Plattekill Historical Society to Present Informal Antiques Appraisal on June 18, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: On Saturday, June 18, the Plattekill Historical Society will welcome back antiques experts Walter Marquez, owner of the Antiques Barn at Water Street Market and Sanford Levy, owner of Jenkinstown Antiques. Members and guests are encouraged to bring an item or two of interest for Mr. Marquez and Mr. Levy to informally appraise in an “Antiques Roadshow” style. The program will take place at the Plattekill Historical Society headquarters at 128 Church Street in Plattekill (former Plattekill Grange building). Doors open at 1 p.m., with numerous collections on display, including World War I and II items, quilts and classic cars. The antiques program will begin at 2 p.m. Admission is free, however there is a suggested donation of $5 to have an item reviewed by Mr. Levy and Mr. Marquez. Light refreshments will be served.

For more information, call (845) 883-6118, email or visit the Plattekill Historical Society page on Facebook.

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Hudson River Maritime Museum Digitization Project*

Hudson River Day Line steamer Alexander Hamilton at Bear Mountain, c. 1960-HRMM

Earlier in March, the New York Times wrote an article about the digitization effortsof large museums across the globe. Dramatic increases in visitor traffic have endangered some collections and digitizing them – taking high-resolution photos or scans of documents, images, and objects – is one way of protecting the collections. But digitization is also about democratizing access and making collections available to people unable to visit the museum. ​

When we first opened in 1980, digitization was a distant dream and physical exhibits served the needs of our community. But today improvements in technology quality and cost have allowed even the smallest museum to begin digitizing its collection to become accessible beyond regular operating hours.

Starting with volunteers in 2006, the Hudson River Maritime Museum began digitizing its photo collection. Until recently the majority of these digitized images were relatively inaccessible to the public, although they are frequently seen in HRMM’s “Shipping News” feature in the Kingston Times.

In 2012, the Hudson River Maritime Museum undertook a large project in preserving several oral histories from local fishermen. We had received a grant from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in partnership with the Sound & Story Project of the Hudson Valley, to record and digitize these histories so that researchers and the community would have access to the stories. We uploaded this project to Hudson River Valley Heritage, an online digital repository for cultural organizations throughout the Hudson Valley, and it is both accessible on our website and HRVH’s research portal. This small project – digitizing 20 cassette tapes – took three years ​of digitizing, training, and metadata creation and was an important first step in our digitizing efforts. ​

As we move into the twenty-first century, we have become accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips.  Archival information – the bulk of what historians and genealogists use – still remains locked away to the general public. While we at HRMM open our archives door to researchers and help researchers unable to travel to Kingston, NY, sharing our archives online allows for broader access. Recently museum and libraries have pushed to digitize their collections; the New York Public Library made tens of thousands of public domain items available to the public this past winter. Despite concerns that showing the public exhibits and archival material would drive down museum attendance, for the majority of institutions, attendance continues to increase in part because of these ongoing efforts.

Our new Assistant Curator, Carla Lesh, has been digitizing more of our Donald Ringwald Collection, which consists of thousands of photographs and pieces of ephemera, including extensive information on the Hudson River Day Line and Steamer Mary Powell. Mr. Ringwald quite literally wrote the books on the Hudson River Day Line and the Mary Powell.

​Many of these images are already available online at HRVH.

Our plans are to continue to digitize our entire collection and share it with the public. Please continue to check our social media for updates on release dates for when these collections go live. We will also update our website to reflect these changes with links directly to the HRVH portal.

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*This is a guest post by the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York. We hope it will be the first of many such posts.


Posted in City of Kingston, Education, Historic Sites, Hudson River, Landmarks, Museums, Ulster County | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hudson Valley K-9 in The White House


FDR's Scottish Terrier Fala

They say that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. All but 10 of our Presidents took that advice seriously. Over the past two centuries of White House history there have been over 100 dogs that have made 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue their home. One of the most famous of these dogs had a home right here in the Hudson Valley. Murray the outlaw of Falahill graced the lawn of the White House and Hyde Park from 1940 until his death in 1952. More commonly known as Fala, this little Scottish terrier won the hearts of the nation and his master, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The President received Fala as a gift on November 10th 1940. Mrs. Augustus G. Kellog from Connecticut asked Roosevelt’s cousin Margaret Suckley to train the pup and deliver him to the White House. He became devoted to his master and even has the honor of being buried along side him at the Rose Garden at his home at Hyde Park. Fala was well behaved unlike the first Scottish terrier that entered the White House with the Roosevelts in 1933. Years before Fala, Eleanor Roosevelt brought her Scotty Meggie to the executive mansion and from the beginning she was nothing but trouble. She even managed to bite a woman from the press who was in the middle of interviewing the first lady. Needless to say, Meggie didn’t stay long.

