The structure of every news story should have history within it. News doesn’t have much meaning without some background. The way a writer assumes history is, or assumes it is not, common knowledge to the reader, creates the context of what happens both for the news and in the news.
A community who’s news is “same ‘ol same ‘ol” becomes just that. In the case of Saugerties that can’t happen. In Saugerties there is nothing new under the sun because it has experienced a really long history of relevant events, and anything written from that point of view will sport that broad reference base. The advantage of assimilating our history trope into just about any piece of reporting is that even the most mundane story is afforded relevancy without even half trying. The facts of Saugerties’ history can do this.
We’re going to emphasize this point of view with the topic of this article — a correction to a past article — by turning this idea on its head and making this relevant to relatively present news.
It was brought to Audrey’s attention by a reader that the third article on the history of streets misstated a fact. The two stone houses at either end of what was once the full route of Myer Lane were identified as those of Petrus Myer and Hendrick Myer. The reader was rightly concerned that the “Hendrick” assigned to the stone house just off Ulster Avenue, seen beside the car wash, facing on Teetsel Street, would be referenced as correct because it was published in that article. It was actually recorded “Abram” in the 1880 Saugerties section of the History of Ulster County.
That reader was a Myer and getting this correct was important for getting that family’s legacy correct. To the rest of the readers, though, correcting this misstatement is equally as important. That house is one of two historic designations of the Village of Saugerties Historic Review Board outside the National Register historic district. It is on the most traveled gateway corridor into the village and, along with the William R. Sheffield mansion, Clovelea, is on the second most traveled corridor, designated with that visibility as one of the criteria for being an historical landmark. This Abram Myer stone house is as visible as a stone house of the Village of Saugerties as the National Register-listed Kiersted house is.
The history of gateway corridors was certainly subtext in our articles on streets. The reader can ascertain if contemporary facts about gateway corridors provide interest enough to become curious about any number of other related newsworthy topics available to help us identify with the history of our streets. Those who have followed the news likely remember stories reporting on studies and government reports that are more related to economic development, highway beautification and tourism that, in the present day, talk about gateway corridors. But we’re going to instead provide you with something from the annals of history.
When this Abram Myer house was being vetted for historic landmark designation, period photographic evidence of its setting was displayed, showing that this gateway context existed nearly a century and a quarter in the past. That context was significant because its farm fields were first annexed into the village then. The railroad had arrived, opening a door to inquiry that is meaningful still open because of the designation — the story of the changing role of land use in light of changing economic development opportunities in Saugerties.
Today the Abram Myer house is a historic roadside feature of the village that continues the theme introduced by the Wynkoop stone house at the Thruway exit. It is just as important to the identity of the Village of Saugerties as the Evert Wynkoop house National Register landmark is when viewed through the lens of the joint comprehensive plan for the town and village. They both create an introduction to the historic character of the town and the village more than any sign could ever do.
So if this were not an article being written on what is construed to be things interesting only to those interested in history the whole concept of roadside attractiveness within, it could easily be a news story about a current event, just because of the discussion of the development now happening at the Wynkoop house. The issues there are of common values. Because of that opinions clash and there are letters to the editor. But this is not about what is happening now, but about then, and it can be said safely as a reader of history that back in the 19th century there were just as many voices against attractiveness when history was not a part of the equation. So let’s look at that conversation.
When Ulster Avenue transitioned from a truck route as the Saugerties and Woodstock Turnpike at the time of the railroad’s arrival, the world changed for Saugerties. Everyone wanted the lumber yards, coal depots and stock yards and stone yards the railroad brought as business opportunities. But there was also the passenger traffic that needed sidewalks along this rough-and-tumble truck route into the village. Complaints over the tax liability brought on by changes that were not needed by business filled the papers of the 1880’s. A tree-lined promenade to the West Shore Railroad passenger station to accommodate visitors was anti-economic development to some. As the idea of an Ulster Avenue grew to replace the old features of the turnpike it was painted as elbowing into the unrestricted country use of land that the Abram Myer stone house represented.
But painting the land as rural glossed over the true issue. Well before this time the Myer name ceased to be associated with the entry to the village from the west. The history of the Wallkill Railroad extension that preceded the building of the West Shore shows all the land for the route and the stations and sidings was purchased from J. Michael Genthner, a wholesale merchant in the village. Genthner’s anticipation of profits from the economic opportunities that would follow the railroad was his sole plan for the land.
Aside from land documents, the main source of information from this time is the newspaper. Character assassination of public officials by newspaper editors was a sport of the era. Editorials on officials’ use of tax money or commitments officials put on landowners on pain of being fined always guaranteed a sell-out edition. Chief among the cranks was a gentleman well known to every Saugerties history buff for co-publishing The Pearl — Edward Jernegan; who, by the 1880’s, was the publisher and editor of the Saugerties Evening Post.
The gentrification of “Turnpike Street” just didn’t compute with the idea of filling spaces with stacks of material waiting to go from one place to another that was a priority of Jernegan’s advertisers, who represented what had become the main businesses of the village and the town. When the railroad arrived, the warehousing storage and forwarding businesses’ use of the land was an enormous investment opportunity that ended up stretching along every acre alongside the Saugerties and Woodstock Turnpike right back up to Veteran. Genthner land was the most valuable because it surrounded the railroad station, and that land had suddenly become a major tax source, and newsmaker.
So this story we have told here, inspired by this one correction, from Hendrick to Abram, for the Myer house of Teetsel Street, has brought us far deeper into the history of what this landmark has witnessed. And, indeed, if this landmark were not here to have been briefly referenced to describe the route of Myer Lane in the earliest days of our history, there would not have been this opportunity to add to the story of Ulster Avenue in this newspaper. In fact, if this house were not a designated landmark and, instead, gone and its land only an extension of the car wash in front of it now, we’d never be inspired to think how far back Saugerties has been dealing with gateway and traffic corridor issues and the curious way we prioritize these things.
So now our correction of a misstatement has a contemporary news angle for the newspaper. That’s the way it should be. This preserved house is a reminder of a contemporary purpose that the whole community can recognize as they drive by it tomorrow. And who knows what that sturdy stone house will add in the future as a piece of yesterday, in the context of today, when today is history.