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

The Next 100 Years

For this, the final e-newsletter of 2016, I considered writing about the great selection of Candlelight Tours and holiday festivities that will be held this month throughout the region. These history and hospitality tours are put together by legions of volunteers who work tirelessly to plan, cook, decorate and welcome the public. It's a tradition that no one should miss so we've included any information we've received in the events section. I hope you'll make an effort to support these events and take the opportunity to do some of you holiday shopping in local museum shops. But I don't want to let 2016 come to a close without marking an important commemoration in the history of historic preservation.
One hundred years ago, the Federal Government created the National Parks Service. During the official centennial celebration in August of this year, the Hudson Valley was honored to welcome the Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, to a roundtable discussion at the Bear Mountain Inn.  For the discussion, participants were asked to predict which trends would persist in the next 100 years of historic preservation and historic interpretation.  With a new administration in the White House, a new Secretary of Interior will soon follow and the challenge to reach that person with the priorities of the historical profession will begin again. On a local level we face a continuing retraction of municipal resources for arts and cultural protection and programming as the burden is shifted to non-profits. My predictions are based on those concerns as well as the changes that I see in how technology is being used to reach the public.
There's no telling what the future holds but I offer my predictions as fodder for any organization to reinterpret to fit their own observations. For this final edition of year, I would like to share the notes that I prepared for the meeting with Secretary Jewell.  

