolutionary War hospital.
The most important remaining tracts of land available for developing the Depot setting extend approximately from Route 9 to Monday Lane, and from Route 84 south along the eastern side of Route 9, to land just south of the southern boundary of the Dutchess Mall. Some preliminary archeological reviews of this region suggests that significant findings still exist in this area, with the most recent of these findings being a series of rediscovered unknown graves for Revolutionary War soldiers. Recent and past reviews of this area by myself personally also suggest to me that areas immediately south of the Dutchess Mall on Route 9, on both sides of this highway, along with a plot of land immediately west and north of the Dutchess County Mall parking facilities, several plots of land situated close to the local creek settings, and one heavily wooded section of land just across from the Clove Road, also are in need of re-evaluation regarding the presence of artifacts based on past historical claims.
It is my impression that several actions need to be taken for preserving this important part of local history. These changes require reclamation of lands located between Route 9 and Monday Lane, and a large plot of forested land extending from Route 84 south along Route 9 to property southwest of Willow lake (if not the previously suggested southwest bend in the highway). In the least, this forms a region that could be managed and maintained for a variety of uses, which are as follows:
- The establishment of a museum and/or library type setting with objects displayed and/or made available for researchers which are related directly to the roles this facility played in national Colonial and Revolutionary War history. For example:
- A photographic history of the area and all publications related to its history.
- A collection of artifacts and archeological remains related directly to this site and/or related areas of local historical interest which are somehow related to this site. (i.e. the Brinckerhoff house, Samuel Loudon’s building, Osborn’s homestead, Sword-craftsman J Bailey’s home, Washington’s Retreat in Newburgh, etc.)
- A collection of historical documents and books directly relevant to this sites and its historical significance. (I personally own a collection of medical books); a library with electronic versions of these books for students and researchers to peruse and study as a part of their visit.
- Further development of the lands immediately adjacent to the Van Wyck homestead setting, in such a way as to:
- Produce a colonial garden typical of this period in American history located next to or close to the homestead, preferably on two or more sides, with some parts designed to provide partial to total tree crown shading in order to increase the productivity and marketability of these garden settings.
- Produce a colonial garden typical of gardens developed as a part of the local medical services, such as those resembling the 18th century medical gardens noted in various facilities in England, and/or the medical gardens located in and around other Colonial settings like those in Boston, Philadelphia, or Virginia national preservation sites, and/or the local gardens established earlier in local history by such New York colonial/post-colonial medical botanists as John and William Bartram (Philadelphia), John Samuel Bard (NY), etc.; include with this garden an emphasis on local herbage related to local colonial/revolutionary war medical practice, Dr. Osborn, Cadwallader and Jane Colden, etc..
- Be sure to also include with both of these garden or semi-natural settings the most important species to pre-war, post-war and actual wartime related local or domestic plant medicine history, including coverage of the work of locally important medical botanists and naturalists like Samuel Mitchell and David Hosack.
- Re-survey and re-define land use potentials for these regions, including a re-investigation of the region by skilled local historians, archeologists, ethnologists, restoration experts, surveyors, and GIS specialists; produce a complete and accurate mapping or this place and neighboring regions for ongoing monitoring and land use management.
- Partially restore certain portions of the local wooded areas so as to include certain forms of foliage original to this setting (Pines, Oaks, Sugar Maple, Tulip Tree, Ironwood, Spicebush, Sassafras, etc; this activity could be carried out as one or several volunteer community and/or Boy Scout troop related activities. Establish trails across these areas. Such an process should include the following:
- Due to the building of the local Depot, hospital and other building settings, a number of important natural shade trees were essentially removed from this mixed deciduous-conifer ecological setting. Therefore, the re-establishment of a mixed conifer-deciduous tree setting typical for this area during the colonial period is recommended, i.e. by replanting Pines, Oaks, Tulip Tree, Maple, Spicebush, Sassafras, etc.. This should then be followed by the planting of ecologically-stable colonial plant species such as those found in typical “island” or unaltered ecological settings within the County.
- Establish a “Nature Walk” path(s), with certain locally important plants species re-established in this area in accordance with NY Department of Conservation recovery standards and policies. Produce outdoor education materials for these trails. (This activity mimics similar activities engaged in within the heavily urban setting of New York City’s Central Park.) Destination sites might include Willow Lake and/or the western face of the mountain range.
- Review the several open-space plots that exist. Based on open or barren space availability and proximity, these could be used to provide outdoor education programs adjacent to (east and north of) the Van Wyck home, and serve as an attraction for local elementary, middle and high school level education programs.
- Assuming adequate funding for the following plan could be developed, it would be ideal to establish a facility that resembles the original hospital setting of this site, or a hospital setting of similar caliber and nature in relation to the overall Fishkill Depot-Hospital site history. This hospital would essentially be a replica of a log-based or log-and-boards-based dwelling built for such purposes during the war. Such a facility would resemble and consist of the following.
- A standard four-corner, four-room log-cabin of square or oblong form, with floor plans resembling those of other such cabins documented for this period in history.
- A replica of the hospital defined and published two years into the War by James Tilton (history.amedd.army.mil/…/misc/evprev/ch3.htm). Although this facility may not resemble exactly the most likely facility to actually be raised in the Fishkill Encampment site, it is obviously an architectural work of actual Revolutionary War use and design; it therefore has a credibility similar to (or better for the skeptics) a traditional hospital setting as described above.
