Mesier Park and the Mesier Homestead are well known landmarks in the local community. In fact, many long-time residents of the Village of Wappingers Falls remember the Homestead as once being the location of the Police Department, or the Water Department! But many people often wonder why this place has the name “Mesier” – who was the Mesier family, why were they important to Wappingers Falls, and why is there a house and park named after them? And how, exactly, is the name pronounced?
A view of the East side of the Mesier Homestead, the home of generations of Mesiers from 1777 until 1891. The smaller building to the right is the original portion of this home built by the Browers in c1741.
Read on to find out the answers to these questions, and more. And once you do, you’ll think about the Mesier family whenever you visit or read about the World Trade Center complex in New York City! Here’s why….
The Mesier Family in Lower Manhattan
Peter Mesier’s story in Wappingers Falls begins in May, 1777. But his family’s story begins long before that. The origins of the Mesier name (pronounced “Mez ear”, phonetically Mez ɪə) is French Huguenot. His ancestors exiled to Holland in the 1600’s to avoid religious persecution. Later generations residing in Holland married Dutch women and kept the Mesier surname and used Dutch first names for their children. Peter’s great-grandfather immigrated to New Amsterdam (now New York City) and worked as a miller, carter, shoemaker and merchant.
Map from St.Nicholas Society depicting the location of Mesier's Mill in southern Manhattan
The painting “Mesier Mill circa 1695” by Len Tantillo depicts a grist mill built by Peter Mesier’s great-grandfather, Pieter Jansen Mesier. Known as “the lighthouse”, it stood near the tip of Manhattan, operating for almost 100 years. It was a landmark and beacon for ships. Centuries later, this site became the location for the World Trade Center; the South Tower stood on nearly the same plot of land. Specially, the site is now 4 World Trade Center, surrounded by Liberty, Greenwich and Cortlandt Streets. At that time, the street was identified as “Windmill Lane”.
Meet "Peter Mesier" at the Mesier Homestead as portrayed by George
Portraits of Peter Mesier's parents, Pieter & Janetje Wessels Mesier. The family wealth is evident not only in their style of clothing, but also by the existence of these portraits.
At the time, only wealthy families could afford to have paintings of themselves done.
Pieter Mesier 1698-1784
Janetje Wessels Mesier 1702-1738
The Mesier Family in Lower Manhattan
Peter Mesier was a Tory, meaning he was on Great Britain’s side during the Revolutionary War. He was a wealthy New York City merchant dealing in the East India Trade and importing items such as tea and other goods. He owned a home and fifteen warehouses, all in the Cortlandt Street area. The Great Fire of 1776 which occurred in lower Manhattan consumed many of his buildings. With growing anti-British sentiment and the loss of many of his buildings, Mesier, his wife Catherine Sleight Mesier, and his children left the city in September of that year.
Mesier was no stranger to Dutchess County. He had been doing business in our area since the 1760’s, so this area was not unknown to him when he chose to settle here. The land which now makes up the village of Wappingers Falls was part of Fishkill at that time. Mesier purchased the Homestead, farmland and mills from Matthew VanBenschoten, who had owned it for roughly 1 month before selling. The Homestead had been built in two phases by a gentleman named Nicholas Brower. The small, original house located in the rear was constructed around 1741-42, and the larger home in front was built in the 1750s. Brower, by the way, was a Patriot and greatly supported George Washington and his army. But that’s another story for another time.
Ironically, the property of a fierce Patriot was now in the hands of a Loyalist.
Check back here on May 19th to read about how Peter Mesier’s first few weeks in Wappingers Falls went. Hint: it did not go well.
Learn More About the Village of Wappingers Falls, NY
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The Birth and Growth of an Old Village by Edgar Popper
This book is considered to be the “bible” of the history of the Village of Wappingers Falls. A comprehensive recording of Village history, including first land owners, prominent families, early factories, major village fires and early fire companies, churches and village businesses throughout the years.
Mesier Homestead Short-sleeved T-Shirt
Celebrating Wappingers Falls and the iconic Mesier Homestead. This 50/50 cotton/poly t-shirt comes in 4 colors and is only available through the Wappingers Historical Society.