Shaping the Customs of the 18th Century at Knox’s Headquarters

 
 

During an April reenacting event at Knox’s Headquarters State Historic Site, two women began their tour of the elegant 1754 Georgian-Dutch style mansion in Vails Gate, New York. The women, among many other reenactors, were participating in the annual school of instruction organized by the Brigade of the American Revolution, a living history association dedicated to recreating the life and times of the common soldier. I didn’t get their names. They were dressed in period clothes and were likely portraying camp followers of the Continental Army, but I was more interested in their tour experience. This year was the first time that a part of the school was held at Knox’s Headquarters and the staff went to great lengths to offer something special to the members of the association and the public who attended.

 

History Sampler

We came before a guard at the front entrance who demanded we state our business. I was the most suspicious looking, dressed in a blue button-up shirt, blue jeans and sneakers; out of place and time compared to the multi-layered garb modeled all around me. However, I got through without drawing too much attention and immediately noticed the “something special” I was previously made aware of. There were no guides to take us through the historic house and no comprehensive narrative. Instead, the staff offered the theme, “living through customs of an 18th century upper class household.”

Photo courtesy of Scott Cavalari.

Historic interpreters and volunteers dressed in period clothes were placed in each room, all of which visualized a specific time, custom or military history this home and others experienced in the eighteenth century. Upon entering the center hall through the front entrance, I noticed the best parlor was decorated for Christmas. Opposite this room in the second parlor, family members were mourning the loss of a loved one during a wake. Down the hall and in the room on the left, American General Horatio Gates and his officers were discussing the conspiracy that would later be known as the Newburgh Address. Upstairs in the sickroom, a doctor was attending to an ill patient.

Chad Johnson, the Historic Site Assistant, admitted that in breaking away from the traditional tour the aim was to offer a sampler of the history the site interprets; “give people a survey.” As a frequent visitor to the programs at Knox’s Headquarters, I recognized some of the rooms from past events. Chad also saw this as a learning opportunity for members of the Brigade, who “often portray the poorest or common soldier, not an upper class household.”

“This is a first,” Chad confirmed. Something like this was never done before and he couldn’t predict how the visitors would respond to the special tour layout. “We’ll see if it confuses people or works,” he said. I was curious myself.

I continued my tour trailing the two camp followers as they peered into the best parlor decorated for Christmas. A look of confusion appeared on their faces. Christmas in April? Catherine Ellison, the hostess and the original owner’s daughter-in-law as portrayed by historic interpreter Karen Pena, was elegantly dressed. The room was decorated with fine greenery, fruit and set onto the dining table was a tablescape representing the Fortification of Dorchester Heights to honor their guest, General Henry Knox.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Wassberg.

The women turned away and decided to enter the room opposite of it. I never asked whether that decision was a conscious one. Maybe a feeling of confusion turned them off in that moment or maybe the parlor decorated for Christmas was something they’ve experienced at other historic sites and they sought something new. They did eventually visit the room near the end of their tour open to the idea that it was not Christmas in April, it was Christmas in December when they crossed the threshold into the room.

I was delighted they decided to enter the second parlor first. I recognized the other rooms in the house except that one. A wake was in progress. Sunlight filtered through two large windows on the south wall onto a casket at the center of the room. On either side were mourners portrayed by historic interpreters, Staci Kerdesky and Lisamarie Nunez. The lid to the casket was leaned upright against the far wall. Black crepe over the doorway announced a death and the wake that took place. Crepe was used to cover a painting and a mirror, a practice explained to be derived from period folk traditions.

 

Four coffins of men killed in the Boston Massacre by Paul Revere. March 12, 1770. Library of Congress.

Reconstructing an 18th Century Custom

Historic interpreter, James Finelli, explained the deceased was interpreted to be Thomas Ellison, the first owner of the home who died in 1779. Thomas Ellison’s Last Will and Testament still survives to this day, but it offers no instructions on his funeral proceedings. Finelli explained that clues were gleaned from other primary sources to determine a typical practice and what the coffin may have looked like.

According to Finelli, “a 1770 print of four coffins of men killed during the Boston Massacre by Paul Revere served as the first model.” Additional research turned up a New England style where the edges of the coffin were curved, applied to the outside was a black or crimson silk and the interior was lined with linen nailed into a pleated pattern. Excavation reports of burial grounds became great sources to determine the type of handles used on coffins. One article about a slave burial ground in New York City went as far as diagramming handles and other artifacts found.

Before Finelli described what the model inside the coffin was wearing and why, I broke my silence and asked who made the coffin. He answered, “a majority of coffins were made by furniture makers,” but the coffin that sat before us was made by a restoration crew employed by the State of New York. This restoration crew services the needs of many historic sites in the region, but they sometimes have the opportunity to execute special projects like this one. James Decker and Sean Seymour were the crewmen involved in the project that also included creating the stands the coffins sat on.

