News and Event Updates from the Office of the Orange County Historian

Historic District Properties Offered by the City of Newburgh
Photo Credit: Ruedi Hoffman, 2012
This photo was taken inside the Dutch Reformed Church during the 2nd Annual Newburgh Open Studios Tour. A few months after the coffered ceiling caved in.
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Newburgh's Dutch Reformed Church: 
The Albatross of Urban Renewal

On a summer day in 1998, I stood on Grand Street, waiting. First Lady Hillary Clinton's press bus had broken down on I-87 and she was now several hours late.

When she finally arrived, she gave an impressive speech and pledged funds ($128,205) through the Save America's Treasures program to stabilize the upper gallery of an A.J. Davis designed masterpiece, the Dutch Reformed Church.

At 14 years old, I was just beginning to take an interest in historic preservation. I was already aware that Newburgh possessed a vast array of historic structures, but Clinton's visit was an inspiring notion that the ruins I had grown up around in the post-urban renewal era were finally getting the attention they needed and deserved. The work done with the grant stabilized the building and prevented what would have been an imminent collapse. Things were looking up for Newburgh's historic district.

But in the preservation game - especially in a city like Newburgh that struggles with a variety of social and economic challenges - the checkmate remains perpetually out of reach. Thirteen years after Hillary Clinton's grant remedied one immediate concern, there was no one hero to step in when the interior coffered ceiling collapsed. The effort to save the structure hit another low.

The following year, I took a walk with architect Peter Smith along the Quassaick Creek, which borders the south side of the City of Newburgh. Along the way he pointed out ruins of a once thriving mill-powered industrial center and we chatted about ups and downs that we've experienced in our efforts to restore Newburgh's historic district. The Tower of Victory was getting a new roof but the Reeve House had been butchered by yet another absentee landlord. The shops on Liberty Street were open for business for the first time since the 1960s but city officials were trying to approve a disastrously corrupt development plan for a vacant lot on Broadway.

And, the tragedy - the coffered ceiling, a showpiece of Davis' 1835 vision - lied splintered in a heap of rubble.

I learned from Peter that while I waited in the heat, excited to shake the First Lady's hand back in 1998, he was on the FLOTUS bus. That traffic delay, which seemed inconvenient to those waiting in Newburgh, had graced him with the time he needed to speak to Clinton in detail about the great significance of the Dutch Reformed Church. What may have been planned as a simple PR appearance became a transformative opportunity for Newburgh: First Lady Clinton was inspired to scrap her planned notes and speak from the heart. But similar to the efforts of City Historian Helen Gearn in 1968, Clinton's intervention afforded the building one last majestic breath before the roof came crashing down little more than a decade later.

The Dutch Reformed Church is one of the most prominent buildings in Newburgh's historic district and it is illustrative of the growth and prominence of the city, as well as the albatross of Urban Renewal. If you stand on its steps today, you'll see an empty space that was once the Palatine Hotel, a parking lot that, at one time, was a dense residential block, and a tired post-urban renewal library in the hillside. The Dutch Reformed Church, the shell of the Downing and Vaux designed City Club, and the 1841 County Courthouse triangulate the sunken land that reminds us of that loss. Those who know a bit of local urban planning history look at that void and are reminded of the "Palatine Square" plans for a courtyard space that never was.

In 1968 the city slated the church for demolition by the Urban Renewal Agency, which paid $96,000 to purchase it. However, preservationists acted quickly to have it designated on the National Register of Historic Places, which blocked Federal funds from being used in the demolition. The church languished until 1974 when the Federal HUD agency ordered that it either be razed or sold, so the city bought it for a mere $7,000. Soon after, the Hudson Valley Freedom Theater purchased the building but defaulted after repairing the roof with an NPS grant. The property reverted back to the city in 1984, falling into disrepair once again over the remainder of the decade.

In the 1990s, the City Historian Kevin Barrett renewed the fight to save the structure and the current City Historian Mary McTamaney has sustained that effort. Under their tenures, small but necessary projects have been completed, such as the column restoration, repair of drainage systems, and stabilization of the foundation. In 2005 the World Monument Fund put the Dutch Reformed Church on their list of the world's most important endangered cultural sites.

Over the years, McTamaney has combed the local records to provide documentation; Nancy Thomas led the efforts of the Newburgh Preservation Association (NPA) to plot a sustainable future for the Dutch Reformed Church; Wint Aldrich reached out to New York State officials for assistance; David Schuyler wrote and spoke of the building's importance in a continuum of architectural history; Stuart Sachs climbed on the roof and worked on leak prevention; Giovanni Palladino offered architectural advice; Jim Hoekema filled out grant forms; Bill Krattinger applied for State and Federal landmark designations; Michael Gabor staged an artist's photo that brought the building's precarious state to the public eye; and David Burnett snapped an Instagram photo that made its way to National Geographic.

Others, such as Bill Bolger, John Mesick, Steve Tilly, Mark Carnes, Maurice Hinchey, and Betsy McKean, also aided the cause through leading tours, drawing up plans, seeking support, and reaching out to donors. This list of heros is not complete as many others served on the NPA board or worked within the city government to secure this latest transition as the building was released from the purview of the NPA in 2014.

A few weeks ago, the city planning department released a Request For Proposals (RFP) for the Dutch Reformed Church, the City Club, and vacant river view property. With 50 years of highs and lows to draw upon, many in the preservation community are holding their breath again. Will a sustainable plan finally be forged? Will a visionary step forward to steward the building now that the city is in a period of revitalization? Will this Grand Street corridor see new life, or will this be another footnote in the slow death that the Dutch Reformed Church has been suffering since the first blow of Urban Renewal?

As I listened to Clinton's speech nearly two decades ago, I felt like the Dutch Reformed Church had finally closed a difficult chapter in its history. What I didn't realize on that warm summer day is that the church - and in fact, all of Newburgh's historic district - is not only vulnerable in times of economic decline but it is equally at risk in times of rebirth. As those who witnessed the abject devastation of the Urban Renewal program are beginning to fade away, the role of the historical community, cultural institutions and the old buildings has to transform from one of a rigid protection of the past to one of infusing the place with historical depth and meaning for new populations to shape as their own.

An RFP on the table means that developers are envisioning a new life for the Dutch Reformed Church. And I am once again full of hope that this will be its moment the validates passing the torch for so long.
A Tour of the Firefighters Museum
in Montgomery

An early fire extinguisher: this leather bucket (circa. 1880) is an example of those required to be in every home. A line of people with their buckets filled with water created a "bucket brigade." 
On a recent morning, Johanna and I were treated to a tour of the Orange County Firefighters Museum by its treasurer, Walter Karstan. Located in the heart of historic Montgomery, the building's exterior resembles a typical firehouse, but once inside, you've taken a trip back in time.
This one-time working firehouse has been carefully renovated with original tin ceiling and wood plank flooring intact, and neatly preserved, thanks to the work of a qualified architect under the supervision of the New York State Office of Historic Preservation. Its huge rooms house an impressive array of old timey fire trucks, various pieces of equipment, uniforms and caps of all kinds of ranks; there's even a shiny fireman's pole.
Because it was the community's firehouse in the early 1900's, the museum features many of the artifacts used at the time, like the signal board that lists all the fireboxes in town and their corresponding number, so by the number of bells, the crew knew what part of town to rush off to. Through a window into what looks like the chimney flue, we learn that this was used to drain and dry the fire hoses by hanging them from the roof, through the narrow chamber, to be drained and dried out. 

It became clear during the tour that this is not just a museum, but a look into the early days of one of Orange County's first communities. Fire posed a very real and constant threat to the residents and business owners, and help was sometimes cumbersome and slow to arrive. Imagine waiting for the fire fighters as they pulled the firetruck up the street, or watch your house burn as the water was hand pumped from the tank - nothing was motorized at this point. Sometimes it was up to the neighbors to run out with their small hand bucket to make what was known as a "bucket brigade."
Imagine this.
"The big 1860 Button & Blake hand engine could be pumped by as many as 40 men at a time. This engine could draft water from a pond or cistern,
or be supplied by a bucket brigade."
- from the museum brochure

As the building lay dormant in the early 1990's, a group of local citizens banded together to fundraise for the purchase of the building, and then plan its renovation, and museum collection. Karstan explains that much of Orange County's fire history has been lost, especially during the WWII years when the vehicles became part of the country's collection of scrap iron. What is on display today are items on loan from area collectors, with some quite unusual, like the "speaking trumpets," which was how the firefighter in charge would shout out commands. 

