The Dutch Roots of Ithaca’s Dey Street

By Patricia Longoria

Dey St sign 4 19 2017

On the northwestern edge of Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood, a turn from busy State Route 13 (North Meadow Street) leads to tree-lined Dey Street. Only three blocks long, the street has a relaxed, neighborhood vibe. Its tidy late-Victorian homes sit close to the street on narrow lots.

Dey St Cottages vert 4 19 2017

At one end, where Dey Street and Auburn Street meet at an acute angle, a V-shaped pocket park offers a shaded reminder to slow down and enjoy the day. On an early spring afternoon, kids play a game of baseball. Younger children shriek happily as they launch from a swing and climb on the play structure.

A three-story brick building, once home to the Ithaca Calendar Clock Company, dominates the block across from the park. The former factory currently houses a music store. From it drift the high squeak of a music student’s brass instrument and a jazz duo’s low bass strum.

Manhattan’s Dey Street

More than 200 miles southeast of Ithaca, in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, another street carries the same name. Dey Street runs between Broadway and Church Street just a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center. The narrow thoroughfare is only a block long. Much of the street’s pedestrian traffic flows underground through the Dey Street Concourse, where commuters can access multiple subway and rail lines.[1]

Though hundreds of miles apart, both streets were named for the Dutch Dey family who arrived in colonial New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. The Deys were politically and socially prominent landowners and merchants. By 1750, Manhattan’s Dey Street was laid out as a rural road bisecting the Dey family’s five-and-a-half acre farm.[2] The property extended to the Hudson River.

Jane Dey (1728-1810) and her husband John Varick (1730-1809) inherited several lots along Dey Street in 1764.[3] It was the Varicks’ daughter Jane who made the Dey family’s Ithaca connection.

In 1799, Jane Dey Varick Hardenberg (1760-1808), by then a widow,[4] married New York Surveyor General Simeon DeWitt (1756-1834), himself a widower. The couple lived in Albany, but by the time of their marriage DeWitt owned more than 1,000 acres in Ithaca, then known as Ulysses (Military Tract township Number 22).[5]

Ithaca’s Dey Street is Named

At the end of 1834, Simeon DeWitt died in Ithaca. Richard Varick DeWitt (1800-1868)[6]—Simeon DeWitt and Jane Varick DeWitt’s oldest son—managed the sale of his father’s extensive Ithaca property. Richard, along with two other commissioners, divided the DeWitt estate into lots.

They laid out and named a host of new streets in what would later become Ithaca’s Northside and Fall Creek neighborhoods. The prosaic First through Seventh streets paralleled Cascadilla Creek. The Founding Father streets included Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Madison. The New York state governor streets of Yates, Tompkins, and Lewis were sandwiched between streets named for first Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay and fourth Chief Justice John Marshall. The resulting 1836 map was the first to show Dey Street named and laid out, running diagonally to Railroad Avenue and next to the aptly named Short Street.

Map of Ithaca 1836 screen capture

Dey Street and some of the other roads in the new section of Ithaca deviated from the north-south and east-west orientation of older streets. But, for the most part, Richard followed his father’s surveying model, with an ordered, grid-like pattern of streets.

On an earlier map made in 1831, Simeon DeWitt had acknowledged his wife’s father’s family by naming Varick Street (now Park Place) along a public park. Richard’s uncle and namesake, Richard Varick (1753-1831), was mayor of New York City in the first decade after American independence.

Similarly, Richard chose to recognize his mother’s Dey ancestors with the naming of Dey Street. The names of political figures imbued the raw, young village’s planned streets—most of them rough dirt tracks—with a sense of patriotism and history. The Dey name evoked Revolutionary War heroes and leaders of the early republic.

Thus mapped, Dey Street in Ithaca marked the legacy of a Dutch American family whose members fought to build a new nation and invested in (gambled on?) an upstate New York region brimming with confidence in its future prosperity.

However, Richard Varick DeWitt and the investors who purchased his father’s lots could not have known that this optimism would soon be challenged. The Panic of 1837 touched off a decades-long financial recession that depressed real estate prices and forced some of the DeWitt estate buyers into bankruptcy. It would be almost four decades before Dey Street buzzed with the electric energy of a successful commercial enterprise when the Ithaca Calendar Clock Company built its three-story brick factory there at the start of Ithaca’s industrial boom.