There were other trouble makers in the White House as well as well behaved and famous dogs through time. To learn more about Fala and the other White House K-9s we invite you to come out to The Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 28th from 10:00 to 12:00 for a special presentation. And bring your K-9 friends!

Free Community Photography Workshop

Saturday, May 28th, 10 am - 12
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt NHS
At the Roosevelt Stables

Presidential Dogs: A Dog’s Tale
10 – 11 am
Talk presented by NPS Ranger Shannon Butler

The Art of K-9 Photography
11 am - 12
Talk presented by photographer
Al Nowak of On Location Studios
Poughkeepsie, NY.
Photo session to follow.

Dogs are welcome as long as they are socialized and on a leash.

Free and open to the public

For more information please or 845-229-2006

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Celebrate 100 Years of the National Parks Service with the Plattekill Historical Society

On Saturday, May 21, 2016, the Plattekill Historical Society will welcome back postcard expert John Duda, coordinator of the Katterskill Postcard Club, for a special presentation on the National Parks System Centennial. The Centennial celebrates a century of stewardship of America’s national parks and engaging of communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs. Mr. Duda will outline the history of this system and will showcase historic images of many of the gems managed by the National Parks Service, with many images from the early 20th Century. There will also be segments on more recent additions and on New York State components of the NPS.

The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. at the Plattekill Historical Society Headquarters (former Plattekill Grange building), at 127 Church Street (just off of Route 32). (Use 127 Church St. Wallkill NY 12589 for GPS.)

The presentation is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, call (845)883-6118, email or visit the Plattekill Historical Society page on Facebook.

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A Poor Excuse for the Letter You are too Lazy to Write.

Mother and child of agricultural day laborers family encamped near Spiro. Sequoyah County, Oklahoma-Library of Congress

Mother’s Day seems to have been around forever. It is fitting that this holiday be celebrated during the time of year where birth as well as renewal is all around us. Many histories give the credit to the holiday we celebrate today to Anna Jarvis. The holiday dates to 1908  when Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day. It was formally declared a holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Her vision was not the commercial holiday it has come to represent.

Anna Jarvis was born in the newly created state of West Virginia in 1864. She was one of thirteen children. According to historian Katherine Lane Antolini, “Jarvis designed Mother’s Day celebrations based on a sentimental view of motherhood and domesticity; thus she envisioned a day venerating the daily services and sacrifices of mothers within the home.” The holiday has its origins when her own mother died on the second Sunday in May 1905. Jarvis, with some of her close friends, met at her mother’s grave to remember her life. It was here that Jarvis and her friends talked about creating a holiday for mothers of the United States.

Gradually her idea caught on and between 1908 and 1914, Jarvis successfully lobbied all 48 states to set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Finally, Congress passed a resolution, which President Woodrow Wilson signed in 1914 to put aside the second Sunday of May as officially Mother’s Day. According to several newspapers, Anna Jarvis’s desire that the day be set aside as a time of reflection, writing a letter to your mother, and going to church gradually changed. Instead, by 1920, it had become more and more  a commercial  holiday.

Jarvis, esepcially after 1920, fought to keep her original vision of the holiday. She, at one point, even tried to have Mother’s Day repealed because she became increasingly concerned over the commercialization of the holiday. She reserved a special disdain for greeting cards describing them in the following quote: “a printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world….” According to her lawyer, Jarvis not only financed the creation of holiday, but spent the remainder of her fortune trying to regain control of the original intent of the holiday. He wrote, “eventually it broke her-physically and financially.

Anna Jarvis-Library of Congress

The last few years of life Anna Jarvis was committed to the Marshall Square Sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. A committee was formed to raise money to help the now  blind, deaf, and penniless Jarvis.   She passed away November 24, 1948.

