POV: Historic Preservation need not be boring



How fortunate the town of Saugerties is to have a unique history and people who want to preserve that legacy. On Monday, Oct. 14, a presentation by the Town of Saugerties Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) gave the audience an opportunity to learn about the preservation efforts of some of those people.

The presentation was organized by Michael Sullivan Smith, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, as part of the Ulster County Heritage celebration. The goal of the evening was to explain how technology was making available original historical resources so that they can be used by future generations. In a freewheeling flow, knowledgeable presenters interacted with both the audience and the moderator to enable a dialogue between people laboring, often by themselves, and finally getting to share their work with others fervent about history.

The passion of the presenters in their subject matter was evident and the audience was captivated by some of the documentation. For example, Judge Dan Lamb Jr. shared a digitization of the 1727 original Christian Myer deed from the Rosenblum and Lamb collection as well as a 1708 land grant document from Queen Ann, and the tax assessment roll from 1827 (yes, they were collecting taxes back then, too).


It was pointed out that digitization of early source material—like maps, deeds, surveys, drawings, aerial photographs, etc.—allows for its placement on the web, making Internet searches both possible and relatively easy. So easy that Saugerties history now lends itself to be used by schools to interface with the NY State Education Department’s Common Core Learning Standards curriculum.

Following Dan Lamb’s interesting presentation, which also included aerial photographs of Saugerties taken in the ’50s, Audrey Klinkenberg, Saugerties town historian and Ulster County deputy historian, discussed all the work she is doing, which includes transcribing documents so that their contents can be easily understood. The contents on these old documents, although beautifully written, are hard to read and comprehend.

One of the documents that she transcribed recently was the 1831 minutes of the Village of Ulster—the old name for Saugerties. It describes how a board of health was established at that time because a cholera epidemic was raging and the village fathers did not want it in Saugerties. While not understanding about how cholera was spread (“aromas” was one of the theories at that time), and taking no chances, the minutes indicate that Saugerties was to be “cleaned up with no dirt around.” Captains of visiting ships could be fined if it was shown that they brought a sick person into the village.

The difference between the village and town popped up in an interchange between two of the next presenters. Josh Randall had pointed out during his presentation, the impressive actions of the HPC (he is a current member and former chair of the Commission) including recent historic designations. Josh said that, unfortunately, three designations were turned down by the Town Board (the Winston Farm, Opus 40 monument and complex, and a segment of the East-West Road that runs between Platte Clove and the river). Richard Frisbie, the current chair of the Village of Saugerties Historic Review Board, reminded everyone that politics and politicians are not involved in the village designation process. What the Review Board designates cannot be turned down—much to the envy of members of the town HPC.

Because of the well-publicized contentious fight between the owner of Clovelea and the village, one member of the audience asked whether the village was overstepping its boundaries and confiscating people’s properties. Josh Randall strongly stated that a designation is not a “take” of property—it is a designation. Then both Josh and Richard adamantly refuted the notion, pointing out that in some cases, the interest as a community was more important than one’s individual ownership. Both men see their roles as protecting “our communal history.” The evening’s interplay of politics just added to the fascinating discussions.

The audience found out that the next presenter, Chester Hartwell, has a Facebook page, “I Like Saugerties,” which makes it easy to transmit information to the next generation because Facebook is such a draw for the younger crowd. Chester views himself as a pioneer in using Facebook for gathering observations and broadening interest in Saugerties history. Photographs of current structures are juxtaposed with the way they used to look (from old postcards) with the added benefit of commentary about the structure. His logo on this Facebook page is the image of the Saugerties Lighthouse, which Chester said, “is also painted on all trash cans in the village.”

The final speaker was Bob Chappelle who recently began gathering materials for the American Legion Post 72 on Saugerties Civil War veterans. Bob has created a Facebook page with his findings. They include all aspects of the veterans’ lives, e.g., intimate information (birth date , physical appearance, and marriage, occupation, and burial facts) as well as the battles the veterans fought (and the history of those battles). He has started a similar file on Saugerties veterans involved in World War I and II as well as the Revolutionary War and expects that to be up and running on Facebook soon.

The evening passed too quickly for both presenters and the audience. In my book, that means it should be done again.

Susan Puretz