High Falls, originally known as Great Falls, is a very wide, 25-foot-high waterfall that spans the Rondout Creek in the similarly named hamlet of High Falls. The falls were known to early settlers by the 1670s, with the first recorded transfer of land at the High Falls taking place with the land grant of 50 acres to Frederick Hussey in 1676. However, it wasn’t until after the American Revolution that its water power was harnessed. On June 25, 1776 the area around the falls were sold to Jacob Hasbrouck, or his son Joseph. Jacob Hasbrouck was one of the first people to establish a permanent residence near the falls. By 1783 the Hasbrouck’s had constructed a mill at the site on the north bank of the creek.
“By 1796 there were two more mills at the lower falls, where William Peters on the north shore and Simeon Depuy on the south operated fulling mills for the washing and felting of home-made woolen cloth. In 1825, while the D & H Canal was being built, Simeon’s son Jacob and Abraham Robison operated grist mills at the lower falls. When the manufacture of cement became a local industry, it was more profitable to grind cement than grain, and most of the grist mills were converted to cement mills. In 1860 two cement factories turned out over 68,000 barrels of cement, and a cooperage made barrels for shipping the cement. Two mule-powered railroads and an aerial tramway supplied the mills with calcined limestone from local kilns.
Waters flowing over these two falls has powered cotton and woolen factories; flour, corn and plaster mills; a saw mill; cement factories; electrical generators; dyeing works; a leather tannery; and a cooperage; but little physical evidence remains of the two centuries of industrial activity here.” (“Water-Powered Mills.” Historical Sign onsite at High Falls.)
An electric power plant was first established at High Falls in 1909 by the United Hudson Electric Company. The plant had two 560 kilowatt generators which provided power to the city of Kingston. After United’s sale in 1926 to the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Company, the plant continued to operate until 1972, closed for 14 years, and was then reopened in 1986. Today, the station, with a 3,250-kilowatt capacity, generates an estimated 10-million-kilowatt hours per year, providing power to nearly 1,600 homes.
The admirably civic-minded Central Hudson Gas & Electric Company have opened much of the area around the falls to visitors from dawn to dusk. Please respect the open policy by adhering to the no trespassing signs where they do exist.