In November of 1782, general George Washington was residing at his headquarters in Newburgh when he decided to make a visit to Kingston. Accompanied by other officers, Washington journeyed through the Rondout Valley, stopping along the way in Stone Ridge before reaching his destination.
Those witnessing his passage through the region left records that show that Washington appeared to be visibly touched by the enthusiastic show of support from those he encountered along the way. Many people thanked him effusively for his service, inspiring Washington to address them in kind. He told a group gathered on the outskirts of Kingston, burned by the British in 1777, that “The heavy calamity which befell this flourishing settlement seems but to have added to the patriotic spirit of its inhabitants, and a new town is fast rising out of the ashes of the old.”
Further lauded at Kingston’s Dutch Reformed Church, whose congregation had aligned itself with the patriot cause, Washington later wrote to the consistory there to thank them for their “public mark of esteem.” That original thank-you note is preserved today at Kingston’s Old Dutch Church, and since 1923, it has commemorated the general’s momentous visit there with an annual dinner in his honor.
This year’s annual George Washington Dinner and Dance will be the 91st such affair. It will be held on the 282nd anniversary of Washington’s birthday on Saturday, February 22 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. in Bethany Hall in the Old Dutch Church at 272 Wall Street in Kingston. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $10 for ages 9 to 16.
Colonial attire is encouraged for “an evening of advanced conviviality” to include food, English-style country dancing and singing. The menu promises “the best ham biscuits you ever ate” along with assorted cheeses, fruits and vegetables. A buffet dinner will offer beef Burgundy with horseradish-infused mashed potatoes, and dessert will be “Olde Ulster Apple Cake” with dried cherries (of course; there have to be cherries involved, in the name of George Washington). Coffee, tea and non-alcoholic punch will be included, and wine, beer and hard cider available for an additional donation.
The guest of honor at the George Washington Dinner will be Edwin Ford, City of Kingston historian since 1984. Ford will be recognized for his extensive efforts to preserve and protect the historical heritage of Kingston, including his role in saving the lunettes that line the chamber walls at Kingston’s City Hall. The half-moon-shaped sculptural reliefs illustrate a panoply of Kingston history, from a depiction of the Half Moon sailing ship arriving on the Hudson in 1609 to Wynkoop House in Stone Ridge, where George Washington and his staff were entertained on their way to Kingston on that trip in 1782.
All proceeds from the George Washington Dinner will go toward the replacement of Peace with the Indians and Presentation of the Wampum Belt, 1665, one of the last lunettes yet to be restored out of the original 23.
The lunettes were first placed in the Common Council chamber of City Hall during its first restoration in 1929, after a fire in 1927 almost destroyed the 1875 structure. But when a deteriorating City Hall was abandoned in 1972 in favor of modern offices in downtown Rondout, the original building was left to the mercy of the elements. Ford discovered the lunettes in a state of ruin from rainwater leaking through the roof. “To see that water pouring in and running down the walls was terrible,” he remembers today.
Ford arranged for the plaster reliefs to be removed from the building and stored safely in the basement of the Old Dutch Church: a project that he says was undertaken with assistance from Bob Slater (who, like Ford, had an association with the Heritage Museum in the Old Dutch Church). “We got the idea, the two of us, that we could get some money together and get a contractor to take down the remaining ones that we could save,” says Ford. “We were able to save ten; they were used as molds for the new ones that were installed in 2000.”
The original plaster molds for three lunettes could not be found; but Peace with the Indians and Presentation of the Wampum Belt, 1665, a depiction of peace between the Dutch settlers and the Esopus Indians in 1660, has been recreated from a photograph. The finishing touches are currently being added to it, says Ford.
Upon installation in City Hall, the lunette will be dedicated to Ed Ford – hopefully in time to celebrate his 96th birthday in April. “It’s a wonderful honor,” he says. “I’m surprised and pleased.”
Ford’s brother, William Ford, 90, generously put up a third of the $15,000 necessary to complete the lunette. Edwin says that his brother told him, “Well, I’ve given you enough sweaters and shirts for your birthday; it’s time I did something better.”
Another third of the funding for the lunette was raised last month in an online “crowdfunding” effort, now ended. All proceeds from the George Washington Dinner on Saturday will directly benefit the project.
After the recreated lunette is installed in its place at City Hall, there will still be two lunettes missing from the series. The fate of Fur Trading with Indians at Rondout and Chief Justice John Jay Drawing the Draft of the First Constitution of the State of New York, 1777 is undetermined. No plans are in motion to recreate them at this time, says Ford. “But there are photos existing of the remaining ones, so they can be done whenever the funding is available.”
91st annual George Washington Dinner & Dance, Saturday, February 22, 6:30-10 p.m., $20/$10, Bethany Hall, Old Dutch Church, 272 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 338-6759, www.olddutchchurch.org.