On the Hudson River, north of Newburgh in Orange County, are a handful of homes and a church, all that remains of the forgotten brick making company town of Roseton which has almost been completely wiped off the map with the construction of generating stations.
Born at Esopus, Ulster County, NY, John C. Rose would soon grow up and move to Haverstraw, New York and begin his venture into the brick making business with his brother, Hilend Rose. After selling out his half and traveling in Europe in order to combat bad health, he returned to NY and purchased three hundred acres of land and a Hudson River mansion once owned by Bancroft Davis, president of Newburgh and New York Railway Company. The area was known for its rich deposits of clay along the banks of the river and the transportation options of the great waterway made for a perfect business location to ship to nearby cities such as New York City. The clay bank at the Rose Site was 180 feet thick! He demolished the mansion and in its place, erected a brick yard which would have sixteen brick machines with a capacity of twenty-four thousand bricks per day, per each machine. The natural color of the clay is blue-grey and the firing turns it red because of the clay’s natural iron content. Wages back then for the brick industry were between $1.50-$2.00 a day for skilled and $1.00-$1.40 per day for unskilled with days consisting of 10 to 14 hours.
More and more workers began commuting to the area from surrounding towns and others began settling closeby to fill the positions at the brickyards, which the need for employees was growing as the business took off.
The need for housing became apparent, so the Rose Brick Co. built a company town and named it Roseton, complete with housing for workers, a grocery store, a school, post office and even an entertainment facility, known as Roseton Hall. Most of the buildings were of a rose hue. They knew that happy, skilled and rested workers (due to the housings proximity to the yards) would be the hardest workers and the best brickmakers. A section of housing near the brickyards was known as “The Hollow” by the workers and a road leading to the school was known as “Soap Hill”. At its peak, the company employed over 1000 workers.
Along River Road is a home I recognized from a book on the history of Roseton. It's the home of the Rose Brick Company's assistant superintendent and later the home for the Roses household workers.
One of his four sons, John Bailey Rose, succeeded as the company’s president and turned the family company into an international empire. At its peak, the Rose Brick Company sold 400 million brick a year worldwide. The finished product was considered superior in building material and a prime choice for architects. Many were shipped downriver to New York City and a number of commercial structures in NYC still standing have the brick under its facade.
John C. Rose introduced the above deck shipping method that made it possible to carry as many as 600,000 brick in a single load. In 1908, John Bailey Rose built a 3-mile long electric railway with 50 cars, each with a carrying capacity of 15 tons to transport the clay to the brickmaking machines.
Here's a lil clip on a biography of John Bailey Rose:
Not too far from the Rose brickyards, a sugar dealer from Cuba, Juan Jacinto Jova, had purchased the Danskammer mansion from the Armstrong family who ran the ARROW Brick Co., for his family, as a summer retreat. After seeing the success of his neighbors and a failed attempt to raise sugar cane, he tore the mansion down and began digging into the vast quantities of clay beneath it. He began employing many of the Irish and Hungarian Catholics in the area. His bricks are known for the initials J.J.J. inscribed on them.
Juan Jacinta Jova was a devout Catholic and in 1891 the rustic style, Our Lady of Mercy was presented by the Jovas as a gift to the Archdiocese of New York and the brick workers of Roseton. The style is that of Hungarian-Slavonic churches. Many who attend the church come from families who have worshiped at the chapel since it first opened its doors.
Soon homes using wood instead of brick were preferred and the brickyards eventually shut down.
In the 1930s, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Company purchased the land and the homes on River Road, and demolished most of the once thriving community and erected power generating stations on the brickyard sites.
Today one can get a glimpse of what the mansion at Danskammer looked like by visiting the Storm king Art center in Mountainville, as five of the columns are incorporated into the landscape.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.