The Robert Ross House: By Alan Crawford (Town of Newburgh Historian)

C:\Users\ALAN\Documents\Town of Newbugh Historian\2023-01-06 Newspaper Article No. 185 - Robert Ross - Photo 01.jpg
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How many of us have driven down State Route 32 and passed a bit of our history, the Robert Ross House, just north of the intersection with Fostertown Road? This magnificent stone structure has survived for 230 years and is a reflection of the strength and fortitude of the original settlers in our community.

On October 30th, 1789, Joseph Penny sold 220 and ½ acres from the Wallace Patent to Robert Ross for the sum of ₤80. If you dig about for the history of the house, there is a mention in a Newburgh News article from 1932, that Robert Ross built a tannery there in 1770. Where this information was gleaned from it doesn’t say. I’m more apt to believe the house was built after he purchased the property and started the tannery. Would you build a house on property you didn’t yet have title to? I’m thinking a more realistic date would be between 1789 and 1793. Of course, things did move a bit slower and different back then.

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Transcription of text in document

JOSEPH PENNY to ROBERT ROSS — 30 Oct 1787 An £80 MORTGAGE on 200½ acres of the Wallace patent registered at Joseph penny’s request on 18 Dec 1789 and discharged 7 Aug 1793, New York Land Records, 1630-1975, Ulster County Mortgages, 1767-1851, Liber 5, pp.247-250, Images 130-131. Accessed 6 Sep 2019. Downloaded images in private file. Registered for and at the request of Mr. Penny this eighteenth day of December in the Year of one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine. A register of a [sic] make the thirtieth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight seven Between Robert Ross of Newburgh precinct in Ulster County and State of New York, Tanner, of the one part, and Joseph Penny of Newburgh precinct aforesaid, yeoman, of the other part for All that certain Lott, piece or parcel of land situate, lying and being in Newburgh percent aforesaid called Lott No. 7, being part of a certain tract of land called James Wallace’s patent and is Beginning at a butternut tree marked with three notches on the north and south side and two notches on the east and west sides standing in the line of the tract and in the northwesterly corner of a Lott No.5 and runs thence along the line of said Lott No. 5 north seventy-one degrees east forty-two chains to a hep of stones standing in the southwesterly corner of Lott No. 4 near a read oak marked on four sides then along the line of Lott No. 4, north nineteen degrees west forty-eight chains t a poplar tree marked with two notches on three side and IV on the Southeast side VII on the southwest side then south seventy-two degrees west forty-two chains to the line of the tract and then along the said line south nineteen degrees east forty-eight chains to the place of beginning containing two hundred acres and an half of land. With proviso or condition in this said mortgage contained to the following effect that if the said Robert Ross, his heirs, executors or administrators do and shall, will, and pay or cause to be paid unto the said Joseph Penny, his certain attorney, executors, administrators of assigns the sum of eighty pounds on or before the first day of May which will be in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine and the lawful interest thereof from and after the first day of May which will be in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty eight according to the conditions of a certain Bond or Obligating in this said mortgage recited, then this said mortgage to be void. But if default be made of or in payment of the interest of the said sum of eighty pounds aforesaid at the time oil which the same by the condition of the said recited bond is made is due and payable then and in either of the said cases it shall and may be lawful for the said Joseph Penny, his executors, administrators or assigns at any time or times thereafter to sell and dispose of the said premises hereby granted and every or any part thereof in fee simple at public venue or outcry or otherwise to the highest bidder or bidders for the best price that can be had or maybe obtained for the same and the monies arising by the sale thereof to retain in his and their own hands towards paying as well the said sum of eighty pounds and the interest thereof which shall be due rendering the overplus (if any be after paying the incidentals charges of such sale or sales) unto the said Robert Ross his heirs, assigns which sale or sales so to be made shall be a full and perpetual Barr both in law and equity to and against him the said Robert Ross and his heirs and all other persons claiming under him them or any or either of them. Proven by the Oath of Jacob Concklin before Patrick Barber Esq. one fo the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Ulster on the fifteen day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-nine and by him allowed be registered or recorded. [in margin] Ulster County Ss. This is to certify that a receipt endorsed on the original registered in this in the next succeeding pages, signed by Joseph Penny purposing to have had rep’d the full principal and interest thereon and acknowledged before Derek Wynkoop Esq. one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Ulster on the 7th day of August was produced to me and by him allowed to be entered in full discharge the said mortgage. } Chris Tappen, clerk. Entered the discharge the said 7th day of August Anno 1793.

Mr. Ross was an active participant in the Revolutionary War, serving with the rank of Sergeant in Captain Jacob Conklin’s Company, which formed May 4th, 1778, under the command of Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck. Perhaps he had begun setting up the tannery before the call of duty lured him away. Thanks for your service!

Joseph Penny divided up the remainder of the property between his seven sons. As the area developed, it took on the name of Rossville, allegedly for Robert Ross’s son, Alexander, from what I’ve read. Robert Ross was born in 1739, in Scotland. He married a lady named Hannah. I have not discovered any mention of her maiden name. On a headstone erected on her grave by her granddaughter, Mary Ross Housten, there is only her married name. This marker is newer than the weathered, unreadable, older red sandstone marker next to it, though it is the same shape and contour. Records indicate Robert Ross is also buried in the Plattekill Valley Community Cemetery, so we may consider this is Robert’s final resting place, next to his wife.

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This union produced two daughters and four sons. Interestingly, there were twins, Alexander and Rachel. Alexander lived his entire life here and is believe to be the reason the area was referred to as Rossville. Reviewing some of the Ross Family Trees on Ancestry, it appears there was a mingling of the Penny and Ross families. Back in the late 1700’s there really weren’t that many families and people in this area, travel could be arduous and was limited, so it isn’t surprising.

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A tannery isn’t the easiest of work. No sir! After the animal is slaughtered, the hide is washed in water to remove any blood, flesh, and dirt. It’s then allowed to soak in the water until it’s ready to be processed. The next step of the process is to place the hide into a vat containing a lime solution, with the hair side facing down. This begins to remove the hair.

After sufficient soaking, the hides are removed. The accumulated bleached and fat solution on the hide from the bath was scraped off, to later be used for plastering. The hair still remaining of the skin was scraped off and the skin returned to the lime bath for further soaking.

This cycle of soaking and scraping would continue over time, often lasting up to six months, to remove all the hair. The next step was to treat the hides with oak, beech, or willow bark which provided the tannic acid to color and preserve the leather. Other acidic additives, depending upon availability based on the location, could and were added to aid in the process. A pit would be dug and the bark placed in the bottom, followed by a layer of leather, then another layer of bark, and so on.

When the pit was full, the material would then be tamped down and covered with more bark, kept moist, and allowed to age for three months or so. The skins would then be carefully removed, being subject to easy tearing and then treated with an alkaline solution to stop the process. Lastly, they would be finished with oils or greases to prepare them for their final use.

You couldn’t just swing by Dollar General back then and pick up what you needed. Nope, it took perseverance, hard work, and effort to survive in those times, paving the way for future generations. The area where Robert decided to locate and build his home was well suited to his endeavor. The ample water supply from the Quassaick Creek was probably the biggest consideration.

The craftsmanship and skill of Robert Ross is reflected in the stone work of his home. Considering its age, it has held its own against the elements and the ravages of time. A bit of old Scottish know how? An addition has been added to the rear of the original, main structure, enlarging the living area. A few of you may remember a few years ago, an evergreen on this property was taken to New York City for the annual Christmas celebration!

But, this is not the end of the story of this outstanding structure. In a few weeks or so, I will be adding more.

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