Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz will enter into the fall with a new set of leaders, including a new executive director with connections to the Deyo and DuBois families. After months of searching for the right person to replace Eric Roth, an eleventh generation Huguenot descendant, Tracy Doolittle McNally, will replace interim leader Mary Etta Schneider as the new head of the historical society.
McNally, who grew up in Westchester, remembers the first time she came to see the old colonial settlement in New Paltz.
“I was brought here as a little girl when I was eight years old,” she explained. “It was one of those family outings that mesmerized me.”
McNally’s interest in American history has long been intertwined with her family history. As one of the descendants of the original twelve founding families of New Paltz, she could look back at various points in history and try to imagine what her ancestors might have been doing. Her grandmother, Elizabeth Cantine-Baxter, also had a pivotal role kick-starting the new Historic Huguenot Street executive director’s love of history.
When she was 14, she inherited her grandmother’s carefully collected and catalogued newspaper clippings about the family. Cantine-Baxter, who was a news reporter, knew a little something about research and that collection was comprehensive.
“She was really the one who got me into the history and genealogy,” said McNally, who also has ties to the old Kingston-based Hudson River Cantine-Kipps ferry.
Last Monday, McNally started her first day at the historical society’s office — a building her forebears once called home.
“I feel very comfortable here,” she said. “Not that many people have that kind of connection to history.”
As the new director, McNally is already starting to plan for 2013 — that year will mark the 335th anniversary of the founding of New Paltz. Historic Huguenot Street would like that year to be full of events and fun to commemorate the significant historical milestone.
On the slate for Huguenot Street will be an exhibit showing how the early settlers made a living and what commerce was like in the late 1600s and 1700s.
For McNally, it’s important that people who come to visit the street don’t just come and go, but that they feel welcome to stay and maybe experience what life might have been like for the Duzine.
“Well, I really want to make it a living museum,” she said. “I’m hoping to have more programs where people will really stay on the street longer.”
Another possibility is to link up with the Musee du Nuveau Mond, or the Museum of the New World, in La Rochelle, France. Early Huguenots didn’t necessarily stay in the U.S., but some of them made a living heading back to France and trading New World goods from native tribes with the French back home.
Musee du Nuveau Mond has strong local links with New Paltz, since most of their exhibits stem from the trade with the local Huguenot settlers. Their collection includes Native American clothing and artifacts from the area. McNally said she’d like to cultivate a relationship with her counterparts in La Rochelle.
Mary Etta Schneider, who was the interim director on top of her duties as the president of the historical society’s board, said she was glad to help McNally transition into her new role.
“Now, I’ll just kind of pass the baton to Tracy,” Schneider said.
Schneider had been the second interim director and had served for five months. She’s been on the HHS Board since 2005.
McNally isn’t the only new face at Historic Huguenot Street — she’s joined by a whole new management team of people who’ve worked up through the ranks or joined the team after the Roth era had ended.
Susan Stessin-Cohn, who has worked with HHS for years, will step into the role of the director of exhibits, education and public programs.
Rebecca Mackey is in as the manager of programs, tours, volunteer care and the museum shop.
Jan Melchior will take over as HHS’s new spokesperson, and she is the new manager of promotion and marketing.
For more information about the street, the people who run it or those old stone houses, head to www.huguenotstreet.org. ++