The Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) will host its fourth annual historic house tour on Saturday, May 31 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. And while previous tours explored the Kettleborough area of Gardiner, followed by Clintondale and then Esopus, the focus of this year’s tour is on “Houses and Farms in the Wallkill River Valley: The Changing Face of Agriculture in Gardiner and Shawangunk.”
“It’s a fantastic tour for anybody who has any real interest in the history of the area and the evolution of its architecture,” said WVLT board member Vals Osborne. “It’s quite a different terrain from past years, and just an amazing area; there is still so much preserved land. Even though it’s not under easement, you have all these fantastic beef farms and horse farms and other things going on that have preserved the land through adaptive re-use.”
Several of the homes have never before been seen on a tour, and two aren’t in any published literature on the area, Osborne said, including the last house on the tour where there will be an informal wine and cheese reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. featuring wines from Gardiner’s Whitecliff Vineyard and Winery.
The self-guided tour begins at TuthillHouse at the Mill Restaurant & Tavern at 20 Gristmill Lane in Gardiner, where guests pick up a booklet with maps, directions and descriptions of the properties and are given a bracelet to be worn in place of carrying tickets for admission to the various homes. The restaurant is in a historic property itself — a former gristmill listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dating to 1788 and retaining some of the original timber and equipment — but it isn’t officially part of the tour.
It is the starting point for all tour-goers, whether they’ve pre-purchased their tickets online for $35 (before May 30) or waited to buy them at TuthillHouse on the day of the event for $40. Members of the WVLT receive a $5 discount in either case, and the admission fee includes the wine and cheese reception for everybody after the tour.
Registration for the tour is required in advance — no matter how payment is made — by filling out the form on the WVLT website and mailing, e-mailing or hand-delivering it to the land trust offices at 64 Huguenot Street in New Paltz. All the details are at www.WallkillValleyLT.org.
The TuthillHouse will issue maps and directions and accept payments for those not pre-paid between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tour-goers should allow several hours to complete the tour, said Osborne. The route covers approximately 24 miles altogether, but each home is only a five- to seven-minute drive apart.
There are seven houses on the tour, four of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. All of the homes, said Osborne, have been lovingly restored by recent owners. And in addition to the gristmill, two other National Register historic sites can be seen along the way, too: the Reformed Church of Shawangunk with its parsonage and graveyard and a still-active brick mold factory.
Each of the homes will have a knowledgeable trained docent from local historical societies available to offer information on the property. While it’s not possible to follow a chronological route in terms of the age of the houses, said Osborne, the guest will likely find that each property reinforces the other in some way, linked across time by common threads. “You can see the connections between the earlier and the later ones and how responsive they all were to a tradition of Dutch architecture and Federal layouts. Each house is a great example of its period and together they offer a superb overview of vernacular architecture in this region.”
The WVLT is including a contemporary home on the tour for the first time. “From the outside, it doesn’t particularly strike you,” said Osborne, “but the interior is just stunning.” The home — which is also part of a farm — is a solar-powered geothermal house situated to take full advantage of wind and sun but within the structure of an 1850s barn moved from Pennsylvania and erected here. It has a protective porch and a long, sloping Dutch-style roof that overhangs as protection for storing wood and outdoor objects during winter, Osborne noted, a detail that tour-goers will find echoed in the earliest home on the tour, as well.
Most of the homes on the tour are situated on old farm complexes originally settled by Dutch, French Huguenot and other locally prominent families. The tour includes examples of the Dutch-style stone house, the Federal style in stone and clapboard, Greek Revival clapboard dwellings and a stone Colonial surrounded by early 20th-century houses.
“And the environment in which they’re going to see these homes is a very important part of the tour,” Osborne said. “What is particularly striking in this area, is that despite the developments here and there, how much of it is preserved; we still have these sweeping open spaces. The Shawangunks are really stunning along these routes, and it does give you this sense of preservation, conservation and adaptive re-use of what were almost all dairy farms originally. In a funny sort of way, we’re promoting the beauty of the region, too, not just the houses.”
And that ties in with the reason the WVLT is having the tour in the first place: all proceeds support the land preservation efforts of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1987 to preserve land in southern Ulster County, enhancing the quality of life for all residents and visitors through conserving scenic, agricultural, ecological, recreational and culturally significant land. The Wallkill Valley Land Trust now has approximately 1,700 acres of preserved land in the towns of New Paltz, Gardiner, Shawangunk, Rosendale, Esopus, Lloyd, Plattekill and Marlborough. Their conservation easements include active farmland, places of historical importance and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail.