The Slave Dwelling Project

Photo provided by HHS

Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, travels the country spending the night in historic slave dwellings to bring awareness to their existence, history, and need for preservation. On Friday, September 9, he will spend the night at Historic Huguenot Street in the Bevier-Elting House cellar, marking his first visit to the Hudson Valley. The following evening, Historic Huguenot Street will host a special reception with Mr. McGill, during which he will provide his initial thoughts about the previous night’s experience and touch on his mission to preserve historic slave dwellings across the country and particularly in places where traces of them have disappeared.

A descendant of slaves, Mr. McGill founded the Slave Dwelling Project in 2010, having worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Charleston, South Carolina, and seeing the need for preservation of historic slave dwellings first-hand. Since 2010, Mr. McGill has spent the night in dozens of slave dwellings throughout the country, at times even in antebellum wrist shackles.

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A Great Resource for Maps of Ulster County

Map of Gardiner 1897 UC Clerk's Office

I receive many emails, by way of the this column, asking me for help on local history research. Many of the emails are just asking me for helpful resources they can use in locating long-lost ancestors or simply finding out more information about them. An often overlooked place is the map room in the Ulster County Clerk’s Office in Kingston, New York.

The map room is a vast archive containing everything from land divisions to patents. Their archive also includes what are known as Letters of Administration. This archive is great when you are looking for documents that are 1787 to the present, and in some cases earlier. If you are seeking earlier records you will need, in some cases, to go to the New York State Archives in Albany or the Ulster County Clerk’s Archive on Foxhall Avenue in Kingston, New York.  Many of the earlier records are kept in these two locations.

This archive also holds some surprises for the researcher. Newburgh, and several other southern Ulster towns, became a part of Orange County in 1798. The town of Newburgh was one of those towns. So sometimes when researching individuals one might be tempted to look for someone who lived in Newburgh in the map room, when in fact the records are in Ulster County.

There are some great finds among the many maps. One is the 1897 Map of Gardiner, New York. This map is mainly of the downtown. It is particularly useful because it lists names of individuals who owned business’s, as well as, residences. So if you are researching a family member it can be quite helpful.  Many individuals over look this valuable archive when conducting family research. These valuable documents are in most cases not only easy to access, but for a fee can be photocopied.

FW Beers Map of Gardiner (1875) is an example of the type of map found at the archive on Foxhall Avenue

The Ulster County Clerk’s Office is open five days a week. It is located on the 2n

d floor of the  County Office Building’s, at  244 Fair Street in Kingston.

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Newburgh, a Presidential City

JFK at Stewart AFB Courtesy of JFK Library

Newburgh, during its long history, has been the destination for the rich, famous and powerful. This has included future U.S. Presidents as well as past presidents. Some of these visitors have included George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Gerald Ford, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, and most recently Bill Clinton.

Although he was not president in 1782-1783, George Washington made Newburgh his military headquarters. This future first president took the oath of office in 1789. During his two terms, as president, he did not visit Newburgh. Washington was not the only future president to visit Newburgh. Congressman Gerald Ford visited Newburgh for a “Gilman for Congress” dinner in September 24, 1972. Grover Cleveland was another future president to visit Newburgh. He was in Newburgh to celebrate its Revolutionary War past.

Grover Cleveland was Governor of New York when he attended the 1883 celebrations at Washington’s Headquarters. This centennial marked the disbandment of the Revolutionary Army.  He would become president two years later. Finally, a third future president, Andrew Jackson allegedly “received his first public nomination for President of the United States.” However, The Hermitage, the house where Jackson lived a good part of his life, has no records of this visit.

The first well-known president to visit Newburgh was the former Union General turned president, Ulysses S. Grant. He not only toured the city on August 7, 1869, but also toured Washington’s Headquarters before returning to West Point aboard the Steamship M. Martin. His trip was boycotted by a number of veterans who felt he was not being fair to some Civil War Veterans.