The beginning stages of a coffin stand. Photo courtesy of James Decker.

I later reached out to James Decker who explained the work was based on his own research and the research provided by Chad Johnson and James Finelli. Decker added that the coffin stands were created “after studying furniture of the Hudson Valley and the workshops of Beekman Elting of Kingston, I designed the turnings similar to leg designs of the draw-bar tables they made.”

I continued my tour through the house, noticing the growing enjoyment of the two camp followers as they learned histories they may not have been exposed to at other historic sites. There were discussions on medicine, etiquette at the dining table and how 18th century civilians mourned the dead. This is where this event succeeded. Visitors who were drawn in by the site’s military history with expectations of canon and musket firings were exposed to the parallel history of wealthy civilian life. For the past 53 years, the Brigade of the American Revolution has been coming to the area annually to host the school of instruction. When they return next year, maybe they will bring with them a newly discovered appreciation for this familiar Revolutionary War headquarters.

 

Interested in seeing the coffin yourself? The coffin will be on display at the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site during their Memorial Day events, on Sunday May 24th and Monday May 25th at 2:00 P.M. A military demonstration and cannon firing follows the concert of patriotic music on Sunday and the graveside ceremony on Monday. For more information please call (845) 561-1765 ext. 22. Admission is free. New Windsor Cantonment is co-located with the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor at 374 Temple Hill Road New Windsor, two miles east of Stewart Airport and three miles from the intersection of I-87 and I-84 in Newburgh, New York.

 

Top photo of James Finelli, historic interpreter at Knox’s Headquarters State Historic Site, greets visitors in the mourning room during the April 26, 2015 event, Revolutionary War Day.

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Wine Tasting & Art History Tour with Millbrook Winery & Artist Kevin Cook

Kevin Cook Old New Paltz Courtesy of HHS

NEW PALTZ, NY (May 18, 2015) – Historic Huguenot Street is pleased to announce its upcoming Fourth Saturday event, an art history tour with local artist Kevin Cook accompanied by a wine tasting by Millbrook Winery. The tour and tasting will begin at the 1799 LeFevre House (54 Huguenot Street) on Saturday, May 23, at 4:30 pm.

“To have an artist like Kevin Cook give an art history tour on Huguenot Street truly enhances our programming,” said Mary Etta Schneider, Board Chair and President. “We are lucky to have participating supporters like Kevin and Millbrook Winery, who are both experts in their fields.  We are pleased to welcome Millbrook Winery for their first event on Huguenot Street.”

Led by Kevin Cook, a Huguenot Street resident and volunteer, the tour will highlight artworks from the HHS Permanent Collection throughout 3 of the historic houses: the 1799 LeFevre House, the Jean Hasbrouck House, and the Deyo House. Cook will speak about art in early America and the founders of the Hudson River School movement.

Kevin Cook is an accomplished landscape painter whose style is strongly influenced by Hudson River School artists of the 19th century. He was recently named a Painting Fellow by New York Foundation for the Arts, and has subsequently been invited to serve on NYFA’s Artist’s Advisory Committee. In addition, Cook is a Guest Educator at the Samuel Dorsky Museum and a tour guide at Historic Huguenot Street.

In addition to the art history tour, Millbrook Winery will provide 4 estate wines made with Hudson Valley grapes for a wine tasting. Including 2 white and 2 red varieties, guests will sample one wine at each stop of the tour, ending at the DuBois Fort. Guests will also receive passes to a complimentary in-depth wine tasting and guided tour at Millbrook Winery, which has been voted “Best Winery” in the Hudson Valley for the last 19 consecutive years.

Saturday, May 23, at 4:30 pm. Members $20; seniors and military $22; general admission $25. Pre-registration is required – register at huguenotstreet.org/rsvp.

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.

A.J. Schenkman, Historic Huguenot Street’s Consulting Historian, teaches history in the Lower Hudson Valley. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent books include “Murder and Mayhem in Ulster County,” “Wicked Ulster County: Tales of Desperadoes, Gangs & More,” and “Washington’s Headquarters Newburgh: Home to a Revolution.”  A.J. has columns in both The New York History Blog, and is a history blogger for The Times Herald Record. He has been featured in numerous publications, venues , radio, and television.

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Panel Examines Big Art in the Hudson Valley Past and Present

Equestrian statue George Washington by Henry Kirke Brown in Manhattan's Union Square.

NEWBURGH, NY – Throughout history and into the present, the beauty of the rolling mountains of the Hudson River Valley have both inspired artists and cradled creativity. The very mentioning of this important waterway and art brings to mind a historic movement of landscape artists that painted romanticized views of the valley.