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Wallkill Valley Land Trust’s 6th Annual Historic House Tour

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Vals Osborne
Phone: 845-255-6133

Houses on the Land: Sherwood’s Forest – Rural Lloyd from the Wetlands to the River

The Wallkill Valley Land Trust’s 6th annual Houses on the Land tour will take place on Saturday, June 4th, 2016. This year’s tour explores the fascinating legacy of the Town of Lloyd in Ulster County. Perched on a shale terrace, bounded by the Swartekill marshes on the west and the Hudson cliffs to the east, its romantic rocky ridges, ravines, streams and woodsy terrain are the heroes of Warren Sherwood’s memorable poems and history of the town.

Creativity and the arts are an inescapable presence throughout the tour, which features eight of the town’s most important rural homesteads dating from the early 19th century to the present. Some were occupied by artists or contain interesting collections; others were fancifully re-imagined by artistic personalities or created more recently as visions of earlier 20th–century architectural traditions. They include several unusual stone dwellings, two clapboard houses in the rustic Greek Revival and Italianate traditions, and a charming contemporized farm house and its tiny guest house modeled on a birdhouse. Of the two contemporary houses, one reflects the Arts and Crafts movement in a woodsy setting; the other celebrates early European Modernism in California from its stunning perch over the Hudson River. Most have never before been open to the public.
Registration will be held at 10-Horse Art Center (the “red barn”) at 65 Black Creek Road, home to a newly thriving complex of artist’s studios, on view that day.

Tickets $35/$30members by June 2; $40/$35members Day of Tour
Ticket pick-up Day of Tour 10:30am – 2:00pm:
10-Horse Art Center, 65 Black Creek Road, Highland, NY 12528
Admission includes informal reception and tasting of local wines at a private home.
Proceeds to benefit WVLT’s land preservation efforts.

For more information or to register, please visit: or call 845-255-2761.
To volunteer as a house docent, please contact: or call 845-255-6133.

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Callahan’s Final Jump

Feeling invincible after successfully leaping from the Brooklyn in the summer of 1895, Patrick Callahan, the self-proclaimed “King of Bridge-jumping,” set his sights on an even riskier prize – the newly constructed Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. Callahan, an Irish immigrant living in New York City, was a twenty-seven-year-old bartender who had found that he could earn a great deal of cash for daredevil stunts, including bridge-jumping. Prior to jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge, he claimed to have leapt from the Black Friars’ Bridge in London and the Pecos High Bridge in Texas. As his reputation grew, so did the cash payouts, and on July 23, 1895, Callahan jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge, supposedly from a height of about 125 feet. Despite being hospitalized for internal injuries and subsequently arrested, the King declared the jump a success and bragged that he had earned $1700 as a result. (His antics earned him a spot before the Magistrate, where he claimed that he had merely fallen off a dock. With few witnesses to the actual event, he was fined $10 and released.)

1907 postcard view of the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge as seen from the Poughkeepsie shore. (Author's Collection)

While recovering from his injuries, Callahan began planning his next jump. It was rumored that a New York City newspaper offered him a large sum of money if he were to successfully complete a jump from the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, which connected Ulster and Dutchess Counties. The new bridge was an engineering marvel, rising to a height of 212 feet about the Hudson River and the first to span it between Albany and New York City. It was both higher and longer than the Brooklyn Bridge. Although at least two other men claimed to have already attempted this feat, their assertions had been discounted as scams, with one man only jumping about 30 feet into the water and another thought to have dropped a mannequin into the water rather than actually jumping himself. The offer proved too tempting to resist and, as soon as his injuries from the Brooklyn Bridge jump healed, Callahan made his way to Poughkeepsie, where he planned his next stunt in a hotel room that looked out upon the impressive bridge.

On the morning of October 27, 1895, Callahan prepared for his greatest challenge. He donned his “jumping suit,” an outfit consisting of black pants, long cotton underwear, a blue shirt with inflated cow bladders strapped to the shoulders for stability and a cork life vest. He checked out of his hotel room without paying the bill and, with a contingent that included friends, reporters from the local area and New York City, physicians and the merely curious, Callahan made his way to the bridge around 5 a.m. Most of his companions remained on the east shore, but four of them accompanied him across the span. When stopped by a watchman, the men claimed to be workers on their way to paint a section of the bridge and so were allowed to continue crossing. Callahan took time selecting the perfect perch from which to jump, making sure to avoid the telegraph wires that could impede his mission. He waited nearly an hour for a dense fog to clear so that the reporters on shore would be able to witness the jump. Finally, after shaking hands with his companions, Callahan shouted “Here goes the King!” and, at 6:52 a.m., jumped from a height of nearly 200 feet into the Hudson River.