Ithaca Calendar Clock Company THC
On what is today the northern third section of Dey Street, the county fairgrounds’ exhibit hall once bordered a horse-racing track. The Ithaca Calendar Clock Company bought the fairgrounds from the Tompkins County Agricultural Society and built its factory on part of this property in 1875. The original building burned down the next year but was rebuilt. (Photo used with permission from The History Center in Tompkins County)
PHOTO Norton Cottages Dey St ca 1884
Dey Street was no more than a weed-choked, dirt track in the mid-1880s. By 1884, these six identical “Norton cottages” had been built across from the Ithaca Calendar Clock Company factory. James Norton ran a grocery store at the corner of Dey and Adams streets, and he and his wife Elizabeth Norton owned the nearby lots. Most of the first residents of the Norton cottages were families of workers employed at the Ithaca Glass Works at Third and Franklin streets. (Photo used with permission from The History Center in Tompkins County)

 

Pat SunPatricia Longoria is deputy historian of the Village of Cayuga Heights and coordinator of the Names on the Land–Tompkins County project. Pat has been an editor and writer in educational publishing for more than two decades. Her archival research and graduate training in Latin American history translate surprisingly well to deciphering the spidery handwriting on old property deeds, puzzling out the family trees of early Tompkins County residents, and finding names on historical maps. 

ENDNOTES

[1] “Fulton Center Connection to World Trade Center PATH Station to Open Thursday; New Access Point Links 9 Subway Lines with Port Authority Trans-Hudson Rail Service,” MTA Press Release, May 25, 2016.

[2] Treman, Ebenezer Mack. History of the Treman, Tremaine, Truman Family, Vol. 1, Press of the Ithaca democrat, Ithaca, 1901, pp. 743-744 and pp. 755-756.

[3] “Abstracts of Wills on File in the Surrogate’s Office, City of New York, Vol. VI, 1760-1766, With Letters of Administration Granted 1760-1766,” in “Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1897,” New York, 1897, pp. 321-322.

[4] “DIED, in this city, in the 37th year of his age, Maj. Abraham Hardenberg, one of the officers of the late American army.” Columbian Gazetteer, New York, New York, October 13, 1794. Birth and death dates for Jane V.H. DeWitt confirmed in Reynolds, Cuyler (ed.). Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, Vol. 1, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, 1911, p. 366. (Same source says that Jane was the sister of Revolutionary War Colonel Richard Varick, who served as mayor of New York.) Death date confirmed in U.S., Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930. Find A Grave lists her birth date incorrectly as 1784 and death date as 1808. New Jersey, Marriage Records, 1683-1802 lists her marriage to Abraham Hardenburgh (Ulster, NY) as 22 January 1784. US, Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930: “Hardenberg, Abraham, Maj., officer of American Army, d. at New York (C.C. Oct. 18, 1794).” The Seward Family Digital Archive includes Jane, “d. 1808, widow of Abraham Hardenbergh [1756-1794].” https://sewardproject.org/person-public-fields/5270.

[5] Heidt, William. Simeon DeWitt; Founder of Ithaca, DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County, Ithaca, 1968, p. VII and pp. 21-23.

[6] Treman, p. 791.

A Tavern at the Corners: The Van Dorns of Enfield, New York

By Deborah Martin-Plugh

In 1821, in the first year of the Town of Enfield’s establishment, 27-year-old Peter Van Dorn built a tavern on Mecklenburg Road (State Route 79) on what was then known as the Catskill Turnpike. A New York state historic marker stands on the site. The road that runs north and south past Peter Van Dorn’s inn was subsequently named Van Dorn Road.

Peter Van Dorn (1793-1866) and Mary Irwin (1789-1834) of Enfield, New York

Peter Van Dorn of Ithaca
Peter Van Dorn. Image is from The van Doorn Family in Holland and America (1909). It was submitted to the compiler by Peter’s son John.

Born on the Van Doren family farm in Peapack, Somerset County, New Jersey, in 1793, Peter was one of eight children of wealthy farmer Jacob William Van Doren and his wife Margaret Hunt.