The Hudson River School of Art is certainly not the beginning or end of expression along the Hudson River. Tom Knieser, member of the Newburgh Historical Society, has brought together a panel of artists and historians to discuss the role of commercial art and oversized sculpture in the Hudson Valley – the industry of “Big Art.”

The talk and panel discussion titled, “Big Art in the Hudson Valley: Past and Present,” will take place at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, May 17th at the Newburgh Heritage Center located at 123 Grand Street.

In the past, artists have been employed to convert molten metal, among other “big” mediums, into public monuments, gigantic structures, and productions for Broadway shows and television.

Henry Kirke Brown, a nineteenth Century Newburgh sculptor whose work of prominent figures can be seen throughout Newburgh, the Hudson Valley, and in New York City.

One noted 19th century Newburgh sculptor, Henry Kirke Brown, designed monuments for the U.S. Capitol and West Point. His life-sized statue of George Washington graces Union Square, in lower Manhattan. Hundreds of pedestrians pass it every day and may be unaware of the artist’s Newburgh origins.

From these roots other artists have blossomed. Hazel Brill Jackson, whose studio was located just north of Newburgh, specialized in bronzes of animal figures. An early bronze statue of a fox can be seen at the Newburgh Free Library, and Benito Mussolini owned her portrait of his horse, Ned. The Polich Tallix Foundry is a massive fabrication studio in the Town of Montgomery where sculptures take shape under the care of world-class artisans.

Explore more of the Hudson Valley’s big art past and hear from the artists that create it today. The panelists include representatives from the Newburgh Historical Society, Newburgh companies Scenic Art Studio and Murmuration LLC, and PRG Scenic Technologies of New Windsor. Admission to this history presentation is $5 per person and free to members of the Society. For more information please call (845) 561-2585.

 

The Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands was launched unofficially when the Hasbrouck House (Washington’s Headquarters Newburgh) was in danger of demolition after the Revolutionary War. The current Society, incorporated in 1884, has always been an advocate for Newburgh’s history. The Society’s headquarters, 1830 Captain David Crawford House, was purchased in 1954 to save it from demolition and symbolizes their dedication to preserving and protecting Newburgh’s assets.

The Crawford House, a historic house museum and Society’s headquarters, located at 189 Montgomery Street within the City of Newburgh’s Historic District is open for tours on Sundays between 1:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. or by appointment. For more information about admission, tours, or programming please call (845) 561-2585.

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Gardiner’s Desperado

William "Big Bad Bill" Monroe Courtesy of Elizabeth Werlau

During the summer of 1908, Monroe walked onto the Deyo farm at the corner of Route 44/55 and Route 208 in Ireland Corners, a hamlet in Gardiner, looking for work. He had worked for Abram Deyo before, and even recognized his brother Jonathan (who was a prominent lawyer). Because of his explosive temper, Monroe was not given a job this time. Angered, Monroe threatened the Deyo brothers.

In the summer of 1908, William (Bill) Monroe was well known locally for his explosive temper when he consumed alcohol. Monroe stood at 5’6” and 155 pounds. In his mid-twenties, he was described as having light hair, a stout build, a fair complexion, a tattoo of a star on his wrist, and a small mole on his left cheek.

Later that day, Monroe returned to the Deyo home, which today is Ulster Savings Bank at the junction of 44/55 and Route 208, in an inebriated state. While there, Monroe assaulted both Deyo families, including children and wives, and all of the farm hands he could find. After cutting the phone lines, he completed his attack by burning the Deyo barn down to the ground. Monroe made his escape to his home in Jenkinstown, where he sometimes lived with his wife Katie Davis. Monroe it was only a matter of time before word of his horrific act would be transmitted to the local constables. He had no choice but to flee. As the headlights of law enforcement vehicles came to a stop at Monroe’s house, officers emerged and asked Davis where Monroe had gone; Davis sat on her porch and honestly confessed that she had no idea where he had escaped. Thus, the legend of Big Bad Bill was born.

Old Deyo Home-Courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Dourdis

The entire summer of 1908, newspaper headlines boasted the whereabouts of Monroe, who was increasingly becoming known as Gardiner’s Desperado. He spent the better part of that summer taunting not only local law enforcement officials, but Ulster County Sheriff Boice as well as Orange County Sheriff Decker. Monroe relished his new found notoriety performing for the newspapers.

Monroe’s antics included offering a reward for his own capture, and going as far as inviting law enforcement to meet him at the Orange County Fair. When the officers arrived at the fair, an “old widow” asked one of them for directions. The next day, officials decreed that Monroe was a fraud.  He answered to charges by explaining that he was the old widow who had requested directions at the fair. The public laughed along with Monroe as newspapers reported his sightings all over the U.S.

