The Clapp Paintings

At Grinnell Library

Who was the artist of The Clapp Paintings?

Clinton Wilde Clapp was born in Wappingers Falls in 1831. He had a technical education – today he’d be an engineer. As a Sunday School teacher, he was noted for “chalk talks” and when he retired in the 1880s he took up painting. All of the ten paintings we know about were done in the years 1883 and 1884.

Six of C. Clapp’s paintings are at Grinnell Library. Not necessarily in the order he painted them, but roughly in order of their subjects, they are:

1. The Yellow Mill

The Yellow Mill, 1845
This painting hangs outside the Nonfiction Room, and shows the original mill around which the village was built. The boy in the doorway is meant to be the young Clinton Clapp, and this is the way he remembered the village in his youth. You can see the house which was the Clapp family’s first home in Wappingers Falls, and which later became the first home of the library. The spire of Zion Episcopal Church also shows beyond the trees. (The spikes were removed in the 1930s.)

2. Wappingers Creek North of the Bridge (Upper Falls)

Wappingers Creek north of the Bridge (upper falls)
This shows the dam built by Clinton Clapp’s father, Benjamin, and you can see pleasure craft on the lake the dam created.

3. Wappingers Creek South of the Bridge (Lower Falls)

Wappinger Creek south of the bridge (lower falls)
Here are the early industrial buildings, both built by Benjamin Clapp. The foundations of these buildings were re-used as foundations for the present bridge. These two paintings are on the mantels of the reading room fireplaces.

4. The Clapp Homestead

Clapp Homestead
This painting has been the subject of some local discussion. One opinion is that it is the building that now dead-ends Henry Avenue. This is Benjamin’s house. Halfway down Henry is Clinton’s house, also still standing. This painting (in the lobby) shows what is now the front of the house, but was originally the back. This would be the service and pedestrian entrance. The gates give onto South Avenue and the pillars now adorn Zion Church.

5. New Years Day 1883

New Year’s Day, 1883
This is supposed to be the first painting Clapp did, and it was done more or less from life. All of the people are portraits: The two boys in the doorway are the sons of the Abel family who lived there. The men driving the cutters were Hiram Chase, Mr. Turner and Mr. Abel. Chase was the village tax collector, Turner had a store on Main Street and his wife ran a boarding house and gave a dance every Saturday night. Abel had a store on Market Street, and the dog belonged to Benjamin Clapp. This hangs in the public computer area. (Holiday, notecards, and prints available for sale at library – proceeds go towards preservation)

6. Memorial Day 1884

Memorial Day, 1884
This, which hangs in the lobby, is the last, both in terms of execution and of internal chronology. It echoes the first, 1845, painting, being done from the same point of view. The new bridge is in place (we are still using that bridge), the mill is a ruin, and many business buildings have come into existence. Major Ferris leads the parade. The building housing Wade’s hotel still exists – it’s a legal office now. (Notecards and prints available for sale at library -proceeds go towards preservation)

These six paintings, although in need of restoration when they came into the library’s possession, were the ones in the best condition. The other four were bought by the Kennedy Gallery in New York City. There was one of Marlborough and the Danskammer as seen from New Hamburg, which was reproduced in John Howat’s book, The Hudson Valley and Its Painters. Other’s included Drake’s Drawbridge in New Hamburg, the Hudson with sailboats and the Mary Powell Steamer, and one completely different, being a portrayal of the popular song “The Old Oaken Bucket.”