This is the story of two remarkable people who, 51 years ago, envisioned a place in New Paltz where people from near and far could come and research their genealogy or learn about local history – a place where membership was not required, with regular hours, a knowledgeable staff and a collection of research materials that were guaranteed to be there when you needed them. These two people were Mary Stuart Irish Vanderlyn Haviland and William “Bill” Heidgerd.
Mary Stuart Irish was born in Putnam County in 1882. She came to the Normal School in New Paltz to become a teacher, but instead, fell in love with a local boy, Joseph Hasbrouck Vanderlyn, who grew up in the house by the Village Tea Room. He went to Cornell and followed in his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer. When elected New Paltz town supervisor in 1914, he was (and still is) the youngest man to fill that position. He was well-remembered by many of the residents of his community for his civic achievements and for his warm and friendly personality. The couple married in 1907 and had one daughter, Magdalena. In 1917, at the age of 36, Joseph had an attack of appendicitis and died, leaving Mary a young widow.
During her residence in New Paltz, Mary was a member of the New Paltz Study Club, the Dutch Reformed Church and many other organizations. When she died in 1971, she was the last survivor of the seven founders of the New Paltz Reading Room: the forerunner of what would become the Elting Memorial Library.
Five years after her husband Joseph’s death, Mary married Edward Haviland, and lived the rest of her life in Florida. For more than the next 60 years Mary continued to support the library in New Paltz – not only financially, but also with her annual trips to the library, in which she would see something that needed doing, and would gladly lend a hand in its accomplishment. In memory of her first husband, she contributed the money to the library for the stone wall and landscaping along Main Street. There is a small plaque with Joseph’s name, inset in the wall near the steps to the old library entrance.
In January 1965, the library’s local history collection was named the Mary Stuart Haviland History Collection, in Mary’s honor. The first director of that collection was William Heidgerd (the other remarkable person whom I will discuss now). Bill Heidgerd was born in New York City in 1902, the son of Diederich Heidgerd and Mabel Schoonmaker. After attending Columbia University, Pace College and Pennsylvania State University, Bill and his family moved to Michigan, where he met and married Ruth Parsons in 1944.
Bill was employed from 1924 to 1962 as a salesman for Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation. He spent many nights on the road, traveling all over the Northeast; but unlike most salesmen, Bill occupied his evenings in libraries researching his family history. His matrilineal family history is what kept bringing Bill back to Ulster County, and when he retired, Bill brought his family to New Paltz. They moved to Huguenot Street into the house that we know as the LeFevre or the 1799 House.
Both Bill and his wife were lovers of old books and had considered opening up a rare book store upon Bill’s retirement. Instead, they met up with Kenneth Hasbrouck, another avid historian and genealogist, who soon enlisted Bill’s help in preserving the old houses on Huguenot Street. The Heidgerds donated their rare book collection to the Huguenot Historical Society in order to start a library specializing in local history and genealogy. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, Bill soon realized that his dream of making Huguenot Street a Mecca for genealogists was not to be. But Bill was not deterred. Since he was on the Board of Trustees of the Elting Memorial Library, he began campaigning for a non-circulating research section of the library to be opened, specializing in local history and genealogy.
Bill Heidgerd had a certain sparkle in his eye that made it virtually impossible for anyone to say no to him. (I guess that came from so many years of selling steel.) Certainly the other members of the library board and Mary Haviland were soon captured by his charm – and the rest is history. For ten years, as its first director, Bill built up both the collection’s holdings and reputation. Bill saw in Irene Martin the perfect successor to him as director, as she shared Bill’s enthusiasm for the historical collection.
It was Bill who first hired me to work at the library as his research assistant, helping him with a genealogy that he was compiling at the time. Every day, when I take out a book for a person that contains some of Bill’s research, I can’t help but think back 30 years ago, when I first worked for him at the collection. I still see Bill in my mind’s eye, pecking away with two fingers on his old typewriter, and I like to imagine what he could have accomplished if he only had access to a computer.
Both Bill and Ruth Heidgerd were authors and compilers of many books, articles and accounts pertaining to the history of New Paltz and the Hudson River Valley. To name just a few, Bill compiled the 20-volume Descendants of Chretian DuBois, The Goetshius Family History, The Elting Family in America, The Black History of New Paltz and The Records of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Bill held memberships in many historical and genealogical societies. He was also a New Paltz Village Trustee, and chairman of the Board of Assessors of New Paltz.
Bill was associated with the Elting Memorial Library for nearly 40 years. The library recognized his tireless efforts on behalf of local history in 1973, and renamed the collection the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection. Bill died at age 90 in September 1992.
Together, Bill and Mary Vanderlyn Haviland made quite a team. It was their lifelong love of libraries and the rich history that New Paltz had to offer that brought them together and inspired them to start and develop the Historical Collection, which today has grown to be known as an excellent source of information concerning the settlement and growth of this part of the Hudson Valley.
Irene Martin fell under Bill Heidgerd’s spell and took over for him as director of the collection in 1974. During her tenure, the collection grew, and moved from an upstairs room in the library’s old stone building to an area built just for the collection in 1978. Two staff positions were added to assist patrons and answer queries. Irene conducted oral history interviews, led walking tours and arranged for history-related programs and classes at the library – all with the unstinting support of John Giralico, the Elting Memorial Library’s far-seeing director. Irene retired in 1996 and now lives outside Atlanta.
Marion Ryan was my predecessor as coordinator of the collection. Marion taught me more about the everyday running of a library than anyone else – including the correct way to type an old catalogue card, of which she used to type 30 to 40 for one book!
Which leads us to Dr. William B. Rhoads and his wife Sally: the Heidgerd and Haviland of today. Bill Rhoads is well-known Hudson Valley historian and preservationist, the author of Ulster County, New York: The Architectural History and Guide and professor emeritus of architectural history at SUNY-New Paltz. Sally has served as the Village’s deputy mayor, and president of the Elting Memorial Library board and the New Paltz school board. The money for the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection’s current state-of-the-art home, built in 2006, was given by Bill and Sally in memory of Bill’s parents, Paul and Mary Rhoads. For this generous donation, and countless other donations of books, photographs and ephemera, I will be eternally grateful to them.
Carol Johnson is the coordinator of the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz. For more information visit the library, located at 93 Main Street in downtown New Paltz, call 255-5030 or e-mail HavilandHeidgerd@yahoo.com.