Officers, who were following leads, eventually cornered Monroe in the home of a relative in New Jersey. They ordered Monroe to come out with his hands held high. In response, the Gardiner Desperado smashed through a back door, with an officer in hot pursuit. Deputy Sheriff William Leonard caught up with Monroe in an adjacent corn field and alerted others that he was emerging with Big Bad Bill.

As Leonard and Monroe made their way out of the field, the outlaw suddenly swung around knocking the officer’s gun to the ground. The officer quickly picked up his gun and was able to squeeze off several shots; Monroe fell to the ground. He then raised himself up and disappeared into a swamp. He was not pursued by any officers due to the sheer amount of blood they found. However, Monroe was not dead; much to the delight of his public audience, he was back to carrying out his exploits. For example, he wrote a letter to his wife as another person, claiming that Bill Monroe, her husband, had died of wounds. After this letter was made public, Monroe wrote another letter in which he asked how he could give himself up to authorities – paradoxically; he was supposed to be dead.

Ulster County Sheriff Zadoc Pratt Boice-Courtesy of Elizabeth Werlau

Officers continued to trail Monroe through Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties, even going as far as New Jersey. Finally, in November 1909 word came from a sheriff in California that his department had seen Monroe’s “wanted” poster and quite possibly had him in their charge. He had been arrested for a petty theft. Sheriffs Decker and Boice headed out west to take custody of Monroe, who was interestingly elated to see both men. Per Ulster County newspapers of the day, Monroe was upset that he had been housed with so many hardened criminals; he obviously did not consider himself as such. He also commented that Boice’s jail in Kingston was kept nicer.

The Gardiner outlaw had one request – he wanted the sheriffs to stick around for a bit so that they could all return to Ulster County in the spring. He explained that he was not fond of the cold, but loved Ulster County in the springtime. They did not permit this and thus the three men boarded a train heading east. Once they were close to Kingston, Monroe had yet another request of his captors – he wished to clean himself up for the reporters and other gawkers who would surely come to see him.

The public continued to follow Monroe in the newspapers. Just about everything he did was fodder for the news. For example, when he was allowed to go to the dentist for a toothache, it was reported in the papers. Eventually, though, Big Bad Bill went to trial and subsequently was sent to Dannemora where he was sentenced to four years and eight months for assault. Once he was released, Gardiner’s own desperado picked up from where he left off.

A.J. Schenkman, Historic Huguenot Street’s Consulting Historian, teaches history in the Lower Hudson Valley. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent books include “Murder and Mayhem in Ulster County,” “Wicked Ulster County: Tales of Desperadoes, Gangs & More,” and “Washington’s Headquarters Newburgh: Home to a Revolution.”  A.J. has columns in both The New York History Blog, and is a history blogger for The Times Herald Record. He has been featured in numerous publications, venues , radio, and television.

Dannemora mess hall-1912-Library of Congress

Wicked Ulster County by A.J. Schenkman

 

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Historic Huguenot Street Welcomes Renowned Curator and Author

French Hospital-HHS

NEW PALTZ, NY – Historic Huguenot Street is pleased to announce an upcoming lecture with renowned museum curator Dr. Tessa Murdoch, co-author of The French Hospital in England: Its Huguenot History and Collections (John Adamson Books, 2009) and author of The Quiet Conquest: The Huguenots 1685-1985 (Museum of London, 1985).

On Saturday, May 16, Dr. Murdoch will be speaking at Deyo Hall (6 Broadhead Avenue) about the history of the French Hospital, or La Providence. Founded nearly 300 years ago in St. Luke’s, Finsbury, as a charity offering sanctuary to Huguenot refugees in need, the Hospital still flourishes today in Rochester, Kent, where it has been since 1965. It is home to a highly regarded collection of artwork, furniture, silverware, books, archival records, and other items illustrating the material culture of the Huguenots.

Dr. Murdoch will also discuss the development of the new Huguenot Museum, the first museum in Britain to be dedicated to the history of the Huguenots. Made possible by a £1.2million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the museum adjacent to the French Hospital is scheduled to open May 13.

“We are thrilled to have such a prestigious speaker as Dr. Murdoch at Historic Huguenot Street,” said Mary Etta Schneider, Board President and Chair. “This is an amazing opportunity for the public to hear from an expert on Huguenot material culture and its history in England.”

Following the lecture, Dr. Murdoch will be signing copies of The French Hospital in England: Its Huguenot History and Collections. Copies of the book will be available for purchase ($85.00 + tax).

A director of the French Hospital since 1999, Dr. Murdoch has over 30 years of experience as a museum curator. She is Deputy Keeper of the Department of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and an external examiner for the Smithsonian MA degree program in the History of Decorative Arts at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. She worked on the 1985 Museum of London exhibition “The Quiet Conquest: The Huguenots 1685-1985” marking the tricentennial of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. She was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1988.