Predictions for 2116
Prediction #1: Publicly run historic sites will be transferred to management under the umbrella of Economic Development and Tourism departments. Preservation investments will emphasize leveraging local partnerships because sites will be used to create a sense of place for tourism marketing. Historic site staff will be tasked with providing experiential programming onsite that supplements databases and media that can be accessed offsite.
Prediction #2: Historical Societies will consolidate collections and many will sell the historic houses in which they currently operate in order to become community advocacy groups. The Historical Society of the future will create websites, provide historical content for self-guided apps and lead occasional walking tours of historic districts. In more affluent communities, historic house preservation will be done primarily as adaptive reuse for business and government space. In poorer communities, historic districts will lose many important structures to abandonment and decay which will lead to their removal.
Prediction #3: Digital infrastructure will advance its traffic analysis giving information visibility. This will help create distinction between authoritative and non-authoritative sources. It will become possible to integrate Historical Society archives giving researchers access to public or private online collections. These institutional clouds of collections will interface with personal clouds enabling information to be structured and embedded with smart data (such as provenance or where to find similarly relevant materials). This will allow related information to link itself in an artificial neurological network and to therefore target appropriate audiences.
Prediction #4: The education system will continue to move away from teaching local history. Historic sites will have to creatively provide information and programming to an audience with very little foundational knowledge of American history. Sites with weak management will simplify narratives and focus on entertainment-style demonstrations whereas sites with strong management will develop a niche of providing foundational context and series of programs that appeal to various levels of knowledge. As history continues to strengthen as a trend, streamed television series, social media personalities and other drivers of pop culture will engage in "Edutainment" in which they will draw from historical narratives to create content.
Prediction #5: Traditional paths to public history jobs will diminish as middle management roles and specialist positions are eliminated. Historians who are committed to working in the field will create small businesses that provide needed services on a freelance basis. Rather than working as a curator or a conservator in one museum, a professional will apply to RFPs and help organizations to write for grants to support their services on a project to project basis.
Historical Resource Management
Before examining the past 100 years of historic preservation and trying to predict the next century in the field, it's important to note that we're marking this centennial not based on the narrative of historic preservation, but on the centennial of the National Parks Service.
Washington's Headquarters
in 1850
The National Parks Service was established 100 years ago and did not include historic sites until the Yorktown Battlefield was added in the 1930s. Looking specifically at New York State, historic preservation has its roots in the time period just after the Revolutionary War. The date to note for our purposes is July 4, 1850 when Washington's Headquarters in Newburgh, N.Y. was established as America's first historic house museum. It was the first example of public preservation of a historic site in the nation, and it happened 86 years before the Yorktown Battlefield came under the purview of the National Park Service. In addition to Washington's Headquarters, the Senate House, Grant's Cottage, and more were established as museums in the late 19th century.
Heading into the 20th century, most communities wanted their history stewarded by the State because it meant official recognition with very little top-down interest in management. But in order to package all of these historical sites and standardize practice in an era that called for "professionalization," their management was taken from hands of local trustees to be placed with the government under the State Education Department.  One lasting vestige of this time is that The New York State Historian still operates under the direction of the Board of Regents in the Education Department. The unique-to-New York law mandating municipal historians on the town, village and city levels hasn't been updated in nearly a century which means they have been left, by default, under the umbrella of the Education Department.
Senate House in 1885
But in the 1960s, New York State went the way of the National Parks System and started to transfer ownership and operation of historic sites to the management of the parks departments. This placed Washington's Headquarters, Senate House, and Grant's Cottage among all the others underneath the management of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The new focus of the Parks professionals caused a shift away from acquiring house museums and towards larger parcels of land with historic significance such as battlefields and encampments like Stony Point and the New Windsor Cantonment.
The marriage of the historic sites and the natural sites developed over time. It started nationally with the Yorktown acquisition in 1936 and became commonplace in New York State by the late 1960's, even locally, where I am the Orange County Historian, when two historic properties - Brick House and
Yorktown Battlefield
Hill-Hold - were donated to the County around 1975 they were placed in the County Parks department not under the municipal historian.
This trend had a cascading effect over the course of the 20th century. Thus, looking back at 100 years of the National Parks service is also a chance to discuss whether or not history was a good bedfellow to natural resource management. A century ago, the National Parks Service wasn't thinking about historic preservation but after two decades had passed, that policy changed. And perhaps this centennial is a time to reflect on what a permeating effect the National Park Service's decision to expand their mission to include historic sites has had on the entire field. 
But if we were to discuss the past and present of historic preservation holistically, we would need to look at the last 166 years and recognize that the management of historical sites and research has been shuffled around quite a bit. The work of municipal historians, government run departments, and local historical societies, as well as history educators from all levels, is fractured. It seems to me that historical preservation hasn't yet found its home.
Historic Houses and Historic Societies
The vast majority of historic sites and the work of historians occurs on the level of small historical societies. Most communities have one; some have several. The next 100 years looks grim for these institutions. Expenses are up, visitation is down, trustees are out of touch with new technology, and although interest in history from a pop culture standpoint is at an all time high, staffing is at an all time low.
The stereotype
Without intervention, smaller historical societies are an endangered species. In the next 30 years as this generation shifts, there will be a distinction between the societies that raise endowments and the ones that don't. The ones that  have endowments will be able to keep a professional staff to perpetuate the organization's relevance and focus on financial sustainability. The ones without endowments will succumb to costs of repairs, programing, and liability that are unsustainable without generating revenue. As these sites become untenable, the best and most responsible of the trustees will steward their documents and artifacts and merge with organizations that have a similar mission. The worst will auction off everything and shut their doors. As this shuffling of collections happens, many communities will lose out because local energy and fervor will dissipate, leaving historic districts vulnerable. This will be especially heartbreaking for cities in the northeast of the Country were historical societies have old comprehensive collections and have served as a gateway for acclimating new generations of immigrants. They often have the greatest impact but are operating without sustainable financial support.
Digitized Collections
One of the deciding factors in whether or not a collection lives on will be its digital adaption. In the internet age, information has been devalued; with answers to any question just a click away. However, this information isn't
Inside the archives
ranked in terms of accuracy or completeness, and users are interested more in speed than in checking footnotes. With this changing perception of where to go for information comes the eroding of the idea of authoritative sources. Search engines and crowd-sourcing via social media are preventing people from digging deeper to find what's buried in non-digital sources, particularly in small historical society collections. The result is a growing divide between the vast majority, unaware that they're being exposed to inaccurate information, and only the small subset of people who are sifting through the misinformation and emerging with the better answers.
The simple truth is that organizations need to digitize their collections, making them visible to modern scholars. However, many don't have the resources or expertise to do so, and even if an organization does, why should they spend the money to perpetuate the devaluation of the information that they currently control? Once it's out there, others will want to access it for free and the organization won't recoup the financial and time burden that was put into such a huge undertaking. So why should these institutions bother? How can they maintain value and authority, and most importantly, how do they generate revenue from the information in their collections?
Historians can't turn a blind eye to technology. Hoarding a collection and refusing to make it accessible digitally will not make the information valuable. An institution won't receive revenue or visibility if you limit access. In the current computer culture, it's expected that information remains free flowing. Digitization is no longer a question of being on the cutting edge - it's now a matter of remaining relevant. For historical institutions, most of which are struggling, it is critical to digitize everything and then shift focus to creating context.
Historical institutions are living, breathing organizations with local trustees and volunteers, the shepherds of local memory. They are the only ones who can create custom context and interpret and reinterpret for changing audiences. The information contained within a collection means little unless local societies are processing and repackaging it for the public, making people feel that they are getting more out of it if they show up to an event, subscribe to an online membership, or read the newsletter.
History Education
History is being eliminated from the curriculum in public schools due to a greater emphasis on standardized testing requirements, decreased resources for visiting local sites, and a greater push towards "marketable" science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. 
Visiting schools to teach
local history
If we do nothing to change the way history is taught through historic sites, we are only hastening our own decline. With a lack of history education in schools comes a proliferation of pop history. People satisfy their natural curiosity and love for history with ghost stories and "gotcha" style, out-of-context tidbits. To cater to this audience, historic sites end up focusing too much on snippets of pop history. It's dangerous territory: if an audience has no background in the study of history, dialogues can easily devolve and become uninteresting. What's worse, if people are spoon-fed small bits of information without context, they are only able to think the way they are told to think, like a lawyer leading a jury to a specific conclusion.
If schools are not going to teach foundational history, historic sites should be presenting themselves as the authorities on the subject that they are. The only way that historic institutions are going to survive in this new education system is to turn it on its head, proudly declaring "we're not here to chase your programming and cycles of curriculum, we are here to lay the foundational elements of historical inquiry and material."
History as a Career
If there's one quandary of public history that keeps me up at night, it's the impending crisis of careers in history. For the past decade, museums have downsized their staff and come to rely too heavily on volunteers. Sometimes this is the product of mass layoffs at big institutions, but mostly it takes the form of slow attrition. For years, historic sites have encouraged their middle management staff to retire and without filling the resulting vacant positions. They also shifted from employing full-time, professional tour guides and programming staff to part-time seasonal staff, in many cases relying entirely on volunteers. Remaining staff is spread too thin, attempting to fill too many roles, and volunteers often struggle with little professional supervision.
Historical Interpreters at work