Theodore Roosevelt visited Newburgh both as a future and a past President of the United States. The first time was campaigning for Governor of New York on a 600 mile Whistle Stop Tour. Two decades later he would visit Newburgh again to boost the war effort. This time Teddy Roosevelt visited the Newburgh Shipyard Fabrication Plant in September 1918.

Roosevelt attended a ceremony commissioning the USS Newburgh. One of Roosevelt’s more memorable quotes from his speech praised the shipyard; “ I am convinced that generally speaking, there is a fine spirit of patriotism in shipbuilding labor on all parts of the country.” He did voice concerns, in the same speech, “that in certain yards men have loafed individually, and that in certain yards unions have actually limited the output.” He saw these men as traitors to the country. He continued, he would send such men to Europe into the most dangerous places without a rifle.

Teddy Roosevelt in Newburgh on a "Whistle Stop Tour" in 1898 Courtesy of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands

Theodore Roosevelt was not the only Roosevelt to visit Newburgh. Teddy’s cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1944, also visited a Newburgh shipyard. In addition, he toured the upper part of Newburgh. The crowd was reported, in local papers, as larger than his first visit in 1940. The president noted his attachment to Newburgh because his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, was from Newburgh.  Perhaps one of the more memorable visits was a young U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.

Senator Kennedy made a campaign stop in Newburgh in October 1959. He arrived at Stewart Air Force Base. According to the JFK Library in Massachusetts, Kennedy spoke in the Green Room in the Hotel Newburgh. James M. Landis in a letter to Joseph P. Kennedy reported that his son, “made a wonderful impression,” even though the weather was grim. He was not deterred by this though, and added that “the Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” He continued that the rain also falls on members of both political parties.  Senator Kennedy departed Newburgh between 2:30 and 2:45. He would visit again in 1962, landing at Stewart Air Force Base on his way to West Point.

A former president who has visited Newburgh quite a bit is Bill Clinton as well as his wife. Hillary Clinton visited Newburgh in 1998 to tour Washington’s Headquarters, and did so again with her husband in the summer of 2008. As late as October 2015, former President Clinton dazzled local Newburgh residents when he walked into a Dunkin Donuts on his way to West Point.


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4th Annual Artists on the Street Returns to Historic Huguenot Street

NEW PALTZ, NY (July 15, 2016) – Historic Huguenot Street has announced the return of Artists on the Street, an all-day plein air event showcasing the talents of over 20 renowned Hudson Valley artists. The annual event takes place on the second Saturday in August each year, this year on August 13 from 11 am – 5 pm. It is an opportunity for the public to watch and engage with local artists as they work, creating paintings and watercolors inspired by the landscape of the National Historic Landmark District.

At 4 pm, artists will bring their work to the DuBois Fort (81 Huguenot Street) to be displayed and made available for purchase during an hour-long catered reception. The artwork will remain on display for purchase in the DuBois Fort for one month, with a portion of the proceeds supporting Historic Huguenot Street. This event is free and open to the public, rain or shine, sponsored by Woodland Pond at New Paltz.

“We are proud to host this engaging event year after year,” said Kara Gaffken, Director of Public Programming at Historic Huguenot Street. “It is a joy to have glimpse at the creative process of such talented local artists at work.”

A number of new artists and returning artists from will participate in this year’s event, including Kevin Cook, James Cramer, Fran Sutherland, and John A. Varriano. Maps will be available denoting the location of each artist across the site. Curbside Cuisine will also be on-site for guests’ enjoyment, and will donate a portion of their sales to Historic Huguenot Street.

A National Historic Landmark District, Historic Huguenot Street is a 501(c)3 non-profit that encompasses 30 buildings across 10 acres that was the heart of the original 1678 New Paltz settlement, including seven stone houses that date to the early eighteenth century.  It was founded in 1894 as the Huguenot Patriotic, Historical, and Monumental Society to preserve the nationally acclaimed collection of stone houses.  Since then, Historic Huguenot Street has grown into an innovative museum, chartered as an educational corporation by the University of the State of New York Department of Education, that is dedicated to protecting our historic buildings, conserving an important collection of artifacts and manuscripts, and promoting the stories of the Huguenot Street families, from the sixteenth century to today.