Saturday, May 16, at 5:30 pm in Deyo Hall. Members $10; seniors and military $12; general admission $15.

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.

Posted in Education, Museums, Press Releases, Town/Village of New Paltz, Ulster County | Leave a comment

One Grave at a Time

Eli Hasbrouck Grave

 

Recently old, sometimes forgotten, cemeteries and burial grounds have received renewed attention by not only historians, but local civic groups. One such cemetery is the Old Town Cemetery situated between Grand, Liberty, and South Streets. It is over 200 years old and has borne witness to an ever-changing Newburgh, from a sleepy village to a bustling city. During that growth, many people were unaware of this gem located in the heart of Newburgh. Thanks to concerned citizens, its future is looking brighter and brighter.

The graveyard is believed to be one the oldest cemeteries in the Hudson Valley. It dates back to 1709. During that year some 53 German settlers were granted over 2,000 acres which would become Newburgh. In 1713, the Old Town Cemetery was part of “500 acres set aside” called a “Glebe,” for the maintenance of a school teacher and a pastor. A church/schoolhouse would be built in 1733. Today all that is currently left is a plaque marking the place where it once stood. The Old Town Cemetery friend’s group believes that the cemetery contains some “1,300 stones, headstones and footstones, with at least 1,700 persons buried; [possibly] as many as 2,500, as there are numerous gravesites without headstones.”

Interred are numerous well-known Newburgh residents such as Henry Robinson. His Egyptian Revival style mausoleum was constructed in 1853. The mausoleum is believed to have been built by Andrew Jackson Davis, who also worked on other parts of Newburgh and was one of the most renowned architects of his time. Additionally, there are numerous Revolutionary War veterans buried within the confines of the cemetery – and not all of them fought on the Patriot side.

Isaac Hasbrouck Courtesy of OTC

Located some distance from the rest, some maintain, are the graves of Hessian soldiers who relocated to Newburgh after the surrender at Saratoga in 1777. These Hessians were said to have been on their way to Virginia. Over the years, some residents have reported seeing their ghosts roaming the cemetery perhaps looking for their regiment. If they are buried there, their graves are unmarked (they’re believed to be in the cemetery’s southwest corner). Legend also maintains that no graves were allowed to be dug near those of these hated mercenaries.

In addition to the Hessians, some of whom were billeted in the Hasbrouck house a short distance away, are the graves of some noted members of the Hasbrouck family who were quite influential in Newburgh. Facing Grand Street are the graves of Isaac Hasbrouck, who was the son of Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck, as well as Isaac’s sons Jonathan III, Eli and their three wives. Isaac’s son, Jonathan III, was the last owner of the Hasbrouck house, a dwelling that served as General Washington’s Headquarters in 1782-1783. Isaac’s grave and that of his wife were relocated to their present location when the Hasbrouck burial ground was needed for street improvments.

The Robinson Mausoleum at the cemetery- Courtesy of OTC

Another notable grave connected to the Hasbrouck family is that of Martin Weigand. For many years, Weigand was the principal tavern owner in Newburgh. Some believe that his first tavern was located at Liberty and Broad streets until in the late 1700s when he moved it to its present location on Liberty Street in the northwest corner of the cemetery. Numerous efforts have been made to buy and restore the old tavern, now boarded up and in a state of decay.

The history of the cemetery has always been a tenuous one. A commission was created for the upkeep and governance of the cemetery, which included the appointment of five commissioners. According to an 1865 Newburgh newspaper, the commissioners had a budget of 250 dollars. By 1886, the commissioners had a wrought iron fence installed to surround the burial ground and replace a less durable one that was in disrepair.

OTC GATE

According to the Newburgh Evening News, the start of the decline of the cemetery can be traced to a charter change in Newburgh that changed the form of city government to a city manager in 1916-17. The commission and its budget were not included in this new charter, and without funding, maintenance was difficult, if not impossible. Even before the end of the commission, a 1905 Sunday Telegram article reported that local residents were decrying the state of the gravesites of the founding fathers of Newburgh. That article, however, noted that the cemetery continued to receive funding until at least the 1940s.

The Old Town Cemetery’s history from around World War I to the early 1990s was one of neglect. Eventually, local resident volunteers began mowing, clearing weeds, and conducting other routine maintenance. However, they faced larger issues of people sleeping in the cemetery, vandalism, drug use, and graffiti. Its future looked bleak until money was secured for the restoration of the Robinson Mausoleum in 1999, as well as the graves of two Congressmen buried in the cemetery, Jonathan Fisk and Thomas McKissock. Their monuments were cleaned and repaired. The Friends of the Old Town Cemetery were also organized that year at a meeting of the Newburgh Preservation Association, a group dedicated to preserving Newburgh’s historic past.

