In a long, low room of the 1799 LeFevre House on Historic Huguenot Street (HHS), members of the New Paltz town and village boards held a joint meeting on Wednesday, August 27. Town councilmen Dan Torres and Kevin Barry, deputy supervisor Jeff Logan, mayor Jason West, deputy mayor Rebecca Rotzler and trustee Ariana Basco attended.
“Historic Huguenot Street is honored to host this special joint meeting of village and town officials and community residents,” said Mary Etta Schneider, board president of HHS. “Democracy in New Paltz dates to 1678 and continued through Colonial reign until today. We feel privileged that the town and village have chosen to return to Huguenot Street, where a democratic New Paltz started and sustained for more than 335 years.”
Inspired by local history, Torres suggested the change of venue in discussions with HHS and the town and village boards, respectively. He described it as “a nice way of looking at our past while we also move forward as a community. We can’t know where we’re going,” he added, “if we don’t know where we’ve been.” West described the feel of the room as “what a Village Hall meeting should feel like.”
Thomas Olsen, longtime chair of the New Paltz Village Preservation Commission, gave a short speech about the job of the Commission and what it has accomplished, as well as detailing a “very modest wish list.” The Commission monitors Huguenot Street, as well as 12 other properties throughout the town. These property-owners, since being recognized, must go before Olsen and other Commission members if they wish to make significant changes, such as reroofing, to the historic buildings.
It also landmarks properties, which are then held to a higher “exterior” standard. Olsen said that the Commission succeeded this year in landmarking New Paltz’s Peace Park.
He concluded that the Commission would like to see greater cooperation with the Village Building Department. “There’s no real mechanism for periodically checking in with each other,” he said.
West also mentioned several different zoning classifications that might allow the Commission to cover the downtown Historic District in some capacity, an interest of Olsen’s.
HHS president Schneider, director of operations Rebecca Mackey and communications and marketing manager Kaitlin Gallucci also spoke about the value and significance of the Huguenot Street Historic Landmark District.
Schneider highlighted the 9,000 years of history in the New Paltz area, from tools dated around 7000 BC to the earliest European settlers in 1678 to the house built by Ezekiel Elting in 1799, in which the meeting took place. She also stressed the presence of slaves in New Paltz in the 18th century. “Around 1770, every house on Huguenot Street, every landowner had slaves,” she said, “a much higher concentration than existed in the South, [when considering] the percentage of landowners that owned slaves.” New York formally abolished slavery in 1827.
“These are our Founding Fathers,” she said.
The unique breadth of Huguenot Street’s history, Schneider said, makes it a valuable resource. “There is no other place in the country that can tell this story through a museum on a one-mile street…. It is a very unique place,” she added.
Schneider detailed two forthcoming projects. First is “a long-term strategic interpretive plan” to expand access to the public. Within that is site planning, moving from a financial plan to a physical one. She mentioned expanding parking as a goal. “We want people to have a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish.”