A trip to the lower level and we see the children's education center with areas to play, watch a video, and learn about the bravery of these men and women.  Maybe even entice a student to really become a firefighter.  Karstan explains that this room is in almost constant use with area classes and kids' groups coming to visit.
Right now, the museum is continuing its a fundraiser in the form of a commemorative brick patio on the side of the building. Karstan recommends that anyone interested in purchasing a brick to contact Ed Devitt at 845-457-9666.
While the museum has been able to fill its showcases with donated or loaned items, there's always room for more. The museum board is always on the hunt for additional items, in fact, its brochure makes a plea, calling it their wish list: that  every Fire Department in Orange County donate a patch, a badge, a helmet, even if on loan. 

By your donation, you know that your item will be in good hands.

The Museum is free, and  open from March to November, on Saturdays from 1 to 4pm.
For more information visit: .
- MJ Hanley-Goff


Community Updates
Office of the Orange County Historian will be closed from Jan. 6-16, 2017

We'll be back in touch after Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHNN) presents Individual Award of Excellence to Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame's John T. Mayo

As operations manager of the Museum and Hall of Fame, John has contributed to the museum's mission to preserve and celebrate harness racing's presence for more than 19 years.  This peer-reviewed award program recognizes those for their dedication and service to NYS history.  Well done!

Please help STOP IHOP from destroying the largest remaining Revolutionary War burial

An out-of-town developer has hatched a plan to develop the last remaining portion of a wartime smallpox cemetery in Fishkill. When the bulldozers roll over this scared ground, they'll leave an IHOP in their wake. Please sign the petition and pass it around via twitter, facebook and other social media outlets.

The Warwick Historical Society receives grant for roadside marker from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation

"Located on a stately knoll in Lewis Park between High and Church Streets in the center of Warwick, the Old School Baptist Meeting House was constructed in 1810. Most unusual are the building's 12-paned windows and the emblem of peace - a carved golden dove with an olive branch in its beak, poised above the elegant wineglass pulpit." 
                                                (caption taken from Warwick Historical Society website)
The Old School Baptist Meeting House was acquired by the WHS in 1951 for $1.00.  The building was slated for demolition and a factory was to be built in its place.   The marker will be at the corner of Main and High Streets.

Upcoming Events, Training & Conferences
Eight-week course on Leadership & Administration in History Organizations

January 9-March 6, 2017 

Cost: $199 AASLH Members/$300 Nonmembers 

Learn more & register:

During the eight weeks of this course, modules addressing governance and administrative structures, nonprofit status and the public trust, mission and vision, the relationship between board and staff, including their roles and responsibilities; strategic planning, human resource development and management, and leadership will be covered. 

The course includes a combination of topical reading assignments and related weekly assignments and online and telephone chats held at 7:30 pm eastern each Tuesday of the course. A course assignment is due the last week of class. 

Sample Curriculum

-Week 1: Course overview; an inside look at nonprofits, public trust and governance 
-Week 2: All About Museum Boards 
-Week 3: The Importance of Museum Vision and Mission 
-Week 4: Administrative and Management Responsibilities 
-Week 5: Human Resource Management 
-Week 6: Why Leadership Matters 
-Week 7: Charting Your Museum's Future 
-Week 8: Putting It All Together 

Thomas Cole National Historic Site Catskill, NY

"Where American art was born."

National Park Service Announces their FEE-FREE days for 2017

Their ten fee-free days are:
January 16:          Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February 20:         Presidents Day
April 15-16:           National Park Week Weekend (#1)
April 22-23:           National Park Week Weekend (#2)
August 25:            National Park Service Birthday
September 30:      National Public Lands Day
November 11-12:  Veterans Day Weekend
Orange County Historian | Goshen, N.Y. |  845-545-7908 |  jyaun