Weigands_Tavern-Author

The mission statement of the friends group is simple: “To ensure ongoing restoration, care, landscaping, documentation, promotion, and celebration of Old Town Cemetery, both as an historic resource and as a strolling park.”

Today, the Friends of Old Town Cemetery are moving closer toward realizing their dreams for this one-of-a-kind place. It is slowly becoming a tourist attraction complete with events, as well as a place of refuge from the hustle and bustle of urban life for city dwellers. They recently held a living history event in the cemetery featuring some of its more well-known occupants. The cemetery is a testament to what one community can do when a few individuals are determined, sometimes against formidable odds, to make a difference.

 

Posted in Cemeteries, City of Newburgh, Education, Hudson River, Landmarks, Orange County, Picturing the Past, Revolutionary War, Town of Newburgh, Ulster County | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Washington’s Headquarters Hosts Volunteer Fair

Photo courtesy of Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site.

Community organizations are looking for volunteers. Are you one? Find out at the Fifth Annual Newburgh Volunteer Fair, Saturday, May 2nd held from 11 AM until 3 PM, at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site. You’ll discover the different ways you can help support the local Newburgh community and its residents.

The day focuses on raising awareness about the important work non-profit organizations in the Newburgh community are doing and connecting them with people interested in helping them reach their goals. Their work would not be possible without the support of dedicated volunteers. In return, involvement in one of these organizations offers a chance to build useful skills, meet new people, and become more active in your community. All are invited to attend the Fair, visit the tables, ask questions first-hand and see if any of these organizations is a fit for you.

The fair is coordinated by Washington’s Headquarters, Safe Harbors of the Hudson, and the Newburgh Free Library. There will also be tours of the Hasbrouck House used by General and Mrs. Washington during the Revolutionary War. Admission to the Hasbrouck House and the Museum will be free for the day, encouraging visitors to learn about the important role Newburgh played during the War of Independence.

For further information or directions call 845-562-1195.

Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site is a registered national historic landmark. It is located at the corner of Liberty and Washington Streets within the city of Newburgh’s East End Historic District. The site is one of 35 historic sites within the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and is one of 28 facilities administered by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in New York and New Jersey. For more information about New York State Parks, please visit our website at www.nysparks.com, or www.palisadesparksconservancy.org. For more information call 845-562-1195.

 

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West Point Cadets Assist in Cleanup at Historic Newburgh Cemetery

West Point Cadets posing next to the gravestone of Medal of Honor recipient Dennis W. Hickey

The morning dew had not yet evaporated from the ground when I began my stroll through Newburgh’s historic St. George’s Cemetery. It was a beautiful morning, the sky was a deep blue and within this 7.5 acre cemetery surrounded by a city, the air seemed clearer. It smelled and felt like an April Saturday should; comfortable and refreshing. I took a deep breath, ignored the wetness of the ground soaking through my shoes and proceeded to join the group of nearly thirty volunteers made up of generous citizens and cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Damp socks were nothing compared to the task before them. They were resetting toppled gravestones and clearing out garbage so that the next section of fence could be installed at the cemetery’s east boundary.

 

Citizenship in the Community

The April 18th cleanup was planned for months according to Catherine Costello, chairperson of St. George’s Cemetery Committee. “We try to plan major cleanups twice a year,” Catherine said, “once in the fall and again in the spring.” Getting into the cemetery this spring was very important because the committee missed the opportunity to do so the previous fall. In the meantime, vandals continued to dump trash after gaining access to the cemetery through sections where the fencing was missing or damaged. The committee welcomed the arrival of helpful local citizens and a bus filled with eighteen cadets starting at eight o’clock that morning.

A crew of cadets walked through the cemetery resetting toppled stones, many of which were face down.

John Pelkey was one of the first people to arrive at the Washington Street gate. He lives nearby and, as he described, he was “dying to find something to do; volunteer work.” He was encouraged by a friend and parishioner of St. George’s Episcopal Church to get involved.

With the help of cadets, John pulled rusted fencing among other junk metal from the ground. Some cadets were cutting low hanging branches while others cleared the area of those already fallen. It was reported that a preliminary cleanup organized with the Orange County Jail Trustees the previous Wednesday resulted in the collection of over sixty car tires pulled from the cemetery’s south side.

This wasn’t what the cadets expected to find. Actually, some had no idea what to expect. “We weren’t sure about what we were doing before we got here,” said Scott Voltino. Community service projects are usually posted at the Military Academy and the cadets reply by email to those that interest them. Lifting gravestones throughout the cemetery, Voltino worked in a four man crew that included cadets Chris Callahan, Jordan Isham, and Dave Brzywezy with USMA Public Affairs. Voltino expressed that there is a sense of pride that comes with uncovering stones that sat lost under the overgrowth or fallen face down, “definitely something sentimental.”

Gravestone of Joseph Tillotson

Thanks to the cadets, the lost gravestone of Joseph Tillotson is found. Photo courtesy of Wendy Spierling.

Voltino and his crew later realized just how profound the sentiment was when fellow cadets Kian Geraghty and Sean Thorpe uncovered a lost stone on the other side of the cemetery. Bill Rose, a retired City of Newburgh police officer, was supervising the day and asked the volunteers to keep lookout for gravestones he has been searching for. Bill currently owns a contracting business called Arma Contracting and works at the cemetery in a landscaping capacity. “You notice things while sitting on a mower for six hours,” he said. He noticed some buried there shared their names with the streets of Newburgh. He noticed the names of former police officers and firefighters; servicemen like himself. For quite sometime Bill was searching for a gravestone that belonged to 21 year old Joseph Tillotson, who was Newburgh’s first firefighter to die in the line of duty in 1887. Bill had a feeling the cadets might find it in the overgrowth. Shortly after, the stone was found lying face down on the ground. Geraghty and Thorpe pulled it upright, revealing to the sun and the rest of us the young firefighter’s name, date of his death, and age followed by the epitaph, “Faithful unto death. Gone but not forgotten.”

Bill was shadowed that day by a young man from Boy Scout Troop 195 of Plattekill. His name is Dylan Costa and he’s working towards becoming an Eagle Scout. His work that day was being put towards earning his Citizenship in the Community Badge. Civic duty was in the air. A block away, Habitat for Humanity was at work on their Clark Street projects. Neighbors to the cemetery were inspired to take to the street on the other side of the fence, picked up trash, raked and as one neighbor pointed out, “play our part.”

 

Historic Connections

The volunteers didn’t lose sight of the history within the cemetery. It was difficult not to. Gravestones are representative of the time they were created. Among the differences were the types of stone used and the degree of weathering each suffered. Some were weathered to the point of being illegible, but like Tillotson their stories are not forgotten.

First, they learned that St. George’s is a prize example of the 19th century rural cemetery style where the romantic practice of landscaping was essential to its design. This cemetery was established in 1838 and designed by the Rector of St. George’s Church, the Reverend John Brown. The site, chosen for its handsome contours, with a prominent hill and commanding vista of the Hudson River, was planted with evergreens and deciduous trees, to give shade and direction to carriage and pedestrian pathways.

During lunch, Catherine Costello told some histories and brought to the cadets’ attention the connections some of the interred had to West Point. She engaged the volunteers as she served food and drinks. Some had already got a sense of the history from ceremonial symbols they spotted on some markers. As they refreshed themselves, they learned that the cemetery is the resting place of many veterans from the American Revolution to the Vietnam War. Catherine pointed out the gravestone of Dennis W. Hickey, a Civil War veteran who, in 1891, received the military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor.

Lunch was provided by volunteers from St. George's Episcopal Church.

George W. Rains graduated third in his class of 1842 from the Military Academy at West Point. For a brief time he served as an assistant professor of chemistry and geology. Buried nearby are the parents of a commandant of cadets at West Point. Brigadier General Henry C. Hasbrouck served as commandant between 1882 and 1888. His parents, William C. and Mary Elizabeth Hasbrouck are buried in the southeast portion of the cemetery.

Catherine, who has dedicated years to the upkeep of the cemetery, learning its history and stories of those within its grounds simply expressed, “It’s great to see living people here.”

I understood she was referring to the sense of community modeled that day by the volunteers, cadets and neighbors. By the end of the day the heat settled in and the wetness of my shoes dried into water stains. Grass and dirt stains settled into the fibers of our clothes, sweat indicated exhaustion, but was refreshingly cool in the breeze. In exchange, we had lunch, uncovered histories, made friends and did our community a service. It was definitely worth it!

 

Get Involved

There is an opportunity to hear more stories on Sunday, July 12th (rain date, July 26th), when the members of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands and St. George’s Episcopal Church lead a walking tour through the historic cemetery, pointing out notable figures of Newburgh’s past. Discover how these former citizens contributed to a vibrant Newburgh.

St. George’s Cemetery is open by appointment only. If you would like to know more about the cemetery and the on-going work of St. George’s Cemetery Committee, please contact them at stgeo105@verizon.net or call (845) 561-5355.

 

Top photo of West Point Cadets and Boy Scout Dylan Costa posing next to the gravestone of Medal of Honor recipient Dennis W. Hickey by Catherine Costello.

