Longtime history lover and Kingston native Mark Yallum is making history. Yallum has started a Facebook group in efforts to map all of UlsterCounty’s historic stone houses and upload that information to Google Maps for a public online database. The group is called “Written in Stone: Ulster County’s Historical Legacy” and in a few months already has over 200 members, many of whom actively participate by uploading photos or stories of area historic homes.
Yallum said he developed a healthy dependency on Google Maps feature “Street View,” which displays real ground-level images of streetscapes. Yallum said he finds it invaluable when plotting scenic driving tours in unfamiliar terrain. “I really like this feature and sometimes I just travel online, to see what a certain locality in Australia or Japan looks like, because I haven’t actually been there yet.”
Currently, only the main streets of Hurley and Stone Ridge have street-view images on Google Maps, but not yet Kingston’s Stockade district or New Paltz’s historic Huguenot Street. “Some of the most interesting places in Ulster County are off the main roads, including most of the old houses, and are not available on ‘Street View,’” said Yallum. “So, my idea is to create a new architectural record for the digital age using high-resolution photographs of the early houses, available online, worldwide, for people like me.”
Yallum’s enthusiastic about the region’s “vernacular” architecture; the term refers to structures which incorporate locally sourced and indigenous materials in their construction and reflect the context, economy and environment in which they were built. Around here, that equates to buildings put up starting with the arrival of Europeans in the mid-17th century to the first half of the 19th century, after which things became much more standardized. “The vernacular architecture of Ulster County is one of its greatest cultural assets, but it cannot be separated from its environment and the beauty of our old buildings is enhanced by the pastoral landscape
in which they are situated,” Yallum said, noting the defining parameters of “vernacular” are not written in stone (wink, wink).
“It would be fair to say that there are actually several local vernaculars, due to the various types of stone and other materials used, and the different building traditions brought by Dutch, Huguenot, and other early settlers,” said Yallum, giving the example of how houses built of area stone vary in color and shades, with lighter field stone homes, or much darker slate, depending on where and when they were built.
Yallum’s goal for the Written in Stone Facebook group is to conduct a new survey which he hopes will be a complete inventory of all the old stone houses, “even those hidden away, far off the beaten track,” including even the oldest brick and wooden houses still standing. Yallum hopes that he and other members can photograph all of the vernacular houses in Ulster County at their location to post on the page for the group members to discuss. The group’s roster is comprised of historic home owners, historic Ulster County family members, local historical society members and other service organizations, as well as farmers who’ve inherited land from colonial ancestors, academics and local residents who share a passion for local history and architecture. All Facebook group members are welcomed to post whatever photos or stories they like, with some members posting old photos with interesting anecdotes. Though some posts are not entirely architecture-related, many post historical accounts or even historical family photos.