A cork life vest as pictured in an 1897 issue of Popular Science Monthly, similar to what Patrick "King" Callahan might have worn. (Author's Collection.)

A correspondent for The New York Times described his plunge as “straight as a plummet line,” though Callahan twisted slightly just before hitting the water. Witnesses waiting in a rowboat for him reported seeing his legs scissor open just before impact, while those on shore nearly 500 feet away described the sound of Callahan’s body striking the water as “[resembling] the boom of a bass drum.” Callahan survived the fall initially, and despite a series of groans was able to call out and joke with the men standing above him on the bridge. Rescuers hauled him into a boat and immediately administered doses of brandy and rubbed his body with alcohol in an attempt to ward off shock. It was discovered that Callahan was bleeding from a laceration near his groin, but he downplayed the injury, going so far as to walk on his own upon reaching shore. He was taken to Dean’s Hotel at the Highland Landing and laid on the barroom floor, where he began drifting in and out of consciousness as the wound continued to bleed.

Newspaper reports indicate that “a country doctor” declared Callahan’s wounds to be minimal, and then departed. Further examination later that day by a team of doctors from Highland and Poughkeepsie revealed a deep laceration from his perineum to his intestines, a weak pulse, and by the end of the day, paralysis from the waist down. Father Gallus Bruder of the Poughkeepsie Church of the Nativity was called to deliver last rites, but upon his arrival Callahan rallied, saying that he felt well enough to try the jump again the following week. To prove his point, he showed that he was already able to move his legs slightly.

Patrick "King" Callahan died of his injuries at Dean's Hotel, located behind the West Shore Depot at Highland Landing. (Author's Collection)

Despite his show of strength, at 11:25 p.m. Callahan succumbed to his injuries. His companions, fearing the legal action that could accompany their involvement, were nowhere to be seen, and Callahan died alone save the presence of hotel proprietor William Dean, his wife, and one other hotel guest. His body was removed to Clintondale, where Coroner Hasbrouck conducted an autopsy. Although an inquest was conducted, witnesses were scarce and ultimately no charges were filed. After it was determined that death was the result of internal injuries caused by impact with the water, Patrick Callahan, the 27-year old daredevil, was buried in a pauper’s grave in Highland, with none of the fanfare that had briefly marked his reign as America’s bridge-jumping king.

Callahan's body was removed to Clintondale for autopsy, presumably to one of these two undertaking establishments in operation at the time. (Image courtesy of Shirley V. Anson)

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Harvard’s Hutchins Center historian and Newburgh native puts a ‘premium on empathy’

During a recent visit to the Captain David Crawford House, headquarters of the Newburgh Historical Society, Dr. Kevin M. Burke became another of many natives to admire the award-winning exhibit, “Growing Up in Newburgh.” Beside the fact that the exhibit would not have been possible without community members contributing dozens of images, there were dozens of additional memories recorded on index cards and pinned to an interactive wall requesting visiting locals to “Add your story.” Unlike most visitors whom may have been motivated by nostalgia, Dr. Burke as a professional historian is equally interested in how the historical record becomes the starting point for a conversation. In a conversation we shared, Kevin discussed how his experience and roots in Newburgh influences how he encounters history. I gained insight into how although our memories can obscure the truth, being equipped with the facts and empathy may reveal new perspectives and a greater connection to our past.


What exactly is the conversation? That depends on those having it.

There are a variety of these discussions taking place all throughout the country. They take place at our dining tables, on morning talk shows, at work, city hall, etc. Whether or not these conversations are indeed grounded in historical facts is up for debate, but they are influenced and guided by historical memory. Kevin continues to explore this idea not only locally – he graduated from the Newburgh Free Academy in 1994 and is President of the Downing Film Center – but regionally, as acting chair of the Hudson River Valley Greenway Conservancy, and globally through his work as Director of Research at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. He also is the co-author of the book And Still I Rise: Black America since MLK with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a companion to the PBS film of the same title (airing this fall), and the Director of Research on Henry Louis Gates’s popular genealogy series on PBS, Finding Your Roots.

The book And Still I Rise paves the way for conversation as an illustrated chronology of the past fifty years of African American history, from the march for voting rights in Selma in 1965 to the two-term presidency of Barack Obama.