According to The van Doorn Family (Van Doorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, Etc.) in Holland and America, the original name “van Doorn” has been estimated to date back as early as 1088 in Holland. Almost without variation it continues to be the form of the name in general use in the Netherlands, particularly in the region of Utrecht.

The first van Doorn to arrive in the New World was Christianse Pieterszen van Doorn, who settled in New Amsterdam in the 1650s. His son Jacob moved to New Jersey from New Amsterdam and within a generation or two the surname had been modified to Van Doren. At one time the large Van Doren family held some of the richest farmlands in New Jersey. In modern-day Somerset County, the Van Dorn/Doren/Doorn name remains a notable historic family name.[1]

New York state was developing steadily in the late 1700s and early 1800s. By 1818 Peter Van Dorn had sold off his New Jersey holdings and purchased 52 acres of land in Enfield (then Ulysses) and by 1821 moved his wife Mary and young children–daughters Deborah and Mary (my maternal two-times great-grandmother) and son John to their new home above Cayuga Lake.

The Military Townships

Many Revolutionary War soldiers were given land grants when it became impossible to pay them with redeemable currency. Using a lottery system, the government issued Revolutionary War veterans land in 1782 in the Finger Lakes region of central New York, which included 28 townships in the present counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Cortland, Oswego, Wayne, Schuyler, and Tompkins.[2] After being separated from the town of Ulysses in late 1820, Enfield was formed in 1821 from 36 lots of the southern portion of Ulysses, Military Township Lot No. 22.[3]

The Town of Enfield is located on the west-central border of Tompkins County and is bordered on the east by the Town of Ithaca, on the north by the Town of Ulysses, on the west by the Town of Hector in Schuyler County, and on the south by the Town of Newfield. A sketch of Enfield in the 1894 publication Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York describes the terrain:

“The surface rises to a mean elevation of from 500 to 700 feet above the lake and is diversified by rolling slopes and level tracts. The soil is principally a gravelly loam adapted to grain and grass growing. The town contains 23,086 acres, of which nearly or quite 20,000 acres are improved. The principal stream is Five Mile Creek, which has its rise in the northwest part of the town and flows southeasterly, receiving the waters of several smaller streams, and in the southeast part enters a deep gorge over a precipice, forming one of the many beautiful cascades in this region, called Enfield Falls. Above the falls the ravine presents many scenes of great natural beauty, and its wild and picturesque scenery has commanded the admiration of the many who have visited it.”[4]

Once in Enfield, Peter and Mary Van Dorn welcomed more children into their household: sons William, Charles H., Norman, and Thomas Jefferson and, finally, daughter Margaret. The Van Dorns had left behind the established farms, schools, churches, and social life of Somerset County to become part of the dynamic environment of pioneer life in Enfield, New York. A good number of Peter’s kin settled around Cayuga Lake as well. Van Doren, Van Dorn, and Dorn families are found in the earliest records.

The Tavern as a Hub of Social and Political Life

The ensuing decades were ones of challenge for the Peter Van Dorn family and our young country. Van Dorn Corners Tavern and the Peter Van Dorn family were an important part of American history.

A passage in the Enfield History Book published in 2002 by the Enfield Historical Society reveals a unique insight into the inn’s local history:

“Van Dorn’s Tavern is also only described in its last years. It was situated on the south side of Mecklenburg Road and had a barn associated with it. The barn had hidden basement rooms where stolen horses were rumored to be kept and before them, escaping slaves. It was torn down in 1916.”[5]

1847 Poco Loco conference article Van Dorn Tavern w bannerThe tavern was a center of social and political activity during the economic and political turbulence of the 1840s. An article in the Ithaca Daily Chronicle dated September 24, 1847 reported on the Loco Foco Party convention held at “Van Dorn’s in Enfield.” The Loco Focos were a faction of Jacksonian Democrats based in New York state that favored free trade and generally opposed policies that they deemed anti-democratic or in favor of special privilege. Another piece published in January 1848 describes a Loco Foco resolution that sports such lofty language about “demagoguery and democracy” that it fairly rattles the spirit.

