The Delaware & Hudson Canal Historical Society (DHCHS) is entering its 50th year of existence with plans in the works to take its public presence in High Falls to a whole new level, judging by discussions at the organization’s annual meeting held last Sunday. The gathering of members and board trustees opened with a slideshow presentation and talk by SUNY New Paltz Department of Anthropology professor Joseph Diamond on his excavations revealing the layout of the oldest Huguenot dwellings and original stockade on Huguenot Street in New Paltz; and much of the business part of the meeting that followed focused on a review of DHCHS’s annual report for 2014. But big doings are clearly in the air as the organization looks to the near future.
Most of the buzz has to do with speculation about how long it will take before DHCHS completes its acquisition and renovation of the Depuy Canal House, using the $500,000 grant recently awarded by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the $500,000 match being put up by the Open Space Institute (OSI). DHCHS president Bill Merchant announced that it had been confirmed that “We’re getting the full million,” and that OSI had hired Jennifer Schwartz Berky of Hone Strategic, LLC, to be the “project overseer” for the renovation.
A professional urban planner and historic preservationist, Schwartz Berky was also the consultant retained by DHCHS to write the grant proposal that secured the funding. DHCS board member Roy Carlin noted at the meeting that she had not only introduced the organization to OSI in the first place, but also took the project so much to heart that she showed up at the High Falls Civic Association’s last Crazy Hat Bingo fundraiser dressed like Canal House chef/owner John Novi wearing a replica of the historic restaurant made of Legos on her head.
The week before the meeting, according to Merchant, Schwartz Berky had done a walk-through of the Canal House with a structural engineer and an appraiser. Though DHCHS has not yet received the full preliminary engineering report, he said, “The engineer told us what we already knew: that the building needs a lot of work.” He added, “The state needs two appraisals” before the negotiations to purchase the building can begin, under OSI’s auspices. “We may or may not have a deal by the year’s end…. The closing could take place this year, but it would be late in the year.”
Though forward momentum on the project is still slow and incremental at this point, Merchant said that he is hopeful that the extensive renovation project may have begun by the time DHCHS reaches its 50th anniversary in early 2016. So it looks likely that aficionados of Novi’s famed New American cuisine will still have plenty of chances left to patronize the Canal House on weekends throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2015.
In the more imminent future, DHCHS has several treats in store for the museumgoing public. Tickets are already on sale, at $35 apiece, for the organization’s annual Mothers’ Day Gala Dinner, to be held on Friday, May 8 at the Rondout Golf Club in Accord. To purchase tickets, contact board member Alice Schoonmaker at (845) 626-7103.
The D & H Canal Museum, located at 23 Mohonk Road in High Falls, officially opens for the season on Saturday, May 2, its exhibits freshly spruced up. Merchant has been very busy over the winter cataloguing items in the museum’s collections and adding new ones to the public displays, including new prints of old photos, news clippings and other historical documents to replace discolored ones last printed in the 1970s.
The museum’s featured seasonal show for 2015, to be unveiled on opening day, will focus on the life and career of an illustrious High Falls resident who died in 1992: Romeo Muller, a highly successful screenwriter best-known for his long collaboration with TV producers Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. Among Muller’s many products for the Rankin/Bass animation shop were what Wikipedia terms “the most popular holiday television special of all time,” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), as well as Frosty the Snowman, Return to Oz, Puff, the Magic Dragon, The Wind in the Willows and the cartoon version of The Hobbit.
By all accounts, Muller was a larger-than-life local character in High Falls, known for tooling around town in his red Cadillac convertible. Schoonmaker reported that the whereabouts of the classic car had been identified and suggested that it might put in an appearance at the exhibition. Merchant added that he was trying to schedule a performance by Puff, the Magic Dragon songwriter Peter Yarrow as part of the festivities associated with the show.
For more details on DHCHS’s schedule of upcoming events, membership and volunteering opportunities and other information, call (845) 687-9311 or visit www.canalmuseum.org.