- Other buildings typical of these visitor’s include such essentials as adequate parking space, rest room facilities and a grounds maintenance storage facility. There are also optional facilities that may be constructed over time such as an an office building and/or gift shop setting, an amphitheater, a sheltered outdoor teaching facility, various outdoor picnic facilities, etc.
I would like to add at this point that I do not have a personally-vested interest in this project. This writing is a direct consequence of the information I have uncovered during the past 25 years that relates directly to the important role Fishkill encampment played in local history and the American Revolution. My request for restoring this historic preservation site is the direct consequence of several findings I made during these years, and my impressions of the importance of this site in local history with regard to the Revolutionary War.
What this country and many historians are unaware of is that there is a well-documented medical history of the Revolutionary War that can be better understood by a review of the life experiences, practice and writings of regimental surgeon and physician, Dr. Cornelius Osborn (1722/3-1782), of Fishkill, New York. Quite recently, we lost a valuable collection of Revolutionary War items due to the passing of a local historian and as he called himself, an “amateur” archaeologist. With this loss came the loss of an extremely valuable Physician’s Ledger produced by Stephen Thorne from 1770s to 1790s. Referred to in the first detailed review of Dutchess County medical history in 1906, (see 1909, Hasbrouck’s History of Dutchess County), this ledger was in the possession of a historian I met two decades ago, but disappeared soon after his death a couple of years back. Recently, it was put up for sale on the web (http://www.abaa.org/books/248230105.html), its origin uncertain. This means that Dr. Osborn’s vade mecum located at Adriance Library, Poughkeepsie, NY, is the most directly linked historical document that is local and can be directly related to the history of the Revolutionary War depot/hospital site and the practice of medicine.
The producer of this document, Dr. Osborn, resided quite close to the Fishkill site (cor. Osborn and Baxtertown) and from 1775 to 1782 served as a physician to the local public, as a regimental surgeon for George Washington’s Continental Army, and was one of the local administrators and/or service providers affiliated with the operations of the Fishkill Hospital and Depot. His work and efforts included actions directly related to a number of important local history characters or activities, ranging from the Marquis de Lafayette who possibly referred to him in passing in an indirect or implied manner, to his service with the Committee for Detecting Conspiracies, his assistance to spy Enoch Crosby, his skills as a physician serving sick prisoners in the local hospital, and his service as a personal physician for several important local staff members and national military leaders. Osborn’s role as a provider for the hospital site are also well documented in the NY historical documents/Revolutionary War papers series, including items detailing his role in obtaining local fodder supplies for horses and/or food supplies for the troops, and his role in placing orders for medical supplies needed during one or more of the local fever epidemic periods. Most importantly, Osborn’s familiarity with a significant number of local medicinal plants may (or may not) have a played a role in the apothecary and military hospital settings during the war.
Doctor Osborn’s most important role in local history and War medicine is due to the fact that he left us with a rare document, one that is unmatched by any other documents uncovered related to Revolutionary War history. Osborn left a vade mecum that he wrote just several years before the Revolutionary War. This 82 page recipe book provides us with valuable insights into how medicine and pharmacy were practiced in the local rural settings of Dutchess County, and the philosophy of such an undertaking. The attractiveness of tying this local Revolutionary War physician’s history together with the histories of all other local events involving the Revolutionary War makes it quite important to the overall importance of the Fishkill Depot/Encampment as a nationally recognized historical preservation site. This unique finding makes such a site exceptionally important to scholars and historians, as well as to local communities due to its potential impacts on the overall tourist industry.
There are several other local features about Fishkill that make this village and camp setting important to local history. Ongoing developments after the war demonstrate the overall social and cultural importance of this region to the state in general. One of Dr. Osborn’s sons was enrolled as a surgeon’s mate serving the local military following the War. His nephew Cornelius Remson, who moved in with this family soon after the war, served as a field surgeon in the War of 1812. These family members were all associated with Dr. Bartow White, MD., whose father was a regimental surgeon for a Westchester Regiment; Bartow himself became a Fishkill physician right at the time that licensure laws were established and attending schools became a requirement to become an MD, and he was later elected to serve as a Senator in the national congress. Of the various other local Fishkill physicians who were historically important during the Revolutionary War, most of them served the local military hospital but at least one served as ship surgeon on board the ship Montgomery at the time the British took control of New York City. The history of the Fishkill site is therefore linked to many important local events; not just a single (and to some, ‘small’) piece of American history.
We are most fortunate that much of the Fishkill Revolutionary War Depot site is still available and is well located for use as a historical preservation site. The proximity of this site to a major US highway and several heavily trafficked major state and county roads, and its location along already well-established Hudson Valley tourist routes, makes such use for this facility unmatchable–a one of a kind event in local history that for us historians makes each of us feel this opportunity must be taken full advantage of. For this reason, I believe the lands that I have described above must be considered and acquired for preservation in accordance with H.R.1694 – Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act. I would hope this land could be used to document and authenticate the various claims made about the local Fishkill hospital facility and the practice of medicine during the War, as well as the uniqueness of this particular part of local Revolutionary War history.
Brian Altonen MS MPH
848 South Grant Street
Denver, Colorado 80209
cc: Senator Charles E. Schumer
Leo O’Brien Building, Room 420
Albany, NY 12207