Friends of Historic Saugerties offers local history buffs a new resource

The group’s logo, showing the falls over the Cantine Dam and nearby industry, was taken from a 19th-century bank note

The group’s logo, showing the falls over the Cantine Dam and nearby industry, was taken from a 19th-century bank note

“Here’s a question for you,” says Gus Pedersen, furniture designer and local history buff. We’re talking about obsolete occupations that show up in historical documents but nobody knows what they are anymore. “What did a calenderer do?”

Hmm. Keep track of important dates? Create calendars? No, as Pedersen explains, in paper manufacturing, calendering is the process of smoothing the surface of the paper by pressing it between rollers called “calenders,” which prepares the paper for printing. A calenderer was the man who did this work before technology took over the process, and in the Saugerties economy of the late 19th century, when the Cantine Paper Company was one of the major employers in town, it was a valued profession.


And that type of historical information — those small but telling details that reveal what day-to-day life was really like for those who came before us — is the type of thing likely to turn up as the topic for a discussion at a future meeting of the Friends of Historic Saugerties, a newly formed group that meets on the first Saturday of each month from 2-4:30 p.m. in the community room at the Saugerties Public Library. Anyone interested in local history is welcome to attend, and there are no dues or membership required. An agenda will be in place at each meeting with two 45-minute presentations given on topics of local history, with time allowed for discussion and questions.

The first meeting of the group in February attracted 35 people, says Pedersen, one of the group’s founders, and they expect to have at least 50 attend the next meeting on Saturday, March 7 at 2 p.m., when the presentations will include one by author and musician Mark Anderson, who will speak about Band Camp in the Pine Grove hamlet, notable as the summer home of the Ernest Williams Music Camp from 1931-1947. Following that discussion, Rich Davis, who has family roots in the Flatbush section of Saugerties going back to the 18th century, will share some of his research on Flatbush history.

And “sharing” seems to be the operative word here. Pedersen emphasizes that the Friends of Historic Saugerties is a “coordinated, interactive” effort within the community for people interested in history to exchange knowledge and ideas. “If somebody, for instance, has an old farm and has done some research about its history, we’d be interested in you standing up and giving us what you found. And it doesn’t have to be the perfect PowerPoint presentation.”

And if somebody wants help with their historical research, Petersen adds, “We have knowledgeable people in the group who can help you out.”

Presentation topics do not have to be Saugerties-specific, but any subject discussed should have some relevance to Saugerties history. For example, a future presentation on slavery in the Hudson Valley isn’t about Saugerties but is applicable to the region. And another upcoming presentation planned for August on how to use the county archives to search historical records is applicable to Saugertiesians along with everyone else in Ulster County.

The Friends of Historic Saugerties started last fall after Pedersen attended a course on the history of Saugerties at Lifespring, the adult learning community. There was a different presenter for each of six sequential weeks, he says, one of whom was local historian Michael Sullivan Smith. “It got really interesting, and I asked some questions. He said, ‘Why don’t you join our monthly meeting at the library; we meet the first Saturday of each month at 2 p.m. and talk history.’” That group, known as the Saturday History Group, ended up providing the basis for the current Friends of Historic Saugerties.

In the effort to create a more structured group with a set agenda, four of the regular attendees of the Saturday History Group sessions — Arzi McKeown, Gus Pedersen and Rich and Susan Davis — got together with Chester Hartwell and Michael Sullivan Smith, the primary organizers of that group, and set about to reinvent it. “We’re still in the process of setting up the guidelines and formalizing who is responsible for stuff, but we’re moving along,” said Pederson. “We’ve created a ‘steering committee,’ which is open to anyone willing to take an active part and not just suggest things that we ought to do.” One subject the group has decided they will not talk about, says Pedersen, is politics, including current local disputes about historic designations and such.


Upcoming presentations

The April 4 meeting of the group will highlight the Saugerties Lighthouse, with a presentation given by Anna Berkheiser, co-keeper of the lighthouse along with husband Patrick Landewe. Following her talk will be local resident Penny Milford, who will speak about the research she’s done on her home, particularly the family that once lived there.

Presentations on May 2 will be on earthy matters, with geology professor Robert Titus speaking about the geology of the Hudson Valley. Titus and his wife, Johanna, are authors of “The Hudson Valley in the Ice Age: A Geological History & Tour.” The other presenter at this meeting, Peter Roberts, is also well known to those interested in local history; his talk will address Ulster County history through the bluestone industry in the region.

Gus Pedersen will give a presentation at the June meeting on furniture styles of the late 19th century and the Arts and Crafts Movement of the time, followed by a discussion with Rev. Michael Phillips, vicar at Trinity Episcopal Church, who will talk about how the church acquired its stained glass window by William Morris, one of the chief proponents of the Arts and Crafts style.

There will not be a meeting in July, because the first Saturday of the month falls on the Fourth of July holiday. Pedersen says they plan to stick to the first-Saturday-of-each-month schedule so that people will automatically know when a meeting will take place. August will feature a talk on the history of roads in our area — who decided where they would be placed, who paid for them, when did the state become involved in maintaining them — along with the discussion on how to use county archives. September will feature historical reenactor Dean Barnes in character, talking about life as a ferryboat captain, and the Kingston Sea Chantey Singers (Dean Barnes, Scott Berwick, Sam Falcinelli, Jacque Helmer, John Helmer, Bob Lusk, Rick Mahler and Gus Pedersen), who will sing nautical folk music and talk about its history.

More info is available at “I Like Saugerties” at The group also shares information on upcoming events via email.