Local Residents are about to experience a full year of Bicentennial celebrations for the establishment of Putnam County from the lands of Dutchess County in 1812. That year was momentous for Putnam because it also marked the beginning of the War of 1812 and because it was the year that Putnam County Sheriff’s Department was founded.
OK. What exactly does all that mean? To begin, the word “bicentennial” is used to describe the 200th anniversary of a significant event. To an archaeologist, 200 years is so insignificant as to be almost inconsequential. To Europeans, 200 years often represents a fraction of a nation’s history. But here in the United States, where our history as an independent country only dates back to July 4, 1776, Putnam’s 200 years overlaps nearly all of our existence as a nation.
These lands that now comprise Putnam County did not always bear the name of Putnam, but they were here for every moment of those historic times. The ancestors of our founding Putnam families fought in all the conflicts that made us a free and independent nation. Many of the familiar family names in Putnam County today were as familiar in 1812: Ryder, Tompkins, Kent, Brewster, Akins, Ludington, Purdy, Baldwin, Fields, Delancey, Bailey, Fowler, Holmes, Miller, Knapp, Townsend and scores of others remain as common in our telephone directories as they do in our history books. If you do not know a person descended from one of these families, you probably have traveled on an avenue or passed through a community bearing one of the names.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine the world around you ever being different from how it appears today, but it was very different 200 years ago. For example, in 1812 the United States was composed of only 18 of the current 50 States. In fact, Louisiana became the eighteenth state on April 30, 1812, just a matter of days before the birth of Putnam on June 12th of that year.
At that time, 32 states had not yet joined the Union and the survival of many who populated those mostly unchartered western regions depended upon hunting for game, foraging the fruits and vegetables and cooking at camp fires. At the very same time that pioneers west of the Mississippi lived in homes carved out of the wilderness, many residents of Putnam County were living in brick or clapboard houses, riding in carriages, cooking on stoves, dressing in finery and worshiping in churches with beautiful steeples.
In the period from 1812 through today, Putnam has continued to grow and change. It’s residents, already hero’s of the American Revolution, had yet to fight and die in all the wars since. They would serve with honor and, in Putnam County they would be honored for their service.
This region has became laced with the tracks of several railroads and was the seasonal resting place for a number of circuses. Its hotels became places of rest and recreation for nearby New York City. Its lakes, rivers, and streams provided a seemingly endless supply of fresh, clean water to the metropolis. Putnam has adapted to the times and, in New York State, it continues to be leading community and a community of leaders.
Putnam has an extraordinary history to be remembered and shared. The Putnam County Historian’s office and the Putnam County Bicentennial committee encourage everyone’s participation to make 2012 the most memorable year in recent experience. Stay tuned.
Putnam County Historian