Unraveling the past at the Ulster County Historical Society’s Bevier House Museum

The Ulster County Historical Society’s Bevier House Museum (photos by Suzanne Hauspurg)

The Ulster County Historical Society’s Bevier House Museum (photos by Suzanne Hauspurg)

Even without knowing the building’s current purpose, the passerby instinctively understands that the secrets of so many years lay behind its carefully crafted stone walls.

Guardian to those secrets and repository for an impressive collection of artifacts and documents that hold the metaphorical keys to unlocking our area’s past, the Bevier House Museum has been home to the Ulster County Historical Society (UCHS) since 1938. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bevier House of today provides a unique opportunity for the visitor not only to study our past but, through the varied and carefully presented rooms and collections, to experience it as well. Through the commitment of its board, administrator Suzanne Hauspurg and a dedicated group of volunteers, the UCHS labors diligently to fulfill its dual mission as curator and collector of important artifacts, documents, artwork, furniture and other cultural items from the Hudson Valley, while at the same time seeking to educate the public on the important role that our area has played in the evolution of the American experiment. Through a variety of programs – including lectures, demonstrations and publications – UCHS engages visitors and encourages their participation in an effort to merge present understanding with past realities.

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The structure that first draws your attention began, simply enough, as one room, built in the latter part of the 17th century by Andries Pieterse Van Leuvan. In 1715, the property, including 450 acres, was purchased by Louis Bevier and would remain in the Bevier family for seven generations.

Like the many stories currently housed by UCHS, the Bevier family offers local history its own unique chapter. Louis Bevier, seeking the promise of religious freedom, was part of the Huguenot exodus from France in the 17th century. Ultimately, like many others, Bevier found his way to New Paltz, where his name is included on the original patent granted by Governor Andros in 1677. Eventually, through inherited wealth, as offered in an overview of the Bevier family provided by the Huguenot Society, “his property was assessed at 300 English pounds, making him the wealthiest man in New Paltz. This wealth allowed Louis to purchase lands in the present-day towns of Wawarsing and Marbletown for his sons to settle on and raise their own families.”

Enter the “next” Louis, born in 1684. (Note: With the exception of David Bevier years later, the male heir to each succeeding generation of Beviers was named – conveniently or not – “Louis.”) He was married to Elizabeth Hasbrouck in 1713, and the couple took residence at the current site of the Bevier House in Marbletown in 1715. There, in addition to undertaking the earliest expansion of the home, Louis Bevier established himself as a mainstay within the community, serving as a surveyor of highways, overseer of the poor, a trustee and as an elder in the Reformed Dutch Church. Louis and Elizabeth would have one son following their move to Marbletown, named (you guessed it) Louis.

For the next two-and-a-quarter centuries, as succeeding generations of Beviers would write the chapters that would fill their family’s story, so too did their physical homestead continue to expand beyond what it originally was. By 1800, according to William B. Rhoads in his excellent book, Ulster County, New York: The Architectural History & Guide, “the original house had become an appendage to a larger, story-and-a-half house whose façade consisted of a doorway with three windows to the left and two windows to the right, the basis for the present façade facing Route 209.” As the 19th century progressed, the home continued to undergo additional changes, rising, as Rhoads notes, to two-and-a half-stories with a hip roof while taking on “its present boxy shape.”

Beyond the architecture and evolution of the Bevier House, however, lies a history that once gave and currently gives the building its own sense of historical place. In 1777, for example, as Kingstonians fled the advancing British and the burning of New York’s first capital, those in search of safety and shelter found both six miles away at the Bevier home. Upon hearing of the British advance, David Bevier, according to museum director Suzanne Hauspurg, hurried from his post at Fort Montgomery towards Marbletown only to find, upon arrival, that his wife Maria had, for three days, overseen the care and feeding of those who had fled the burning town.

As the Civil War approached, the first voices in support of establishing a historical society in Ulster County began to be heard. As early as 1858, George Pratt and others began to advance the belief that there was a rising need to take stock of the county’s history and to document the important years that had passed. Pratt, who represented the area in the State Senate, would go on to serve as a colonel in the State Militia, commanding the 20th New York State Militia Regiment “Ulster Guards” during the Civil War. Tragically, he was shot in the left shoulder and spine during the Second Battle of Bull Run and died from his wounds two weeks later. Respect for his importance in the Society’s creation was evidenced when, at a meeting of the Society shortly after his death, its president, A. Bruyn Hasbrouck, rose and offered the following: “In my sober judgment, if Colonel Pratt had no other claim, if there were no faithful discharge of duty, no generous public spirit, no patriotism, no loss of life in his country’s service to speak of, his interest in this Society and his contributions to it would alone entitle him to the lasting gratitude of the people of Ulster” (Theodore Gates, The Ulster Guard and the War of Rebellion).

Despite the early intentions of Pratt and others, the Society would eventually fall dormant after the war. Following the celebration of the nation’s centennial in 1876, however, increasing attention and interest began to be directed towards the preservation of our nation’s history. That national zeal eventually extended itself to the local level and to individual families as diaries, letters, family bibles and photographs began, increasingly, to undertake new and lasting meanings. So it was that, according to Hauspurg, in 1898, the Ulster County Historical Society found new life and undertook – primarily through the publication of the Ulster Gazette – renewed documentation of our shared heritage.

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