There's also a  c risis in the academic history field. As students graduate with expensive de
grees and can't find paid history positions, they move on to higher levels of education. Eventually, these overeducated, under-experienced historians begin to look for teaching positions. The academic field is also downsizing, so career panels at their schools tell them to look for jobs in public history. The majority of th
ese professionally trained individuals end up leaving the field entirely to find work elsewhere.
Meanwhile, we have a Municipal Historians Law in New York State that requires a State Historian, and County, Town, Village, and City historians in every municipality. But the law is an unfunded mandate, which means that in the scope of each individual municipal budget, the historian is funded entirely by taxation. When a politician promises to lower taxes, they can't reduce the costs of social services, law enforcement, or infrastructure services because these are required by law and often have State or Federal requirements attached. Thus, they cut the history and tourism budgets. This has happened so frequently over the course of the last century that today, only four out of 62 New York Counties have a full-time paid historian. In addition, most local historians don't have any funding at all. Our municipal historian positions are withering away and our museums have a fraction of the staff that they need to survive. Yet we have fantastic students coming out of history and museum studies programs without a chance to find a job in the field.
If the next 100 years of history is to be a positive story, it is essential to funnel people who have been educated in public history into well-paying jobs. We need to breathe life into the local history jobs that are the engine of local research and the frontline of educating young students in an appreciation of their surroundings.


                                                                       Johanna Yaun
                                                                       Orange County Historian
Community Updates
Thank you to the Goshen Garden Club for decorating the 1841 Courthouse doors this holiday season!
The City of Newburgh is seeking proposals to restore the Dutch Reformed Church, City Club and vacant land on the waterfront. More info here.
Upcoming Events
Winding Through Warwick - To benefit St. Anthony's Hospital

Saturday, December 3, from 10am-4pm

Self-guided tours of beautifully dressed private homes, including a tour of the Pennings Cidery. Tickets $40, includes "grab and go" breakfast.  

Register at Mt. Alverno Center
20 Grand Street

Chester Historical Society Comedy Night

Saturday, December 3, Doors open at 8pm, performance starts at 9pm.

Fundraiser for the CHS.  Featuring Joey Kola.  Adult material.  $25.  For tickets, call Brian Baird or Cliff Patrick at 845-469-2591.  

Joker's Comedy Club
78 Brookside Avenue

Christmas in the Village

Sunday, December 4  from 12 to 6pm

Join us at the Museum for "Christmas In The Village"! This is a FREE event! We're asking everyone to bring a non-perishable food donation for Country Kids Food Pantry. Also a $5 per family suggested donation at the door (all proceeds go towards Museum Village Education Program.) Come see Santa by the fire place, walk around our grounds, take a hay ride and enjoy holiday entertainment in The Playhouse! We'll have food for purchase in our Snack Bar and the Gift Shop will be open to get a head start on those stocking stuffers! We hope to see you there!

