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

T he Goshen Office Soon To Re-Open!
For a year and a half the County Historian's Office has been in temporary quarters while the renovation of the 1841 Courthouse has been completed. Historian staff and volunteers used space in the SUNY Orange campus, Youth Bureau and County Clerk's offices to operate and these departments and others provided support throughout the ordeal. This week we are pleased to announce that a DPW crew led by Dan Conklin has been hard at work moving our desks, filing cabinets, books, artifacts and collection records back into the building. The IT crew is reinstalling phones, computers and equipment and getting our networks of communication back in place. Although we face the tremendous task of unpacking, which will likely take several months, we are very grateful to resume the many projects that have been put on hold or made more difficult by the displacement. More information will follow as we get reacquainted with the collections. 

                                                                                             Johanna Yaun
                                                                                             Orange County Historian
From left to right: Ron, Otis, TJ, Jonathan, Adam, Dan and Ron.
2016 Historic Tavern Trail Series To Begin 

Orange County is promoting links between history, tourism, and economic development through this series of "Tavern Trail" happy hour and dinner events.  On the last Friday of each month from April through October, between 5:30 P.M. and 7:00 P.M., the public is invited to join history enthusiasts and professionals at a different historic eateries for friendly discussion of local history in a relaxed atmosphere.  Attendees will meet new friends, learn more about historic places, and try local food and drink including an "Apple Jack Downing," a new "signature cocktail" featuring local ingredients and named in honor of leading pomologist Andrew Jackson Downing.  Each event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. with a "history happy hour."  At 6:00 p.m. the County Historian and restaurant owner will welcome everyone followed by a brief presentation on an interesting local history topic by an invited speaker.  Dinner starts at 7:00 p.m. for those who have made prior reservations (RSVPs required).
Scheduled Tavern Trail locations include:
April 29:  North Plank Road Tavern, Newburgh
May 27:  Erie Hotel and Restaurant, Port Jervis
June 24:  Iron Forge Inn, Warwick
July 29:  Painter's Restaurant, Cornwall
August 26:  Chateau Hathorn, Warwick
September 30:  Schlesinger's Steak House, New Windsor
October 28:  Ward's Bridge Inn, Montgomery 

  Visit the Historic Tavern Trail of the Hudson Valley Facebook page.

Written by M.J. Goff
Assistant to the County Historian

Though Fort Decker is all tucked in for the night by 4 pm during its season, and in off-season is only open sporadically for school groups, something is moving about in the evening, something that turns the motion detectors on at 9pm, and then off at 10pm.  Passersby have seen it, and so has Executive Director, Nancy Conod.  It may be one of the former residents, Sarah Campfield who, according to passed down stories, would walk the length of the first floor, probably with candle in hand, checking that windows and doors were secure.  Though it's the only indication of a spirit in the house, this nightly ritual has been going on for some time, which was until the motion sensors were updated and turned on and off when necessary. 

Homes like these are ripe for tales of ghostly spirits.  Fort Decker has stood for centuries, with little changed and still houses age-old tools, artifacts, and lots and lots of history. The term "fort" in its name does not mean it was a military post, but rather was used as a "fortified structure," a place of refuge in the event of an Indian attack.  Sometime before 1760 by a German immigrant, Frederick Haynes, the home was also used as a trading post and, though he and his family left to live in New Jersey, the structure continued as a safe haven. 

All was quiet until July 20, 1779 when a Mohawk Indian and English loyalist, Joseph Brandt, attacked the Fort, and set it ablaze.  This was the springboard for the the Battle of Minisink, fought two days later on July 22. The Fort's self-guided brings guests past exhibits, stories on panels, drawings of 18th century life, early maps of the Port Jervis area, and the history of the raid by Brandt. One particular drawing shows Brandt approaching a group of school girls. The girls are pictured holding up their aprons to the approaching Mohawk, while nearby lay the body of an adult, probably their teacher, Jeremiah Van Auken, who was reported killed during the attack.  This contradicts the reputation of Brandt as a brutal "monster" since the story goes that Brandt drew the symbol of the Masons on the girls' aprons, with the girls taking it upon themselves to press the drawing onto the boys' shirts; this symbol on their clothing, it's believed, is what spared their young lives.

After the Revolutionary War, Fort Decker enjoyed new life as a hotel during the construction of the Delaware & Hudson Canal, probably housing the workers who came to build the canal.  The tour, that spans three floors, includes spinning wheels, mortar and pestles, artifacts and documents from Colonial and Revolutionary times to when it was used as a hotel.

Fort Decker is a great experience for school groups as the children can "pledge" an oath to the "colonies," see and learn how yarn is woven into clothing, and how the families cooked and lived during these early days of Orange County.  Not only is the site itself a historic gem, but there's also outdoor touring nearby, like the Minisink Battleground, and walking trails that parallel the Delaware River, meander through Port Jervis, and bring one to the spot where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet. 

Executive Director, Nancy Conod, has been at the helm of the Fort since 2009, it's an unpaid position, and she relies on her volunteers to keep the building up and operating.  Her biggest challenge?  Raising funds for a water damaged stone wall, and acquiring more volunteers. Nothing new in the not profit world, but places like Fort Decker are crucial to keep healthy and vital to a community.Says Nancy, "It's a challenge to raise the funding and the volunteers to preserve these historic sites and keep them open to the public. But what better way to show people what life was like in the early years of our nation. In today's world of frozen food, microwave ovens, computers and smart phones, it's difficult to understand what life was like. These buildings are amazing in their construction and durability... how can we not help to preserve them." 