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Top Cottage and a longing for Peace

Have you ever longed for a place of your own? A home away from home where you can live the way you want to live and get away from it all? If so, than you have something in common with our 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The man who brought this country through a Great Depression and a war certainly deserved a place that he could call his own. After all, what we as residents of The Hudson River Valley all know to be called The Home of FDR was in reality not his home at all but in fact belonged to his mother Sara for 41 years.

The big house on the Hudson that he had always returned to time and again had by 1933 become a mad house full of journalists, advisors, relatives, and of course his ever present mother. His open-door policy which allowed all sorts of people to come to his mother’s home for discussions ranging from the political to the satirical had backfired on him by the mid 30’s and he had grown tired of what he called “the mob.” FDR had been planning for years to build a small getaway on top of Dutchess Hill which was one of the highest points in the county. He had driven to the top many times with daydreams of what he might create there. His cousin Daisy Suckley, who also had a family home on the Hudson, had taken many rides with him in his Ford Phaeton convertible to the top of what they secretly called “our hill” and together they made plans for a cottage.

There are only two Presidents who designed and built structures on their estates while serving as President. FDR’s hero Thomas Jefferson had made additions to Monticello and started building Poplar Forest in 1806, and FDR built Top Cottage in 1938. The idea for the cottage was one thing, building it was another. He had already laid out plans with his friend and architect Henry Toombs who had helped him on previous projects, but there were some small issues to deal with. First, the land at the top of the hill did not belong to him, but purchasing land in Hyde Park had never been an issue for FDR and he was able to buy it by 1937 making his family’s holdings well over 1500 acres. Next, came the cost of building which would be rather more than he had expected.

He had planned to build his home for just about $16,000. However it would cost him more than $18,000 which included the contractors, plumbing, plasterwork, furnace, and of course the electric. He tried to save money where he could by using the fieldstone and local materials that were already available on his estate. He also used his own trees as poles for electric lines that ran up the hill from the main road. He used borrowed furniture instead of brand new pieces to fill and make it comfortable. He never had a phone line installed, this might have saved him a few bucks, sure, but he also didn’t want to be disturbed when he was enjoying what we now call “me time.”

The cottage was completed in 1939 and was the first home built by and for a disabled person. Many visitors made their way up the hill with FDR in his sports car including the King and Queen of Great Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Princess Martha of Norway, Queen Wilhemina and Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. His confidante and cousin Daisy would tag along and listened to him as he “talked mostly about his hopes for future peace,” so would his secretary Missy LeHand. While both women had hopes of sharing the cottage with the President, and Hollywood would like you to think that they did in the Bill Murray film Hyde Park on Hudson, their hopes and a film maker’s fantasy would never come to pass. FDR’s home away from home would never be lived in by him or any of his friends. He died long before he was ready to retire and use the house on a regular basis. When he died in April of 1945, his son Elliott moved in with his wife Faye Emerson. The house was sold by 1952 and it wasn’t until 2001 when it opened to visitors as a National Historic Site.

One must see the cottage to understand how FDR felt about it and how it did give him some kind of peace, be it ever so slight. It is hard to properly express in words how such a lovely little place with intriguing views of the valley could make one feel let alone the President of the United States. But it could be infectious once you journey to the top of the hill and sit on his porch, you may want to go out and follow your dreams of building a home away from home too. You can visit it by shuttle bus from the Henry Wallace Visitor Center in Hyde Park three times a day, May through October. The shuttle bus departs from the visitor center at 11:10, 1:10, and 3:10. Or if you are feeling extra hearty you can hike up the hill from the mile long trail that begins at Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, and goes up to the top of the hill.

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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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  • Blog Author

    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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