Museum Village
1010 State Route 17M
Holiday Horse and Carriage Ride

Sunday, December 4  at  6pm

Want to have Holiday fun with the family?
Jingle Bells,  Sleigh Rides,  Christmas Music,  Hot Chocolate,  And the Man in Red.....SANTA

* Holiday Horse and carriage ride along Main        Street in Cornwall NY from 3:00pm - 5:00pm
* Santa Land at Bridge Street 3:00pm - 4:30pm 
* Tree lighting at Chadeayne Circle will follow.
* Music and refreshments at the Highland Engine Company Fire House.

Main Street
End of Prohibition Party

Sunday, December 4  from Noon to 9PM, live jazz from 6PM to 9PM

The Annual "Last Bash of Prohibition" will be held at the North Plank Tavern. Historic themed cocktails and costumed wait staff lend to the historic atmosphere.  Guests are encouraged to come dressed in period attire, but not necessary. Those in period clothing (1920's/30's style) will receive a complementary appetizer.
The Tavern has a storied past.  It was  originally built as a hotel along a plank road, and became a Tavern and boarding house.  During prohibition, the Tavern continued to serve alcohol and operated as a speakeasy. 

For reservations, call 845-562-5031.

North Plank Road Tavern
30 Plank Road
Goshen Christmas House Tour

Sunday, December 4  from 1- 5pm

Second annual house tour of 8 private Goshen homes all dressed in holiday finery, also includes tours of Glen Arden and the Stagecoach Inn.  Benefits Catholic Charities. $40 in advance, $45 walk-in.

Check in at Glen Arden
214 Harriman Drive

Annual Christmas Tea & Open House at the Jacob T. Walden House

Sunday, December 4 from 1 to 4 pm

Old-fashioned Victorian decorations, music, fresh-baked goodies in a casual atmosphere. Come and enjoy a relaxing way to enjoy the holidays.  Free event.

34 North Montgomery Street

Christmas with the Ellisons

Saturday, December 10 from 5 - 8pm
At Knox's Headquarters.
Tour the elegantly appointed 1754 Ellison house decorated for Christmas and staffed by Revolutionary War era costumed interpreters. 5 to 8pm. Admission is free.

 (845) 561-1765 ext. 22 for more information.

Other December events include:

Saturday, December 17, 5 to 8pm: Wassail, Wassail. Interpretation of a traditional Christmas Eve celebration.  Free.

Thursday, December 29, tours at 10,11, 1, 2 and 3. Guided tours of the decorated house.  Free.

Knox's Headquarters
289 Forge Hill Road
Vails Gate


Knox's Headquarters




Warm Up at the Washington's

Sunday, December 12 from
12 to 4pm

Come see how the Washington's decorated their home in the winter of 1782. Hot cider, cookies, house tour.  Free.
84 Liberty Street
Eggbert & Christmas on the Farm

Check website for dates

Christmas on the Farm - Exclusively at Devitt's. 
Bring the kids to see Eggbert the talking Egg and his farm animals. 

Eggbert is a Christmas tradition in the Hudson Valley. He actually talks to the children and he knows their name! 
It's an experience they will remember for a long, long time. 

Eggbert's just about the most famous egg in the whole world!  

- Over 3500 square feet of Additional Exhibit Space featuring the Devitt's Eggspress Train!

Cost for the Christmas Trail is $8 per person (3 and under is free) 
Devitt's Nursery & Supply
56 Devitts Circle
New Windsor
Candlelight Tour Newburgh

Sunday, December 11 from 12-5 pm 

The Newburgh Historical Society's annual Candlelight Tour features a dozen decorated homes including a diverse assortment of public and private spaces - mansions, structures in the rehabilitation process, new construction, architectural gems, and some of Newburgh's most important landmarks. For years, community members within the second largest historic district in New York State have generously decorated and opened their homes to visitors in support of local history. The 1830 Captain David Crawford House, located at 189 Montgomery St., Newburgh is the starting place for the Tour.  Admission: $30 per person  (Save $5 by purchasing tickets in advance.)  Call (845) 561-2585 for assistance and/or more information.

189 Montgomery Street
Orange County Historian | Goshen, N.Y. |  845-545-7908 |  jyaun