One New York Times review implies the reader doesn’t need to wait for the PBS program to start a personal conversation. “Reading it can quickly become a game of ‘I remember that!’ or ‘That means something to me!’”

The personal conversations Kevin has had along the way led him to discoveries that include his own family history and Newburgh’s collective narrative since World War II – reaching its pinnacle as the “All American City” in 1952, its decline and relationship with race.

“Misperceptions about race crept into and poisoned that narrative from an early period,” Kevin said.

The exhibit at the Crawford House, a place Kevin has visited many times, was the perfect place to start another such conversation. He was surrounded by images suspended from the ceiling, captured mostly within the last fifty to sixty years, that show a variety of views of Newburgh alive with children. He could not help but to be struck by the pervasiveness of nostalgia. It’s all too easy to connect with the smile inducing universal themes of children at play, in parades, at the park, in school and playing music. His smile grew ear to ear when faced with a vibrant detail of 1960 Downing Park in the spring. Tulip patches that were raised in a nursery on the grounds were planted along the hillside. Looking closer at the background, a golden retriever appears to be driving a family’s 1956 Ford station wagon, bringing Kevin to laugh.


Other images in the exhibit beg for a deeper look than nostalgia can provide. Nostalgia feels good, but a sentimental look upon the past is both subjective and only a single perspective (not to mention, unreliable). “The best historical work and scholarship that I’ve read has the ability to … see things from multiple point of views. I think that makes for the best storytelling,” Kevin said during our conversation, “and good storytelling is the foundation for insight.”

In the exhibit, standing out among a group of images of children and music was a group portrait of “Uly’s Alsdorfians,” the performing junior class during a 1944 Christmas recital and reception. The students display a variety of instruments and facial expressions giving us clues into how they might have recalled this single memory of growing up in Newburgh. My smile returns as my eyes pan over their expressions. It reminds me of my own class photographs where some days I was excited and other days bored out of my mind. It starts to resemble a typical event many of us have experienced until one notices the instructors at the edges of the photograph of the all-white class, Ulysses and Simon Alsdorf. The museum label describes the brothers “as African American musicians who taught music and hosted many concerts and receptions at the Academy.”

What was their experience like growing up in Newburgh? The Alsdorfs as a celebrated musical family have been widely covered by the newspapers over the years. One article reads, “‘Uly’ and his brothers, Simon and Charles, were among the most popular and respected citizens in Newburgh.” Another article printed in 2008 claimed “there are still several Newburgh residents alive today who remember taking their first piano lessons from Ulysses Alsdorf.”

What do those residents remember about the family? The newspaper accounts that I’ve come across are more sentimental. Mostly putting forth the family’s notable accomplishments: they descended from a freed slave; their father was the first black member of the musicians union; Ulysses and Simon Alsdorf were the first African American students to attend the local school; Ulysses composed the official march for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in Newburgh in 1909; and they were also community advocates.

The Alsdorf perspective seems to be missing from these accounts. It seems that within our historical memory, the family has met a lot of “firsts,” but how does their experience illuminate the other side of those celebratory “firsts,” which implies struggle, perseverance, conflict and drama? How does our perspective change when we learn that their grandfather, George, born into slavery was freed by law, not by escaping or the benevolent will of a slave owner? What was slavery like in the Hudson Valley? Or, what does it do to learn that “Blacks were not allowed” at the prestigious Newburgh Academy and the brothers’ father, Dubois Alsdorf, petitioned the State of New York to allow his sons access? Or, that despite coming so far in the community, the family still experienced racism that was documented in the local newspapers?

“The importance is to be able to recognize the role that memory plays in both recalling events and imagining them,” Kevin continued about how a community’s sense of history may be influenced. “Keep track of those multiple perspectives. What story am I’m not seeing? What story did I miss? How would this have looked from a different vantage point?”

Maurice Halbwachs, a French philosopher and sociologist known for developing the concept of collective memory, wrote extensively throughout his career about how we use our mental images of the present to reconstruct our past. In his 1950 book, “The Collective Memory,” he wrote, “our memory truly rests not on learned history but on lived history … [and] it is well-nigh impossible for two persons who have seen the same event to describe it in exactly the same way when recounting it later on.”

