Settled by the Dutch in the mid-17th century, the mid-Hudson Valley has one of the nation’s oldest histories and richest architectural legacies, with abodes ranging from 18th-century stone houses to Victorian Painted Ladies to ranch houses built during the IBM heyday. The houses, however, are more than just a legacy in stone, brick and clapboard; they also can serve as portals to forgotten generations.
Rhinebeck resident David Miller decided to research his house, a Federal-style building located on the corner of Market and Mulberry. After contacting the town historian, poring through the deeds at the Dutchess County archives and reading newspaper obituaries, he decoded a little bit of the mystery.
The house had been owned by Peter Pultz in the early 19th century. Pultz also owned a tavern across the street, which was home to the Yellowbird Stagecoach line, and hence an important way-stop for travelers. (The spot was once known as Pultz’s Corner.) For most of the first half of the 20th century, the house belonged to Frank Stickles, one of the owners of Stickles Department Store; he was an important local figure, serving on the Board of Directors at a bank. Miller said that he learned that his place was older than he suspected, with the earliest deed dated from 1836. The home had already been built, and likely dates to the 1820s; Miller noted that “When a house is built, nothing happens. It’s only when it’s sold that there’s a record.”
One unexpected delight was the various anachronisms associated with the house – from its connection with stagecoaches, once the ubiquitous form of public transportation, to the reference in one deed of Pultz’s aged daughter as “lunatick”: late 19th-century lingo for senility, or Alzheimer’s, as the condition would be termed today. At one point, the house was bought for $1 because the owner was bankrupt, and Miller discovered from the documents that bankruptcy allowed you to keep your horse.
Miller, who is president of the Rhinebeck Historical Association, had so much fun that he wrote an article about his quest for the Association’s newsletter, and he is giving a talk titled “Who Lived in Your House before You?” this Friday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Starr Library, located at 68 West Market Street. He will provide tips on how to track down deeds – which have been recorded in the Dutchess and Ulster County archives for centuries – and discuss other fruitful sources of information. (Miller noted that there’s a certain amount of serendipity to the process: An obituary, for example, can consist of one line or, if the person was prominent, be a trove of detailed information.) Miller’s presentation will include maps, deeds and photographs.
One of Pultz’s relatives was a stagecoach driver, a historic tidbit that has inspired Miller to embark on another project: researching the history of mail delivery – a timely quest, given the downsizing of the US Postal Service as digital media become ever more ubiquitous. In the 19th century, mail was guaranteed to be delivered in five days: not bad for an era lacking motorized transportation.