On the outskirts of Suffern, on the southern end of the Ramapo Pass along the west side of the Thruway, is Hillburn, a late nineteenth century hamlet originally called "Woodburn".
Its beginnings date back to 1773, when John Suffern settled nearby establishing a tavern and small farm and eventually a sawmill on the Ramapo. His son, James Suffern, would eventually add a ironworks and later a rolling mill. The works was abandoned in 1872.
William Wait Snow is the one credited with the history of Hillburn as he, along with his partners George Coffin and George Church, established the Ramapo Wheel and Foundry Company, in 1866. He envisioned a company town far superior to the Hamlet of Ramapo and in 1872, purchased property from James Suffern. The company began laying out streets and homes and called the tiny hamlet “Woodburn”. Water service would come to town the following year.
The hamlet was renamed Hillburn in 1882, when it applied for a post office, and it was found there was already a Hillburn in the state of New York. William Snow was the first post master.
William Wait Snow was born in Heath, Massachusetts on July 17, 1828. He attended school and went on to his first job as a bookbinder, but grew disinterested after a few years and became the foreman for his brothers foundry in Woodsocket, Rhode Island. After gaining more experience in the field, he opened a car wheel foundry with Partner Isaac Stanton in Newburgh, calling it Stanton & Snow. The business went under in 1857 during the Panic of 1857. After a few years of being in charge of the Union Car Wheel Works in Jersey City, he opened the Ramapo Wheel and Foundry Company. By 1906, the company was combined with the American Brake Shoe & Foundry Company. When he retired he divided his assets among his children.
He married Olive Amanda Estes on Aug 28,1849 at Cumberland, Rhode Island and they had four children, Homer A Snow, Fred W Snow, Nora E Snow, and Clara Amanda Snow.
His son, Fred W Snow, succeeded as President of the Ramapo Wheel and Foundry Company when Wm. Snow resigned.
The Snow houses in Hillburn were located on the corner of Lake and 4th Street. The homes were destroyed when the N.Y. Thruway was built. A marker was placed in the park across the street to pay tribute to Mr. Snow in 1996.
The plaque is in the Veterans Memorial Park .
Orange and Rockland County had a large black population and the Ramapo Ironworks had recruited black workers in the area to fill some of its lower-paying and labor-intensive positions. Between 1880 and 1900, Rockland County’s African-American population grew from 816 to 2,060. Hillburn’s black community began to grow steadily as they settled in an area known as “the Hollow” in the west part of town. This area became known as the Brook Community, named after a small brook in the area.
In this area, the Brook School and Brook Presbyterian Church would be located.
Brook Chapel was built in 1893. The Brook School is where "colored" students were sent and was notably smaller than the school designated for the whites. The school was located next to the Brook Chapel Until it burned down leaving only stone foundations. Before the school was built, Brook Chapel was used as a school during the week.
On Mountain Avenue is “Main School” which is a two-story hollow tile and concrete building covered in stucco and set on a raised basement built in 1912. When it first opened, it originally housed eight classrooms, and was a segregated school that served only white students. Main School was located where the white families lived. The school contained a library, playground and indoor plumbing. It replaced a one room school building which was constructed in 1880.
As the years passed, Brook School began to get less and less attention from the school board. With such a high number of students, two students had to share the same seat and parents began to call the building a fire trap with inadequate exits. By the time Route 17 passed through town, it had cut through the school property, destroying its former playground. Hillburn’s black parents started fighting to integrate the schools. On September 8, 1943, the first day of school, only a handful of students showed up at Brook School in protest of the segregated schools. The parents called the NAACP for help and that's when Thurgood Marshall was sent in. Marshall, an NCAAP attorney set out to change the "Jim Crow” or “separate but equal” education practices at the schools In Rockland County. The end result was black children granted the right to attend the “Main School,” making New York one of the first states to integrate its schools. Hillburn has gone down as the first place that a 1938 law overturning Jim Crow laws in education was tested and upheld.
The documentary "Two Schools in Hillburn" recounts the 1943 desegregation battle in Hillburn.
The issue of segregation wasn't the only controversy to come to Hillburn.
Perched atop the tiny village is Mt Fuji, aka "Motel on the Mountain", designed by American architect Harwell Hamilton Harris and later the Japanese architect, Junzo Yoshimura. In the 70's, it was transformed into a gay weekend retreat and was met with opposition from the locals. It eventually closed down in 1978.
Then Tony Fujita entered the picture. Tony was a Gold medalist at the 1962 Asian Olympics for Greco Roman Wrestling and also placed fourth at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He opened the shuttered resort and turned it into a elegant wedding and event catering facility and it is now known for its breathtaking views of the Ramapo Valley.
Tony Fujita passed away on August 7, 2011
Heres some other pictures from Hillburn NY
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.