As our conversation continued into interpreting for the public about race and the topic of slavery, Kevin said that it can become uncomfortable and draw defenses. His advice for interpreters and history organizations is to allow the visitor to arrive at his or her own conclusions with a firm grounding in facts, rather than preaching to them. “Bring characters and stories into view,” he said.

“In a diverse and inclusive society, a premium must be placed on empathy.”


Putting a premium on empathy is a principle that Kevin aspires to in his life. He is the child of two public school teachers and says this value was fostered early in his childhood. As a result, he was always aware of difference. He also credits his diverse and inclusive experience to attending school in the Newburgh system. “These are the things that are at the core of my being.”

Headstone of Civil War Veteran Daniel T. Wakeman. Photo provided.

History, of course, is also very important to Kevin. He was interested in history as far back as he can remember. Kevin credits his parents for fostering this passion and curiosity in him. “They were wonderful about taking us on trips, mainly within the country, visiting historic sites, presidential homes and battlefields, so that we could make a personal connection to what we were learning in the classroom.” He fondly remembers, while attending South Junior High School, volunteering at Knox’s Headquarters State Historic Site. He took his interest to college at Harvard. During the summers he worked as a National Park Service Ranger leading three-hour walking tours through Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. This experience is how he ended up majoring in African American History and then pursuing his doctoral degree in American studies while attending law school and preparing for the New York bar.

The connections he made along the way include Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a former professor who hired Kevin to return to Harvard and the Hutchins Center and inviting him to work on the third season of his genealogy series, Finding Your Roots. “It’s exciting to work on the show as an historian. Every day is an inspiration working with Professor Gates and the team he has assembled to place the family members who show up on his guests’ trees in time and space … connecting them to a larger story in the country.” The show, a popular series on PBS that traces the family histories of influential guests, just completed its third season.

Kevin caught the genealogy bug himself and soon after working on the show began tracing his own family history here in Newburgh where he discovered ancestors buried in a cemetery he regularly rode his bike by as a child. “Not until this year did I know that I have a series of relatives who are buried there,” including Kevin’s great-great-grandfather Daniel T. Wakeman, who served in the 56th New York Infantry Regiment from 1861-1865 before settling in the City of Newburgh. Since making the discovery he and his family visit regularly throughout the year and bring flowers and wreaths.

“We are very good at classifying ourselves in the world, but when you realize that everyone’s family tree has turns in it and has characters that show up that are unexpected – it’s enriching, empowering and very exciting!”


That’s why our local historical societies, sites and museums are so vital, Kevin says. “They give people, when it’s done well, the tools they need both to know the narrative of the place they live in and also the tools to approach the history in a more grounded, more conscious way.”

More importantly, when it comes to interpreting the past and having conversations that may be perceived as embarrassing or controversial, just create a “safe space for encountering history.”

I came away from our conversation feeling both outside of my own skin and inspired to ask more questions. Come on in. Let’s start a conversation. Although our memories may not coincide exactly with the historical record, equipped with facts and empathy we will develop a deeper understanding of the past and may arrive to the conclusion that histories that seem unalike are likely connected.


Harvard’s Hutchins Center historian to discuss native roots
Immediately following the annual meeting of the Friends of the State Historic Sites of the Hudson Highlands on March 7, Dr. Kevin M. Burke, historian, author and Newburgh native will discuss his work and roots in Newburgh.

What do you remember about Newburgh after World War II?

The public is welcome to join members for the 2 p.m. discussion at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, located on the corner of Washington and Liberty Streets in the City of Newburgh.

The public is also welcome to learn more about the Friends, their activities and mission during their annual meeting beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Admission is free and refreshments will be provided. For more information or directions please call (845) 562-1195.

The Friends is a registered non-for-profit organization that exists to benefit three New York State historic Sites that include Washington’s Headquarters, New Windsor Cantonment and Knox’s Headquarters. The supported sites gain from this organization’s mission to increase public awareness of their significance and raising funds to support the educational, programming and collection needs of the sites.


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Nathaniel Booth – A brief insight into a forgotten man

Booth House Courtesy of Written in Stone:Ulster County's Historic Legacy

Diaries are personal and confidential works of our own creation. They can be our mini biographies which we may or may not wish for others to see. About 9 years ago when I started my career in public history I began seriously keeping a diary. I have written stories of encounters with visitors, research projects, successes and failures. But it was the words of a dairy keeper who had been dead for well over a century that inspired me to express my feelings in such a primitive media. The inspiring documents are the dairies of Nathaniel Booth. Booth was a transplanted Englishman who kept detailed dairies on the happenings of his life, political beliefs, and events around the Hudson River Valley. He was diligent and very opinionated about all of the things he witnessed or had heard about. He wrote down his interests, his desires, the good times, and the bad. All of these images flowed elegantly onto the pages of his books no matter where he traveled or what the circumstances.

