Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) is gearing up for the season ahead with new tours planned for 2015. In addition to the traditional guided tours offered on weekdays, weekend tours this year will combine the best of the traditional tour with elements from last year’s “In-The-Moment” tours. That approach involves guides skilled in improvisation, wearing period costume, staying in character to recreate a particular episode in history. Rather than simply presenting the artifacts of history for viewing, In-The-Moment tours are intended to draw the visitor into an interactive experience.
“It’s one thing to talk about history — and we do love to talk about history — but we also love to experience history,” said Genevieve Casagrande, guest experience manager for the site. “We think that’s something that really allows people to get a grasp on what people were thinking and feeling at the time; what their hopes and dreams were, what their fears were. Throughout time, those are universal feelings; everybody wants to protect the people around them that they love, everybody can be afraid of the unknown.”
And the interactive approach to tours has apparently been a successful one. According to Casagrande, attendance at Historic Huguenot Street doubled from 2013 to 2014, the first year the In-The-Moment tours were offered.
The historic site will also offer “behind-the-scenes” tours this year with a scholarly approach. Visitors will discuss why a particular building is preserved and what constitutes “authentic,” or what interpretation really means. And they will incorporate the multisensory experience even more than they have in the past, said Casagrande. Sounds and scent might be incorporated into an interpretation, and the new hands-on history room provides an opportunity for people to pick up and handle reproductions of items from colonial times and more recent eras.
Participating in the past
At a preview last Friday, staff gave a taste of what visitors can expect on a tour. We were provided with “letters of recommendation” prior to heading off to the Crispell Memorial French Church, the only reproduction building at the historic site. A Huguenot church was built on the same spot in 1717, explained Casagrande, but it was taken down in the 1770s to build a bigger church on what is now the large open space behind the DuBois Fort. And that church was replaced in 1830 by the New Paltz Reformed Church of today.
But the reproduction church serves a purpose in better enabling visitors to gain an understanding of the role that faith played in the lives of the Huguenots, with religious persecution, after all, being the reason they came over to the region in the first place. The “letter of recommendation” we hand over to an interpreter at the door to the church represents the actual letters once required to enter a house of worship, verifying that one had had a conversion experience and was a true believer, explained Shane Stuart, development assistant for the historic site accompanying us on our journey.
After leaving the church, we head to the Jean Hasbrouck house where our guide Todd sets the scene for us, explaining that we have arrived on March 18, 1755. The precise date is important because it is the date of baptism for baby Josiah, third generation of the Hasbrouck family living in the home just before the Seven Years’ War between the British and French over control of North America. We tourgoers have arrived as guests of the family, there to attend the baptism, but our carriage breaking down on the way has made us too late to attend the ceremony. Instead we are welcomed into the house by a member of the family, portrayed by an interpreter who introduces us to the features of the home through the pretense that she’s searching for a place for us to sleep during our stay. Through engaging each of us in conversation in turn, she enlightens us not only as to the political climate of the day but how the daily household is managed. After we exit the house, Todd welcomes us back to the present day and tells us what became of baby Josiah — a Revolutionary War hero, he goes on to become one of the first congressmen serving under President Thomas Jefferson.
Casagrande explained that the information offered on the tours will change over the course of the 2015 season, so that repeat visitors will have something new to experience each time. And since the interpreters are proficient in improv, she added, they’ll be able to bring something new each time by reacting to what visitors on any particular tour are interested in. “They’ll play with the guests. It’s not a standard script.”
Fourth Saturday events
Casagrande will conduct a special walking tour exploring the myths and legends of the mid-Hudson Valley on Saturday, April 25 from 7:30-9 p.m. The tour begins at the circa 1799 LeFevre House at 54 Huguenot Street. The Myths and Legends tour is the first of a diverse range of special “Fourth Saturday” events to be offered throughout the rest of the 2015 season.
Casagrande will walk visitors through the National Historic Landmark District while sharing regional legends of mysterious hunters and heroic rescues. Throughout the tour, visitors will encounter theatrical reenactments of scenes from the stories by SUNY New Paltz theater arts students and volunteers from the college’s co-ed service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. The performances will incorporate song and dance. Following the tour, hot drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be offered in the DuBois Fort at 81 Huguenot Street, catered by Frida’s Bakery & Café in Milton. Tickets for the event cost $25 for general admission, $22 for seniors and the military and $20 for members of Historic Huguenot Street. Pre-registration is encouraged as space is limited. Rain date is Sunday, April 26.
HHS is open weekends only through April. Tours run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grand opening will be Saturday, May 2, after which the site will be open every day with the exception of Wednesdays. Hours on Fridays are extended to 8 p.m. The grand opening will feature a variety of free activities for all ages, including live music, colonial games and historic vignettes performed throughout the day. In addition, HHS will be hosting a picnic in honor of the work of New Paltz first responders from the police department, fire department and rescue squad. The public is invited to stop by the Deyo House lawn to recognize these individuals. All first responders and their families are welcome to tour the historic houses free of charge.
More information is available by calling (845) 255-1660 or visiting www.huguenotstreet.org.