The name AMENIA means “a pleasant place.” This name was coined by Dr. Thomas Young in 1762, when the Amenia Precinct was formed. Certainly, the picturesque views from DeLaVergne Hill and from Depot Hill Road confirm the appropriateness of the name, as do the pastoral scenes throughout the town.
Dr. Thomas Young arrived in Amenia around 1755 and married Mary Winegar, daughter of Capt. Garrett Winegar, of Amenia and Sharon, near Amenia Union. Dr. Young was not only a physician. He was a poet, known for his epic poem, “The Conquest of Quebec,” a writer of political pamphlets, and a Latin scholar, who also gave the State of Vermont its name. Young was an ardent patriot and a friend of the irreverent patriot, Ethan Allen of Salisbury, Connecticut.
Young is said to have been so impassioned for the cause of independence that he participated in the Boston Tea Party. But because he was not in “Indian” costume for the raid and was identified by the British, he had to flee for his life to Rhode Island. He later joined Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia at the military hospital there, treating wounded and sick soldiers. In 1777, he succumbed to a disease called “putrid fever,” which took his life within hours.
The Town of Amenia is proud to have had Dr. Thomas Young as one of its own citizens. Likewise, his daughter, Susanna Knies, is worthy of praise. Mrs. Knies lived at Amenia Union, aka Hitchcock’s Corners, and conducted a private school for girls. She died in 1801 and was buried in the Amenia Union Cemetery among other Winegar descendants buried there.
THE HAMLETS OF AMENIA
The original hamlet of Amenia, with its 1758 Red Meeting House and Old Burying Ground, was located a mile north of today’s Amenia. The present village, once known as Payne’s Corners, and later as Ameniaville, was established at the crossroads of the Dutchess Turnpike and the old Albany Post Road in the early 1800’s. The advent of the Amenia Seminary in 1835 and the railroad in 1851 contributed to the development of the town. Four churches, two hotels, a theater, The Amenia Times newspaper, established in 1852, and the influx of Irish immigrants all attest to Amenia’s growth in the 19th century.
The hamlet of Wassaic claims to have been the home of the first white settler of the area, Mr. Richard Sackett. Sackett died in 1746 and was buried near his cabin, which was located south of Wassiac, near the Steel Works. There was a forge at the Steel Works as early as 1770. Noah Gridley’s charcoal kilns and iron ore furnace, which began around 1825, developed the iron mining industry of the area. Gail Borden’s condensed milk factory, established in 1859, made Wassaic the center of the dairy industry in Amenia for at least 60 years.
Amenia Union was called Hitchcock’s Corners in the early 1800’s. The NY-CT boundary cut right through the center of the hamlet. There were two general stores, two blacksmith shops, two mills, two cemeteries, two schoolhouses, and a variety of small businesses. The Buckley iron foundry and a knitting factory were on the Connecticut side of the line, while the hotel and the churches were on the New York side of the line.
The hamlet of South Amenia, previously known as Cline’s Corners, had a gristmill and sawmill, a hotel, a tannery, a cupola furnace, two stores, and a hat factory during the 1800’s. The South Amenia Presbyterian Church began as Rev. Knibloe’s congregation at Amenia Union in 1759, but relocated further south in 1786 and again in 1881, at its present location.
Although it was a farming community, the hamlet of Smithfield was known as “The City” until 1889. It had a mill, a store and post office, a schoolhouse, a shoemaker’s shop, a cemetery, and a beautiful Greek Revival-style church, which still stands today. Because the church was located in the northwest corner of Amenia, the Smithfield congregation included families from the surrounding townships.
The hamlet of Leedsville, located east of the village of Amenia, on the Webutuck Creek, was a busy locale in the early 1800’s, with a woolen factory, a flouring mill, a schoolhouse, a store, and the first bank in the Amenia area. The Troutbeck estate of the Benton family was at the center of community life for the entire century.