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Nyack People & Places

How Clausland Mountain Got Its Name

Clausland Mountain, located between Nyack and Sparkill, is named after a Native American who took on the Dutch name Jan Claus. Despite its geographical prominence, Clausland Mountain receives less attention than Hook Mountain. The area remained relatively unpopulated through the 19th century due to the unsuitability of the land for farming. It served a military purpose during WWI and WWII and a Nike missile base soon after WWII. Today, it is a suburban wilderness with numerous trails for hiking, biking, and snowshoeing. Let’s take a short look at the Clausland Mountain area, early uses of the name, and then, why Jan Claus was important enough to have a mountain named after him. 

Detail from the Historical Society of Rockland County’s Clare K. Tholl Landmark Map of Rockland County. The yellow route is the old Kings Highway, red is the Palisades Parkway, and green is Route 303. Clausland Mountain is demarcated on the map as a separate hilltop. Just to the west is the Clausland Cemetery and the area known as “Clausville”. The entire map is available from the society.

Clausland Mountain Area

Very early 19th century map of Clausland Mountain area. The Hudson River is on the right Greenbush Road lies to the west and River Road to the east. No road is shown crossing the area. Nyack is a tiny village.

Clausland Mountain is a long chain of hills atop the Palisades between Nyack and Sparkill. The mountain forms a natural barrier between the Hudson River and the western interior of lower Rockland County. Since the land was not suitable for farming, it remained relatively unpopulated through the 19th century. Only Clausland Mountain Road crossed this remote area until Boss Tweed built a road, now known as Tweed Boulevard, to connect New Jersey with a proposed hotel atop Hook Mountain.

1969 protest on Tweed Boulevard over the proposed sale of Columbia University property to developers. Photo by Sally Savage

 During Nyack’s resort era in the latter 19th century, hiking and horse-riding trails wound over the uninhabited mountains especially the southern part. Travelers came from far and wide to visit Balance Rock, one of the largest hilltop erratic boulders in the area. Numerous land donations preserved much acreage and there were preservation battles when Columbia University wanted to sell land for residential development in 1969. Today, some 1,000 acres remain relatively undisturbed.

Parkland

Photo of Camp Bluefields during WWI. Clausland Mountain is in the background

The area encompasses a state park, three Rockland County parks, and three town parks. Its a suburban wilderness that includes Buttermilk Falls, an area once known as Wolf’s Glen, the beginning of the northern fork of Sparkill Creek, and a small tributary to the Hackensack River. The property has served a military purpose more than once. Camp Bluefields on the western slope of the mountain became an infantry training camp during WWI. Local citizenry staffed a World War II observation tower built on the southernmost hilltop. Soon after WWII, a Nike missile base replaced the observation tower. Hikers thrill at finding the remains of the military days including the graffiti-laden rifle target tunnel and the rusted base of a radar globe atop its highest point. At the missile site, huge watchfires blaze on Memorial Day every year.

In addition to the abuses of a military presence, the area has survived the dumping of cars, bodies, trash, pets, and trapped animals. 

Hiking, Biking, & Snowshoeing Mecca

Numerous trails crisscross Clausland Mountain including the blue-blazed Long Path that leads to Hook Mountain and the Ramapo Mountains. This segment of the Long Path stretches from Rockland Cemetery on the southern slopes through Tackamack Park to Central Nyack. New York City is visible from several places along the trail. 

The Palisades Mountain Bike group built and maintains a mountain bike route in the Blauvelt State Park section. Road cyclists enjoy the challenge of steep slopes on Bradley Parkway and Tweed Boulevard. During snow winters, the blazed hiking paths offer a chance to experience the winter quiet of the mountain.

When Was It Named Clausland Mountain?

An early map naming the entire range from Piermont to Nyack Clausland Mountain circa 1850

One of the earliest recorded usages of Clausland Mountain occurs in the 1854 map of Rockland County. Newspapers start using the name Clausland Mountain in the 1880s. Historian George Budke notes that Dutch settlers used the term Clausville to refer to the settlement along the south west slope.

