The Tidewater Center is located in the Village of Saugerties along the Esopus Creek Gorge, just downstream from the falls where the Esopus plunges to meet the Hudson estuary. Since the last ice age, anadromous fish such as herring, alewife, and striped bass have congregated each springtime at the foot of those falls, while shortnose sturgeon overwinter at the Creek's mouth.
Archaeological records document a thousand-year tenancy of First Nations settlements on the headland directly across the creek from the project. The most recent were the Esopus Indians, part of the Lenape / Delaware group. Later, after European settlers arrived, Saugerties was a small community of farmers and merchants until the early 19th century when an entrepreneur named Henry Barclay bought lands along both sides of the Esopus Creek and built a dam across the falls. He also built an intricate system of canals and raceways that directed water to power machinery for an iron mill (Ulster Iron Works) and several paper mills.
On the Tidewater Center site, Barclay’s paper mill (later the Joseph Sheffield Company) turned cotton and linen ragstock into high-quality paper. The manufactory featured the most advanced papermaking equipment of its time. At its peak, the mill employed more than 250 people and its operations encompassed a half dozen buildings. Meanwhile, the Hudson River estuary served simultaneously as prolific food source, teeming maritime highway, and all-purpose waste removal service.
Saugerties historians Michael Sullivan Smith and Caleb Lang have documented much of the history of the mill operations at this site, and are now working to complete the site’s history from the 1920’s until the closing of operations in the 1950’s. They note that the machines used in this plant were the first to make paper on continuous rolls, rather than as individual sheets.
For more on Saugerties' contributions to the Industrial Revolution see Smith's four-part video series The Mills of Saugerties.
Paper mill operations declined after the 1930’s and ceased by the 1960’s, when a fire destroyed many of the buildings. The site was unused and overgrown until Arm-of-the-Sea Theater initiated this project. Click here to watch a video of initial cleanup work by Andrew Camarata in June 2018.
Additional information and books:
Tidewater Project Overview
The Saugerties Lighthouse
I Like Saugerties – Mills