We consider "our" Buttermilk Falls as the first one noted in colonial times, as it was named by the Dutch as they sailed past on the future Hudson River in the early 17th Century. The sighting ofBoter Melck Val quite possibly caused settlement of the area, and the establishment of an active Mill at this location. Above on the left, the rendition of Buttermilk Falls was painted by local artist Glen Heberling and used with the permission of his son Eric.
An article appeared in 'The Newburg Times' in 1861
Edgar Alexander Mearns
Mearns was born to Alexander and Nancy Reliance Mearns née Clarswell. His grandfather Alexander was of Scottish origin and moved to Highland Falls in 1815. Edgar Alexander Mearns was educated in the Donald Highland Institute (Highland Falls) and attended the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons where he graduated in 1881.
Buttermilk Falls...our colorful past
Buttermilk Falls is the original name of the village of Highland Falls, which borders the West Point Military Academy. The Dutch, who were the first to settle in this area called this area Buttermilk Falls after the waterfall which descends into the Hudson River at this point. In the late 1800's when it came to be called Highland Falls. In 1906 it was incorporated under that name.
Famous people who lived in Highland Falls included John Pierpont Morgan who in 1871, purchased a home he called Cragston. While they were only summer residents, they maintained a dairy farm with local hired help running the farm in their absence. Frances Tracy Morgan, his wife, is the founder of the Highland Falls Library.
Revolutionary heroine Molly Corbin lived in Fort Montgomery, which together with the Village of Highland Falls and West Point Military Academy make up the Town of Highlands. Molly Corbin joined her husband John Corbin in November of 1776 when his regiment defended Fort Washington. Initially she carried water to the battlefield and is sometimes mixed up with Molly Pitcher whose real name was Molly Hays and fought in the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey. When Molly Corbin's husband who was firing a cannon was killed, she took over for him and fired the cannon until her own arm was torn apart with grape shot. When Fort Washington fell to the British, Molly Corbin was taken prisoner for a time.
John Burroughs, the naturalist made his home in Highland Falls for some time as did Alexander Mearns, another naturalist. John Bigelow, writer and journalist, was also a resident. He became the Minister of France during the Civil War.
John Bigelow's first home was in Highland Falls, a village on the Hudson River just south of West Point. It became known as "The Squirrels," for the money Bigelow had managed to squirrel away while working for the Post. At his home in Highland Falls he compiled his famed edition of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography based on an original manuscript he had acquired in Paris. It was here also that he housed much of his vast library, though it could only be accommodated through periodic additions to the home.
Benson Lossing described the town of Buttermilk Falls in 1866 in The Hudson From the Wilderness to the Sea:
"On the rough plain above (the falls) is the village of Buttermilk Fall, containing over three hundred inhabitants. The country around is exceedingly rough and picturesque, especially in the direction of Fort Montgomery, three or four miles below; while on the brow of the high river bank near, there are some pleasant summer residences. Among these was the dwelling of Mr. (John) Bigelow, then the associate of Mr. (William Cullen ) Bryant, the poet, in the ownership and conduct of the New York Evening Post, but since appointed, first the Secretary of the American Legation at the French Court in 1861, and afterward Minister Plenipotentiary at the same Court"
Lossing also described the actual falls in his book.
"At Cozzen’s Dock, (West Point) we procured a waterman, who took us to several places of interest in the vicinity. The first was Buttermilk Falls, half a mile below, on the same side of the river. Here a small stream comes rushing down the rocks in cascades and foaming rapids, falling more than a hundred feet in the course of as many yards. The chief fall, where the stream plunges into the river, is over a sloping granite rock. It spreads out into a broad sheet of milk-white foam, which suggested its name to the Dutch skippers, and they called it Boter Melck Val - Buttermilk Fall. The stream affords water power for flour mills at the brink of the river. The fall is so great, that by a series of overshot water-wheels, arranged at different altitudes, a small quantity of water does marvellous execution. Large vessels come alongside the elevator on the river front, and there discharge cargoes of wheat and take in cargoes of flour.
Rude paths and bridges are so constructed that visitors may view the great fall and the cascades above from many points. The latter have a grand and wild aspect when the stream is brimful, after heavy rains and the melting of snows."