Nathaniel Booth fascinated myself and a few eager historians at Senate House State Historic site as we transcribed and typed out the words this man never imagined anyone would read. We all seemed to have feelings of love and frustration for this character, who until fairly recently had been all but forgotten. Now his name has made it into the press thanks to his crumbling home on the edge of Wilbur Avenue in downtown Kingston. Efforts are being made to save the home of a man that time would have forgotten. What makes him so special? What makes his journals so significant? What do we really know about this man that makes his home so worth the efforts to save?

Nathaniel was born in Manchester England in 1819. His parents brought him and his two brothers to America in the 1830′s. Like so many immigrants to these shores, they wanted to succeed and live the American dream. He spent some time living near Washington D.C. where he married his first wife Mary Ellen Lipscomb of Richmond Virginia on October 24th 1844. He neglected to write about the excitement leading up to his big day and apologized to his diary for the lapse in action.

January 1st 1845
“My poor old journal – the companion of what would otherwise have been many a lonesome hour – a record of thoughts and incidents that would otherwise have been forgotten – how you have been neglected – three months have passed in which to me events great & momentous have transpired yet not one line in evidence appears upon your pages – you have been laid aside at a time when you should have been most used – at a time when your pages would have presented events more interesting than have hereto occurred in the annals of my life – But you have not been entirely forgotten no though suffered to lie neglected – laid aside thoughts fond and affectionate have reverted to you and now when leisure enables me to darken your fair face once more we —- Ha! What’s that? We? yes, we – but “hereby hangs a tale” – we I say have reproduced you to chronicle the second grand era in a man’s life ‘Marriage’”

Not long after his marriage to Ellen the couple gave birth to a girl. Booth wrote for what seemed like pages and pages of the excitement of becoming of father. He was quite pleased with his new family life but longed for something more profitable than the work his was doing in D.C. The idea of heading out west for work both tempted and scared him. He continued to write about the events around him while he pondered following his friends west for fortune. He talked about those involved in the temperance movement who couldn’t seem to stay the course and were found drunk. He wrote about his disgust for women who were interested in doing the work of men. “I cannot bear a woman in a public capacity like this. Fairs I detest, female preachers, female lecturers and the whole tribe women who seek notoriety away from their proper sphere.” Booth even managed to find time to write about his hatred for his neighborhood’s cat problem and how he intended to take care of it.

September 8th 1845
“The Gentlemen and Lady cats of the neighborhood have lately made our garden a place of assignation – an Elysian fields – Vaux Hall garden or Point Comfort – and many of them hold choir meetings in the kitchen where they sing solos – duets – trios – quartettes – and concertos with original accompaniments while a jubilees swain or two will curse, swear, and spit at and fight each other on the roof – or perhaps two or three of meandering dispositions will make a voyage of discovery through the house in search of cream jugs &c. – Set a noose for them and rejoice in anticipation of a deep revenge – how glorious it will be to see one or two of them next morning swinging between the floor and ceiling – with its music silenced forever”

After having enough of the D.C. area (and its cats) Booth decided to pack up his family and head out west. He intended to work hard and make good money but instead he lost out on the love of his life. Ellen took ill within a year of their settling in Missouri and died on August 21st 1846. Booth was heartbroken and wrote tenderly of his beloved wife including poems of his love and lost. It didn’t take long before he decided to come back to where his parents had settled here in the Hudson River Valley. Here is where he seemed to find at least some form of fortune and happiness again.

He got into the business of trade and running a store in Wilbur or downtown Kingston. He wrote a long passage on the area and his store and he didn’t seem to have much confidence in either. Concerning his store he wondered about the plans behind whoever had originally built it when he sarcastically remarked “by whom it was designed or after what order is lost in obscurity. I do not think it was after any model or Michael Angelo or Sir Christopher Wren.” He went on to say, “It must be original. The master mind that conceived the original plan could never stop to borrow any of the details.” Within the surrounding area he referred to the Twaalfskill brook which lies directly across from his store and home as a beautiful sight but of the village around him he thought “an imaginative mind would suppose a wagon load of houses had been “dumped” from above which stuck fast where they struck and consider it miraculous that they did not fall bottom upwards.”