Active in local politics himself, Peter was a delegate at the Radical Democratic convention held in Ithaca on September 22, 1849. As reported in an article in the Ithaca Journal published on Wednesday, September 26, 1849, attendees were from all over Tompkins County and were “opposed in the extension of slavery over territory now free, and in favor of its prohibition therein by an act of Congress.”[6] Peter also played a role in Enfield’s civic life as Enfield supervisor in 1855 and overseer of the poor in 1858. He was also a U.S. postmaster and a merchant.

The tavern was not just a way stop for weary horses and drivers, buggies, cutters, and their passengers and for the drovers and their cattle along the rough, muddy challenge of the old turnpike; it was full of the lives of the citizens along the lake. It was a place where neighbors picked up their mail, dropped off their produce to sell to the turnpike travelers, and exchanged news and ideas.

Van_Dorn_Tavern-Henry_Waite
This is the only known image of Van Dorn Tavern. The author’s distant cousin had this among his grandmother’s photos. Bertha Van Dorn and her husband Henry Waite “motored” to Ithaca to visit her Van Dorn cousins and stopped to take a photo before the building was razed.

After Peter’s death in 1866, operations of the tavern were taken over by my great-great-grandfather Oliver S. Williams, Peter’s son-in-law. Oliver ran the tavern and livery until sometime in the 1870s with one of his sons-in-law, Albert Johnson. When Oliver died in 1888, his wife Mary Van Dorn Williams was the last of the family to own the inn before the property was sold out of the family.

In 1917, after the recent razing of the old inn, one of Peter’s great-granddaughters fondly recalled the family story of the Van Dorn Inn and Peter Van Dorn in an article in the Ithaca Daily News:

“With the razing of the old Van Dorn Hotel a famous landmark is gone forever. In its day, noted for its cuisine and fine hospitality, many famous gatherings have been held under its roof and many noted personages have stayed there. . . . Peter was a fine judge of horses and fitted them for the New York market. He was a gentleman of the old school, a firm believer in right and wrong and a zealous churchgoer. He helped to build the church at Kennedy Corners which recently burned and reserved and held the title deeds to three pews for himself.”[7]

Peter Van Dorn and his wife Mary are buried in Christian Cemetery in Enfield in the family plot with their daughters Deborah (widow of Samuel Burlew and Obadiah Chase) and Margaret (widow of Samuel H. Holmes) and Mary Van Dorn Williams and her husband Oliver S. Williams (my maternal two-times great-grandparents).

Christian Cemetery Van Dorn Wide View
Van Dorn headstones at Christian Cemetery, Enfield, New York.

DJMP photoDeborah J. Martin-Plugh is the 3rd-great-granddaughter of Peter Van Dorn and Mary Irwin and author, contributing writer, historian, and genealogical researcher. Born in Ithaca, New York, Martin-Plugh has roots that run deep in Tompkins County, including pioneer settler ancestors Peter Van Dorn, Samuel Weyburn, Samuel Ingersoll, Lewis Purdy, Dr. Parvis Austin Williams, Ira Smith, John Learn, John R. Case, John Bowker, and Jacob Powers. Genealogy without history is just a list of names and dates, and so Deborah’s blog was born to tell the story: www.ginkwell.com.

ENDNOTES

[1] Honeyman, A. Van Doren. The van Doorn family (VanDoorn, Van Dorn, Van Doren, etc.) in Holland and America, 1088-1908. Honeyman’s Publishing House, 1909, Plainfield, NJ.

[2] Hall, C. Edith. Early History of Military Tract. Monograph, NEHGS Library and Adirondack Research Library Collection/Union College, no date, Baldwinsville, NY.

[3] Pierce, Grace M. “The Military Tract of New York State,” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 40, No. 1, January 1909: 15-22; Ferris, M. Frances (compiler). Index. The balloting book and other documents relating to military bounty lands in the state of New York. New York Secretary of State, 1825, Albany, NY.

[4] Selkreg, John H., ed. Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York. D. Mason & Company, 1894, Syracuse.

[5] Thompson, Sue, ed. The Town of Enfield, New York; Christian Hill to Enfield, Enfield Historical Society, 2002: 49.

[6] “Radical Democratic Convention,” Ithaca Journal, Vol. XXXIV, No. 13, September 23, 1849.

[7] “Van Dorn Inn, Enfield, Was Historic Landmark,” Ithaca Daily News, October 26, 1917.

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