History & Geography
Shawangunk was first settled by Europeans around 1670. The region was organized as a precinct in 1743, and became the Town of Shawangunk in 1788. The name is a Dutch transliteration of the indigenous Munsee Lenape “Scha-WAN-gunk.”
The Lenape linguist Raymond Whritenour reports that, “Schawan” is an inanimate intransitive verb meaning ‘it is smoky air’ or ‘there is smoky air.’ Its noun-like participle is “schawank,” meaning that which is smoky air.’ Adding the locative suffix gives us “schawangunk” (‘in that which is smoky air’ or, more simply, ‘in the smoky air’). Like the nearby Catskill Mountains, which are referred to as the “Hidden Mountains” at Olana, the Shawangunk area can be noted for the heavy humidity and atmosphere caused by the mountain ridge running southwest to northeast partially blocking the prevailing west to east wind.
Whritenour suggests the name derives from the burning of a Munsee fort by the Dutch in 1663 (a massacre ending the Second Esopus War) beside the creek later named the Shawangunk Kill, near the western terminus of what is now Old Fort Road. Nearly a dozen three-syllable variants of Shawangunk appear on the earliest land deeds adjacent to the massacre site and across the basin. The name spread to the nearby ridge in the early 1700s.
Rather than describing themselves as living in Shawangunk, most residents more commonly refer to their residence as either Wallkill, Pine Bush or Walker Valley, depending on which part of town they live in.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 56.5 square miles (146.4 km²), of which, 56.2 square miles (145.6 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.8 km²) of it (0.55%) is water.
The south town line and half of the east town line is the border of Orange County, New York.