Chapter 4

The Reynolds and Innis Era

With the end of the War of 1812 in 1815, America’s economy started to expand once again. George Oakley, having survived the war years and seeing a good opportunity to turn a profit from interests in Upper Landing, sold part of his share of the business to George Reynolds and Aaron Innis on October 10, 1816. Oakley used this sale to fund the purchase of a blacksmith shop on the Fall Kill belonging to Stephen Hoyt, which he then converted to a cut-nail factory in 1817. The factory also employed a blacksmith, Samuel S. Howard, who provided other metalwork.

Despite Oakley’s continued experimentation and the steady management of the Hoffmans, Reynolds and Innis quickly became the driving force at Upper Landing. Shortly after buying into the business in 1816, they erected a new storehouse, which survived long enough to be remembered in photographs as the Fall Kill Store. In 1818, they acquired the Hoffmans’ grist mill, which had anchored business at Upper Landing since the 1700s.

Reynolds House and Fall Kill store
Reynolds House and Fall Kill Store

In addition to working as business partners, James Reynolds and Aaron Innis also became neighbors. Innis and his family moved into the Hoffman House. Reynolds moved into a three-story brick house, built between 1807 and 1810, just a few yards away.7 While the Reynolds family lived on the top two floors, the ground floor operated as an office and store from which Reynolds and Innis could entertain clients and sell goods from their various interests at the Upper Landing.8

This dynamic period of growth screeched to a halt in 1819, when a financial panic shook the nation’s economy. The causes of the panic were twofold: the government’s substantial debts from the War of 1812 began to make themselves felt (leading first to inflation and then widespread bank collapses), and European demand for American grain plummeted as the continent rebuilt from the Napoleonic Wars. The bad times were felt at the Upper Landing. The new Reynolds-Innis partnership was in part dissolved as control of the grist mill passed back to the Hoffman family. More disastrous, though, was the fate of George Oakley. Just before the panic, Oakley had invested in yet another new business venture: a ferry boat powered by a team of horses on a treadmill that would run between the Upper Landing and Highland Landing in (what was at the time) New Paltz. The venture was authorized by the New York State legislature in March, 1819. This investment appeared to have consumed much of Oakley’s money at the worst possible time. Two months after the legislature approved the ferry, Oakley was forced to run an advertisement in the Poughkeepsie Journal, stating that he:

Will commence selling by auction at his dwelling house, at 10 o’clock A.M. on Thursday the 13th inst. And will continue from day to day, till all is sold—the following articles, namely—a number of good BEDS, with their furniture—One elegant Sofa—one large Looking Glass, and several small ones—several Carpets—Dining and Tea Tables—a quantity of CHINA, GLASS & CROCKERY ware—one neat Marble CLOCK—one GOLD WATCH—One SILVER WATCH– … KITCHEN FURNITURE… Maps… books… PLEASURE WAGON AND HARNESS… Two MILCH COWS…, etc.9

A later advertisement claimed that Oakley was willing to sell the rest of his holdings at the Upper Landing “at a price suitable for the times.” This included the nail factory, several “dwelling houses,” a barn, an office building and the plaster, saw, and flour mills. The properties were sold off over the course of the next two years as Oakley searched for a source of cash.

Oakley’s loss was Reynolds’ and Innis’ gain. The two partners purchased most of Oakley’s properties at the Upper Landing save one grist mill, which was purchased by John Laemberger. The partners also took over Oakley’s interests in the horse-powered ferry company. The ferry, dubbed the Intercourse, began sailing out of the Upper Landing in 1819. According to The History of Dutchess County, the Intercourse replaced an earlier ferry that had been rowed by slaves. This improvement may have been driven by the changing landscape of freedom in early 19th century New York. In 1817, New York passed a law that promised to free the remaining slaves in the state by July 4, 1827, with emancipation being granted to slaves as they came of age.10 While the identities and ages of the slaves who worked the ferry remain unknown, the era of forced, unpaid labor was at last coming to a close. As such, a reliable replacement was needed, and the horse team ferry provided a fast-moving answer.

Horse Powered Ferry
Horse-Powered Ferry

With the successful launch of the ferry and their acquisition of his other business interests, Reynolds and Innis had largely replaced George Oakley as the dynamic force behind growth at the Upper Landing. Oakley’s involvement at the Upper Landing ended when the Middle District Bank foreclosed on his remaining holdings at the Upper Landing. On December 21, 1821, Oakley’s former plot was sold to Reynolds and Innis for $9,000. In the deed, the property was described as being:

“On northside of Fall Kill Creek at mouth… BEGINNING at southwest corner of the Dock and running east to east end of said dock… Then BEGINNING at southwest corner of water lot purchased by parties of the second part of George P. Oakley which lie at or near the southeast corner of Reynolds and Innis new house and running about east on a straight line to centre of creek under bridge at grist mill…”

Reynolds and Innis quickly set about improving their newly-acquired properties. In January of 1821, the two partners advertised the opening of a new mill, producing “superfine bolting cloth.” A later advertisement from July of that year listed Reynolds, Innis, and Jonathan C. Van Valkenburgh as owners of the sloop Counsellor, which likely docked at the Upper Landing. By 1823, the managers in charge of the ironworks and timber mill had been replaced, though it is unclear if they were evicted by Reynolds and Innis or left on their own accord. It is interesting that the new managers of these businesses, Samuel S. Howard and Horace Heath, advertised themselves as working at businesses “formerly belonging to Mr. G. P. Oakley” rather than mentioning Reynolds and Innis, possibly using a more familiar name to attract local customers.

In 1825, the [Nathan] Gifford, Reynolds & Innis Dyewoods company converted Martin Hoffman’s 1755 mill to a factory for the extraction of natural dyes from trees. Many of these species of trees were exotic, and were shipped in from South America and Africa. Once taken off the dock at the Upper Landing, the wood was hauled into the factory. There, it was processed to create dyes which could be used for paints and fabrics. This lucrative business remained a staple of industrial development at the Upper Landing for the duration of the 19th century.

7Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects, The Hoffman and Reynolds Houses: Historic Structure Report (Millbrook, NY: Dyson Foundation 2013). 

8Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects, The Hoffman and Reynolds Houses: Historic Structure Report (Millbrook, NY: Dyson Foundation 2013). Pg. 46.

9Advertisement, May 5, 1819 Poughkeepsie Journal

10New York passed two emancipation laws, one in 1799 and the other in 1817. The 1799 law promised freedom to all slaves born after July 4th of that year once they came of age (25 for women, 28 for men). The 1817 law extended freedom to those born before 1799 by 1827, however those born into slavery before 1827 were legally bound to their owners as apprentices until they turned 21 (the new age of majority for men and women). As such, African-Americans may have continued to live in legally unfree conditions until 1848. Patrick Rael, “The Long Death of Slavery,” in Slavery in New York, ed. Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris, pg. 124-128

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