Town created first health laws, banned free-ranging swine
In the 1830s, Saugerties was already a cosmopolitan village, with the wealthy making the several hour coach ride north from New York City to shop, eat, and visit with friends here.
The village of Saugerties, known as the village of Ulster at the time, was so sophisticated that its governing body passed the state’s first health law.
The new law dealt with a scourge that hadn’t even made it to these shores yet, but visitors to Europe and the Far East reported back that Indian cholera caused by contaminated drinking water was sickening and killing thousands.
To ensure that did not happen in Saugerties, village officials passed a health law that kept animals and other contaminates away from drinking water supplies.
Village officials also approved a second law that calls to mind recent battles over small-scale agriculture (think “urban chickens”). It seems that swine roamed freely through the village, and officials believed this did not reflect well on the local community, so they passed a law requiring pens.
These were just some of the many stories that local historians Michael Sullivan Smith and Audrey Klinkenberg shared with a handful of history buffs during a special presentation at the library on Tuesday night, Oct. 2 as part of Ulster County’s celebration of Historic Preservation Week.
Smith talked about how wealthy New York City industrialist Henry Barclay moved to Saugerties to increase his fortune and built factories, housing for workers in his factories, and churches so that his workers and his wealthy friends visiting from the city could worship (of course not in the same church).
Saugerties was also one of the first in the state to have a sidewalk ordinance, with village officials decreeing that sidewalks should consist of the local bluestone, and establishing particulars for how far hitching posts should be from each other, and requiring that barriers be placed around trees that lined Main and Partition Streets to keep the hitched horses from eating tree bark.
For the last several years, Smith and Klinkenberg have been digitizing hundreds of documents that local attorney Daniel Lamb found in an old cabinet, some of which date back to the 1700s, as well as the earliest minutes from meetings of the Village Board from the 1830s.
As of yet, this vast storehouse of digital information has yet to find a home, but the two historians are hoping that someday it will be placed on the Saugerties Public Library’s computer server so that all residents will have access to it.