It began with the Cochecton Turnpike (today’s Route 17K) that opened western markets for the little port of Newburgh. Cochecton is a town in Sullivan County along the Delaware River. It was the seasonal “hunting home” of the Munsee Indians who populated our side of the Hudson Valley before white settlers came. At Cochecton, a Munsee word (K’schiechton) meaning “a place where land is washed by water” was a spot where the Delaware River washed its shoreline into a little valley with good river landings and abundant natural resources. Having a road to connect The Hudson to the Delaware meant having a way to trade with the western territories at the turn of the 19th century. Before Newburgh was settled in 1709, farming towns had developed inland and along the Wallkill River that runs from New Jersey north through Orange and Ulster Counties.
During the early years of the nineteenth century, the Hudson Valley was the “breadbasket of the United States,” which was one historian’s way of describing the rise of commercial agriculture. A high demand for American foodstuffs by Europe led thousands of farmers to migrate to New York, taking advantage of the fertile land west of the Hudson River and a close proximity to the markets of New York City.
Fall foliage is just passing its splendid peak of perfect colors. Anyone I walk or ride with can’t help pointing to an especially vibrant shade of red or orange as leaves flutter to the ground. It is a time when, despite the need to conserve fuel and avoid gas expenses, people can’t help one or two rides into the countryside. When relatives from abroad visited recently and wanted to take a short trip to test out their rental car, they went west along the two-lane highways that pass hills and farms and reveal the beauty of Orange County. They came back amazed at the extent of our natural resources.