Organized tours of historic buildings are standard fundraising events for many a not-for-profit organization, but most of the time these are repeat visits to the same circuit of already-designated historic sites, open to the public the rest of the year if you want to do it at your own convenience. The Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT)’s annual Houses on the Land tour — happening for the sixth time on Saturday, June 4 — is a much more ambitious and exciting undertaking: The group takes on a new town each year from among the eight that it serves, and inaugurates visitation to houses and other structures of historical or architectural interest that remain in private hands, normally closed to the public.
Better yet, it’s doing original research. WVLT board president Vals Osborne, an art historian by training, gives plenty of credit to local history experts who helped out with this year’s tour, like Carol Johnson of the Elting Memorial Library’s Haviland-Heidgerd Collection, Lloyd town historian Liz Alfonso and lorekeeper-at-large Vivian Yess Wadlin. “But we’ve identified a lot of houses that they had no idea about, and named them, based on the builders,” Osborne reports. “The [Society for the Preservation of] Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture (HVVA) group helped us with this. They came out, simultaneously looking at the houses architecturally and structurally. They’re incredibly knowledgeable.”
Although references to some of the houses on the tour appear in historical sources like newspapers archived at the Haviland-Heidgerd or in the History of the Town of Lloyd written by Lloyd native Warren Sherwood (1901-1947), it’s not always an easy thing to match them up with the structures as they exist today, says Osborne. The HVVA experts would often have to examine wings and buildouts of a house and figure out which part was the original core and in what order the others were added on. In one, she says, they determined that a section built of stone, long assumed to be the oldest part, was actually the newest.
The upshot is that the June 4 tour, titled “Houses on the Land: Sherwood’s Forest — Rural Lloyd from the Wetlands to the River,” provides an opportunity for history and architecture buffs to visit “houses that have never been seen before” by the general public. “Some of them are incredibly charming, and they have interesting stories connected to them,” Osborne says. For example, she describes one “square stone house with extraordinary detailing” that features “a stream in the basement that was used to cool milk for the dairy herds.”
Because they are all private residences, except for the 1863 United Methodist Church at Plutarch Corners, which is already a designated historic site, the identities of the stops on the tour will not be divulged except to WVLT supporters who sign up for the self-guided tour. What we do know is that the oldest buildings on the circuit are two houses built of stone in the Swartekill/Plutarch neighborhood (technically in the Town of New Paltz) by members of Huguenot families in 1810 and 1812 and a former sawmill and gristmill built in 1790 in the rather obscure hamlet of Centerville. Moving further east and further forward in time, the tour will visit some structures connected with the Pang Yangers, the “notorious” descendants of followers of the renegade religious leader Jemima Wilkinson who settled in the Lily Lake/Chodikee Lake area in the mid-19th century. One of the Pang Yang buildings, Osborne teases, was the home of an unidentified “eccentric character.”
Nearing the Hudson River, the tour will visit some homes in the neighborhood known as Krum Elbow, which later became part of the Father Divine estate, and along Bellevue Road. The newest house on the tour — and the only one that Osborne would characterize as “grand” — is a Modernist structure in a style influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which was not finished until 2013. The latter is one example of a number houses on the tour that were built, modified or occupied by artists, she says.
Brochures and maps will be distributed at registration, open from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the 10-Horse Art Center (the “red barn”) at 65 Black Creek Road (appearing on some GPS maps as 341 Black Creek Road). The tour is self-guided and participants take their own cars; but each site will have “a docent in every room. They’ve all been prepped,” says Osborne. “We do throw a reception for everybody” at a private home as part of the tour, she adds, which will include a wine-tasting.
Tickets cost $35 to the general public, $30 to WVLT members if purchased by June 2; on June 3 and 4, the price goes up to $40 general and $35 members. As fundraiser tours go, that’s amazingly affordable — especially for such a rare opportunity to discover historic buildings that for the most part have never before been open to the public. And the proceeds of your ticket purchase go toward WVLT’s land preservation efforts. “We’re working on a huge amount of easements right now, including the Mill Brook Preserve in New Paltz,” Osborne says.
For more information about “Houses on the Land: Sherwood’s Forest — Rural Lloyd from the Wetlands to the River” or to register, visit www.wallkillvalleylt.org or call (845) 255-2761.