From this area he could watch all aspects of life and today what we consider to be historic events were quite regular and mundane to him. The moving of bluestone towards the creek where it was loaded onto ships. The harvesting of ice from the creek in the winter where it was then stored in ice houses nearby. One of the great concerns of the 19th century which is no longer a threat in our time was the surge of Cholera that managed to make its way into the Kingston and Rondout area by 1849. He wrote of the fear that spread through his community.

June 25th 1849
“The Cholera had made its appearance in Rondout – four deaths occurring last night – Morning cooler than usual – a man found dead in the Creek and a woman found dead on the road near Kingston last night – People look very grave and thoughtful – the terrible disease is now amongst us and no one knows how soon his time may come – Many are so alarmed that they are throwing their garden stuff over the fence fearing its very growth will bring the epidemic to their house”

When he came to the end of his first of many books he felt the need to thank his diary as if it were a trusted friend who kept all of his memories and secrets.

“My book is now full – for five years it has been my companion – my friend – I feel an affection for it I could not have conceived possible – With all its faults I love it and when years have given it their charm it will be one of the dearest treasures I possess – Like good wine it will improve by age and I look forward with pleasure to the time when reopened I will peruse its contents and revive old scenes – that were otherwise forgotten”

Booth would go on to write more diaries and make more memories including marrying again and continuing to pursue his business ventures along the Hudson. Like so many of us living in this valley he worked and enjoyed the pursuit of a happy, prosperous, and true American life. His writings remain a wealth of information on what that journey looked like for those living here over 100 years ago. Booth’s words, life, and home should not be forgotten.

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The Gunks-Ridge and Valley Towns Through Time

Ireland Corners Hotel from Gunks Through Time

Gardiner, NY ( April 20, 2016)-Ron Knapp and Michael Neil O’Donnell will present a program on The Gunks-Ridge and Valley Towns Through Time at the Historical Society of Shawangunk-Gardiner on Monday, May 2 at 7 pm in Gardiner at the Gardiner Town Hall, Route 44/55 Gardiner NY.

Their new book The Gunks-Ridge and Valley Towns Through Time ranges across the ridge from Sam’s Point in Warwarsing to Joppenberg in Rosendale.

The Shawangunk Mountains (The Gunks) are renowned for stunning landscapes on and off the ridge in a region that has remained a favorite destination for visitors since the middle of the 19th century.  A highlight of the book are nearly a hundred pairs of photographs taken approximately a century apart.   In addition to presenting information about the fabled Lake Mohonk and Lake Minnewaska hotels, the book puts a spotlight on the economic and social changes over the past century in the towns of New Paltz, Gardiner, and Rosendale in the Wallkill Valley and to a lesser extent locations in the Rondout Valley.

While Knapp was responsible for the text, Michael O’Donnell shepherded the striking visual content from idea to reality with photographic contributions by Gardiner residents: Fred Gerty, Susan Lehrer, Michael Neil O’Donnell, and Carol Rietsma.

A book signing will follow the talk and all proceeds for the sale of the book benefit the Mohonk Preserve.

A companion website can be visited at

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    AJ Schenkman

    A.J. Schenkman is the author of numerous books and articles. He is Consulting Historian for Historic Huguenot Street and Town of Gardiner Historian. Read Full

    Elizabeth Werlau

    Elizabeth Werlau is an English teacher in the Hudson Valley and is the historian for the Town of Plattekill in Ulster County. She has authored and contributed to several books on regional history, including her most recent publication, Murder and ... Read Full

    Debra Conway

    A former Features writer/Columnist for the Times Herald-Record and Director of Fort Delaware Museum of Colonial History in Narrowsburg, Debra Conway is currently the Executive Director of The Delaware Company, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ... Read Full

    Matthew Colon

    Matthew Colon is the Director of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands. He has interpreted the American Revolution at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site since 2009. He currently assists other history focused volunteer ... Read Full

    Shannon Butler

    Shannon Butler is a Park Ranger of Interpretation and Education at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site in Hyde Park New York. She has also interpreted the Senate House State Historic Site in Kingston New York. Read Full
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