The history of New Paltz’s Huguenot settlers may be literally carved in stone, but the future is apparently in a state of flux for Historic Huguenot Street (HHS). Rebecca Mackey, formerly known as interim executive director, is now the director of operations. Director of education Susan Stessin-Cohn — the driving force behind much of the innovative programming at HHS in recent years — was reportedly terminated last week, although HHS declined to comment other than to “confirm that Susan no longer works here.” And two new positions — a director of strategy, development and history interpretation and a director of communications — have been created and filled by recruits from Colonial Williamsburg: Dr. Taylor Stoermer and Meg Martin, respectively.
The personnel shuffle is closely related to a long-range strategic planning process that is already getting underway at HHS, with an eye toward significant expansion of the site, its interpretive methods and programmatic offerings. A press conference was held on Thursday, Feb. 27 to introduce the members of the strategic planning committee and paint a broad picture of the process for which they will be responsible, with the intent “to establish a new, sustainable foundation for Huguenot Street that strengthens its ties with the past, with modern guests and with the broader regional community.”
The headliner at the press conference was Ulster County executive Mike Hein, who presented a proclamation congratulating HHS on the new initiative and spoke in glowing terms of the historic site’s potential to the county’s tourism economy, which he projected could feasibly double from its present value of $500 million annually to one billion dollars — especially once the missing link between the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and Walkway Over the Hudson is completed.
“Historic Huguenot Street is one of Ulster County’s best-kept secrets, and I don’t believe in best-kept secrets,” said Hein. “We want to make sure that more people get to experience this place and that they leave here richer…People who come into New Paltz are literally driving within a few hundred yards of one of the most amazing places in our nation.”
The strategic planning process will be managed by Taylor Stoermer and chaired by HHS board trustee Jay Jason. The other members of the committee include Lisa Berger, deputy director of Ulster County Tourism; Josephine Bloodgood, executive director/curator at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum; local architect, historic preservationist and urban planner Ray Curran; HHS director of operations Rebecca Mackey; Bill Martin, director of the Valentine Richmond History Center; Ulster County clerk Nina Postupack; Rick Remsnyder, director of Ulster County Tourism; Mary Etta Schneider, HHS board chair and president; Bill Weldon, creative director at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; and Mary Kay Vrba, executive director of Dutchess Tourism.
Noting that “30 million people in the US are descended from Huguenot Street,” Schneider said afterward that the committee would be meeting weekly — via written exchanges, conference calls and online chats — over the next nine months to “articulate this vision for the decade ahead.” The goal, according to Schneider, is to have a physical plan for the site completed by the end of 2014, along with a freshly defined mission and vision. Some physical changes to the historic district, such as improved signage creating more of a sense of a “gateway,” could “happen immediately,” she said. New walkways, places to purchase food and possibly a new visitors’ center are all under consideration.
Also high on the agenda will be changes to the interpretive approach. “We’re going to be testing some things this year,” Schneider promised. She emphasized enhanced sensory experiences in the various houses on Huguenot Street, so that it “feels like whoever lives there just walked out.” Another priority would be more frequent rotation of objects on display from HHS’s extensive collections.
Remsnyder said that Ulster County Tourism’s role on the committee would be to provide “suggestions on how to attract more people to this site,” and to leverage the agency’s resources to hook HHS up with bus companies and other group tour operators who are looking for more destinations in the county. Curran, who spent a number of years living in France doing historic preservation work and is also the former chair of the New Paltz Village Planning Board, saw his role as largely serving as an intermediary with the various municipal and county planning bodies who will have some say over any proposed changes to the historic district.
Taylor Stoermer hired as director of Strategy, Development and Historic Interpretation
Who is Dr. Taylor Stoermer and what is his big vision for the future of Historic Huguenot Street? The New Paltz Times conducted an in-depth interview prior to the organization’s recent press conference unveiling its new strategic planning process. Here’s some of what we found out about the historic site’s new Strategy, Development and Historic Interpretation director: