Hastings on Hudson did not officially become a village until 1879. This was late when compared to other communities in New York’s Westchester County. Even the local volunteer fire company is older.
With a population at the time of 1,228, the community was hardly new. It already had been farmland, a factory town and a country village, and this gave Hastings, about 20 miles north of Manhattan, a unique personality.
Along the Hudson River, workers and residents told time by the factory whistles. Mills were surrounded by modest homes, boarding houses and, according to some, the highest percentage of bars per capita in the country. The three treeless hills above the business district featured working farms, grand estates, summer houses for Manhattan residents and a growing number of homes for people who commuted regularly to New York City to conduct business.
The Hastings Name
The origin of the Hastings name is not known. Was it the name of an early settler? Did former residents of a lost 18th century Hastings along Long Island Sound bring the name with them?
The most popular explanation is that William Saunders, owner of the village’s first factory and a British immigrant, saw the Palisades, a steep line of cliffs, on the opposite side of the Hudson and was reminded of the cliffs at Hastings on England’s south coast. Until the early 20th century, the town was called Hastings-Upon-Hudson.
Hastings Early History
Arrowheads and ancient trails indicate that Native Americans once lived and hunted in the area. When the Dutch arrived during the 17th century, the land became part of the Philipse family holdings that stretched from what is today The Bronx, a borough of New York City but then part of Westchester County, to Croton, a community about 20 miles to the north.
The Philipse family sided with the British during the American Revolution. Their land was confiscated, divided and auctioned to speculators and local farmers after the war.
During the war, two local institutions – a blacksmith shop and Peter Post’s tavern — served both sides. During September 1778, Post overheard a barroom conversation about a raiding party of British-hired Hessian soldiers that was moving north in the area from just above New York City. He alerted the American forces about the march. A cavalry ambush trapped the mercenaries as they passed near the Edgar’s farm. Post was severely beaten by the British for his role in what has become known as The Battle of Edgar’s Lane. After the war, however, he became a major village landowner.
A less successful but more well-known land speculator was author Washington Irving. He owned most of today’s downtown Hastings from 1814 to 1817, but he lost money on the deal.
Industrial Progress in Hastings
Further into the 19th century, power generated by a stream and later by the Hudson River brought manufacturing to the area.
The railroad arrived during 1849, creating axle and cable mills, sugar refineries, marble and granite quarries, asphalt paving works and a chemical plant. Nearby, the Croton Aqueduct was built at about this same time, and it ran through the town to bring fresh water to Manhattan.
Home Of The Wizard of Oz
For more than 300 years, the village has attracted a variety of celebrity residents who lived among the factory workers and farmers.
Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian patriot, spent part of the summer of 1850 in the village. David Farragut, America’s first admiral, chose the village as a refuge for his wife during the Civil War.
During the 19th century, three painters – Carl Brandt from Germany, George Harvey from England and Jasper Cropsey from Staten Island – called Hastings home. John William Draper brought his family of scientists to the village during the 1840s, and one of his sons built two observatories there that advanced the use of photography in astronomy.
Photographer Lewis Hine, who documented the beauty and ugliness of the Industrial Age, and architect Richmond Shreve (Empire State Building) lived in Hastings. Other residents included impresario Florenz Ziegfeld and his wife Billie Burke (the good witch in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz), and the wizard himself, Frank Morgan. Cellist Leonard Rose, comedian Jonathan Winters and at least four winners of the Nobel Prize lived at one time or another in Hastings.
By 1930, 66 percent of Hastings 7,097 residents were foreign born, mostly from Eastern Europe or the British Isles. Now, with about the same population, 22 different languages are spoken in the streets and homes of Hastings, including Japanese, Korean and Mandarin.
A Museum In The Streets
Hastings on Hudson has preserved its history, or at least documented it, with a walking tour of the community developed by the Hastings Historical Society. The tour can be followed with the assistance of a brochure that takes visitors through the modern day streets, parks and waterfront.
Markers placed throughout the village include descriptions and archival photos of past days. Plaques that pay tribute to Revolutionary War and bicentennial events easily are found (several more can be located in the neighboring community of Dobbs Ferry), and a New York State historic sign marks the site of Edgar’s Farm and the skirmish that resulted from the tip of tavern owner Peter Post.