Map by George Budke showing known native American sites. One site is near the Clausland Cemetery at the bend in Kings Highway and another is at the foot of Clausland Mountain Road.

Clausland Cemetery, located in the area of Clausville on Greenbush Road, is one of Rockland’s oldest cemeteries. The cemetery dates to the early 18th century and perhaps to the days of the first settlement of the Tappan Patent along the upper Hackensack River.

Historical marker at Clausland Cemetery on Greenbush Road

What Are We To Make of Claus?

Historical records of Claus or Towachkack are extremely limited, yet historians have formed different portraits of the man based on their own research. In these views, Claus emerges as a peacemaker, con man, noble savage, chieftain, and farmer.

Peacemaker and Statesman

In the First Manhattans, Robert Grumet identifies a man called Claes de Wilt, aka Claes the Indian, aka Towachkach (or Tackamack). He was a member of the Wiekuesecks of Westchester County. Grumet states that Claes the Indian, was a translator and statesman who witnessed the second Bronx deed of 1685, signed at least four deeds in Westchester, signed or witnessed at least seven more deeds on the western side of the Hudson River, and attended high-level peace meetings including one in New Amsterdam that included the Tappans.

Con Man/Drunkard

Wilfred Talman in How Things Began depicts Claus as a Wiekueseck who along with many of his tribesman lost his homeland during an early incursion by the northerly Mohawks. Having survived that raid, Claus goes on to sign several deeds starting in 1639. In Talman’s view, Claus was a “clever Indian,” there “with his hand out – or perhaps with his tongue out” trading land multiple times for drink.

The Noble Savage

George Budke in Indian Deeds declares that Claus was a resident Tappan “brave” who was well known among white settlers, hence the given name, Jan Claus. He united with other Tappans and Hackensacks in selling the Tappan tract. Later, when De Hart purchased land north of the Tappan tract, Claus was one of the named “savages” who didn’t sign the conveyance. Budke suggests Claus’ nobility of character, at least as viewed by settlers, was the reason why the northern Hackensack River Valley was called Clausville and the mountain, Clausland.

Chieftain

In The Munsees, John Solomon identifies Claus as a chieftain of the “aborigines” while labeling other multiple deed signers like Assowaka of Tappan as fake “sachems.” Claus’ name appears in many deeds whether he signed or not.

Farmer/landowner

Win Perry, in an article on the LaRoue-Ackerman Patent of 1678, uncovers a new detail about Claus. This Patent conveyed the land from Nyack to Piermont, from shoreline to the top of the surrounding Hills. One location, identified as “little Claes the Indian’s Plantation”, appears as a marker in the patent survey.

Which One Was the Real Claus?

A good argument might be made that Claus is a bit of all the above. His adoption of a Western name indicates he was a culture broker between Native Americans and settlers. He spoke several languages and attended many critical negotiations.His “tribal” origin is unknowable. In the upheaval of the times, movement from one place to another was the norm.

Perhaps we are left to contemplate two things about Claus: a commanding presence who for a while lived on the Hudson River beneath mountains that later bore his name; and a trans-cultural individual who signed deeds with an eco-glyph of twin peaks. It is fitting that we honor him in retaining the name, Clausland Mountain.

Sources

George H. Budke, Indian Deeds 1630-1748, NY Public Library, 1975
Winston C. Perry Jr., The Laroe-Ackerman Patent of 1678, South of the Mountains Vol. 4, 1997
Wilfred Blanch Talman, How Things Began in Rockland County and Places Nearby, The Historical Society of Rockland County, 1977
John Harris Salomon, Indians of the Lower Hudson Region: The Munsee, Historical Society of Rockland, 1982
Robert S. Grumet, First Manhattans, A History of the Indians of Greater New York, University of Oklahoma Press, 2011

Michael Hays is a 35-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has recently retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Hays is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by Sun River Health.

 


Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.


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