Posted in Cemeteries, City of Newburgh, Civil War, Firefighting, Landmarks, Orange County, Revolutionary War, Wars | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Newburgh Historical Society Needs Photographs for its New Exhibit “Growing Up In Newburgh”

Cutting grass with a junior-size lawnmower alongside Uncle Jack on his Johnston Street Lawn.

NEWBURGH, NY – Do you have fond memories of growing up in Newburgh? Do you have a couple of photographs that might help us tell that story? The Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands is seeking photographs from the public that depict familiar scenes of their childhood in Newburgh. For the upcoming exhibit, “Growing Up In Newburgh,” we’d like photos showing families at Downing Park in spring, marching in a parade, lined up for the movies, ice skating at the “Polly,” sleigh riding, shopping downtown, taking the ferry, going to Pete’s Hot Dogs, dancing at your first prom or just playing at something really fun.

We want this exhibit to bring back memories and help our community see our city as we first saw it, through children’s eyes and those of their proud parent photographers.

Family posing near the tulips and pergola of Newburgh’s Downing Park during Easter in 1952.

As Russell Lange, curator of the exhibit, expressed in his proposal, “This is an exhibit we can build together as a community to tell our story.”

Photos can be mailed, emailed, or arranged to be scanned at the Society’s headquarters, the Captain David Crawford House, by May 1, 2015. For more information about the exhibit or submitting photographs please visit the Society’s website (www.newburghhistoricalsociety.com), email them at historicalsocietynb@yahoo.com, or call (845) 561-2585.

The “Growing Up In Newburgh” exhibit will open to the public on June 7, 2015.

The Crawford House, located at 189 Montgomery Street within the City of Newburgh’s Historic District, is open for tours by appointment during the winter season. Admission is $5.00 per person. For more information about admission, tours, or programming please call (845) 561-2585.

 

The Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands was launched unofficially when the Hasbrouck House (Washington’s Headquarters Newburgh) was in danger of demolition after the Revolutionary War. The current Society, incorporated in 1884, has always been an advocate for Newburgh’s history. The Society’s headquarters, 1830 Captain David Crawford House, was purchased in 1954 to save it from demolition and symbolizes their dedication to preserving and protecting Newburgh’s assets.

Posted in City of Newburgh, Hudson River, Museums, Picturing the Past, Press Releases, Town of Newburgh, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Thank You New Paltz First Responders

New Paltz NY

NEW PALTZ, NY (April 13, 2015) – Historic Huguenot Street will launch its 2015 Spring Season on Saturday, May 2 from 10 am – 5 pm. To recognize the role the community plays in the success of Historic Huguenot Street’s tours and programming, the Grand Opening will feature a variety of free activities for all ages across the National Historic Landmark District, including live music, colonial games, and historic vignettes performed throughout the day.

In addition, Historic Huguenot Street will be hosting a picnic in honor of the brave work of New Paltz first responders from the Police Department, Fire Department, and Rescue Squad. The public is invited to stop by the Deyo House lawn to recognize these individuals and their generous contributions to our community (in case of rain, the picnic will take place in Deyo Hall, 6 Broadhead Avenue). All first responders and their families are welcome to tour the historic houses free of charge.

“This year’s programming promises to be our best yet,” said Mary Etta Schneider, President and Board Chair. “Our professional staff is dedicated and passionate about the preservation and interpretation of our village’s history. The contributions of our new Scholarly Advisory Board, plus input from the local community, ensure that our tours and interpretations will be both academic and engaging.” The HHS Scholarly Advisory Board is chaired by SUNY New Paltz Professor Dr. Louis Roper.

The interactive “In-the-Moment” tours that debuted last year have been updated for the new season and will continue on weekends and during newly extended Friday evening hours. In addition, Historic Huguenot is introducing a variety of new docent-led guided tours and a number of special interest tours, led by experts in material culture and historic preservation.

Rates and a schedule of tours are available at huguenotstreet.org/hours-rates.

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.

A.J. Schenkman, Historic Huguenot Street’s Consulting Historian, teaches history in the Lower Hudson Valley. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent books include “Murder and Mayhem in Ulster County,” “Wicked Ulster County: Tales of Desperadoes, Gangs & More,” and “Washington’s Headquarters Newburgh: Home to a Revolution.”  A.J. has columns in both The New York History Blog, and is a history blogger for The Times Herald Record. He has been featured in numerous publications, venues , radio, and television.

 

Posted in Education, Firefighting, Historic Sites, Press Releases, Town/Village of New Paltz, Ulster County | Leave a comment
  • Blog Author

    AJ Schenkman

    A.J. Schenkman teaches history in the Lower Hudson Valley. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent books Include Murder and Mayhem in Ulster County and Wicked Ulster County: Tales of Desperadoes, Gangs & More, and ... 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

    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
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