Fort Decker is open the last Saturday of each month from May through October - other times by appointment.
Schedule (so far for 2016)

May 6  9-4 MVHS will be participating in the Port Jervis City wide Yard Sale - items for sale are donated specifically to benefit the maintenance of Fort Decker
June 18 -  10:00 -  4:00 pm  "Art & History on Orange Square" 
June 25 -  1:00 pm "Battle of the 1,000 slain" presentation by Frank Salvati
Sep 24 -  1:00 pm "The Day They Hanged the Sioux" presentation by Frank Salvati
Sep 25 -  10:00 - 5:00 pm Visit us at Fall Foliage on Front Street 
Oct 29 -   1:00 - 4:00 pm Navasing Longrifles - Revolutionary re-enactors
History in the News

Podcast: Young Historians On The Move

This week on "The Historians" podcast two young historians, town of Palatine, N.Y., historian Eddie Watt and graduate student Abby Cretser of Ephratah, N.Y., discuss their work. You can listen to the podcast  here.

"The Historians" podcast is also heard on RISE, WMHT's radio information service for the blind and print disabled in New York's Capital Region and Hudson Valley. The podcast is recorded at Dave Greene's Eastline Studio.

 - See more at:

Where Do Historic Districts Come From?

Almost every local historic district created in the United States over the last century has been a grass-roots community effort by people who loved their houses and wanted to protect their investment in those houses.Traditional Building and Old-House Journal are resources that grew out of local historic districts activists striving to preserve historic architecture in places like Brooklyn. Full Article Here.

How A Major in History Gives You the Intangible Edge

It's no secret that many departments use job prospects to lure undergraduates trying to pick a major. History departments in particular tend to tout their alumni's diverse array of career paths in an attempt to answer the inevitable question: "But what will you do with that?" Among college majors, it seems, history is considered just "useful" enough to have to justify itself, but not so useful that students would flock to it anyway. Studying history, however, gives graduates tremendous flexibility in the job market. In fact, history is not merely a degree you could consider-it is the degree you would be remiss not to. 

- See more at:
Local Opinion
What do you think is the most under appreciated historical resource in Orange County?

"  I think that the most under-utilized historical resource in Orange County is the collective system of local historical and genealogy societies.  There is a great potential for these groups to help our county's residents strengthen their sense of connection to their local communities.  Schools and youth serving programs would benefit greatly by reaching out to these societies to enhance the learning experience of the youth they serve.  Such a partnership can get youth excited by helping them see that history is always being added to.  Teach the youth about the foundations laid in the past of the communities they live in and help them realize the role they are playing now to be part of the future's "history". "
         Rachel R. Wilson
Director, Orange County Youth Bureau
Upcoming Events
Hudson River Day Line Film

Thursday, April 7 at 7pm

Take An Outing on a Hudson River Steamboat. In the early decades of the 1900s, families from New York City escaped the stifling heat of the summer by taking a trip up the Hudson River on the Day Liner. Enjoy a 30 minute film from 1949 and get a rare glimpse of the Hudson River of the past. Tickets at the door: $5.00.

Drink More Good
383 Main St, Beacon, New York 12508
Opening Day at Museum Village

Saturday, April 9

Be the first to enjoy the season opening of this incredible living history museum! Every building will be open and our staff of interpreters will be your guides to an era long lost. Snack Bar and Gift Shop will also be open.

Museum Village
1010 Route 17M, Monroe, New York 10950

Sunday, April 10 at 10am

At the ELHS meeting on Sunday, April 10th at 11:00 am, local histroan Alex Prizgintas will give his lecture "Stone Arches, Rock Cuts, and a Trip to the Summit", which covers the history of the little known E. H. Harriman Incline Railroad located in Central Valley, NY. The lecture has recently been updated and includes even more interesting pictures, newspaper articles, and information discussing the incline. The Erie RR in Harriman, NY will also be mentioned with many pictures included. We hope that you can all make it out!

Holiday Inn Parsippany Hotel & Suites
707 US Highway 46, Parsippany, New Jersey 07054
Opening Day at Gomez Mill House

Sunday, April 17

Gomez Mill House Opening Day. 1/2 price! for details on admissions, tour times.

11 Mill House Road
Marlboro, NY 12542

Sunday April 17 to Tuesday April 19

Take a road trip and join us in the Adirondack High Peaks for the 2016 MANY Annual Conference: Museums - Core to Communities!

On The Scene
To an appreciative home time crowd, Cornwall's own Johnny Gibbons, presented a historical lecture on the importance of preserving the stories and artifacts of the past.   As press secretary for the Smithsonian Institute, Gibbons was guest speaker at the March 28th Cornwall Historical Society's monthly meeting and presented a talk on the importance of preserving history.  More on this in a future edition.
Guards stand watch at the entrance of Museum Village during the annual Great War event this weekend.
Orange County Historian | Goshen, N.Y. |  845-545-7908 |  jyaun