A historic district in Saugerties for some of area’s earliest settlers

The illustration of a survey made by William Cockburn in 1774 of lands on the west side of the Beaverkill and Cauterskill is from Box 10 of the Cockburn Papers Collection of the New York State Archives.

We recognize our police and other emergency response professionals as protectors. But so are our historians and historic preservationists. They protect and preserve the record of the past that gives us our heritage.

Our community’s comprehensive plan recognizes that our growth and prosperity comes from our heritage. History-oriented governmental positions advocate for local history. They advise the elected officials who ultimately approve of the way we plan growth.

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Historians help make sure the memory of persons and events of the past is accurate. Similarly, they are responsible for making sure the record of the present becomes the record preserved for the future. The Saugerties Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Districts Review Board have another record to protect: the physical representatives of our past. This everyday history, seen everywhere and inspiring to the public, is our best link with the past.

There is a difference between the duties of an office under a law and that of someone that is interested in, and passionate about, history. But their objectives are complementary. It’s a big deal when they are brought together for a designation, or for the alteration of a local landmark. Such gatherings are convened specifically to share understandings and to verify the authenticity and significance of our history.

Both an initial landmarking request and a proposal to change a designated landmark are public concerns. Public hearings provide an occasion for history information to come from all quarters and to be recorded. Each time this happens is a celebration of our heritage.

Ultimately, the historians are the arbiters and recorders of the facts gathered in this process. They have been given the responsibility by the community whose history they protect.

Over the coming year this process will play out in the designation of a historic district of the Town of Saugerties. In the past, the designation process has become an opportunity to generate controversy. The topic of property rights is again expected to be argued by development interests in this case, too.

Designation is often considered only when protection is absolutely necessary. The merits of a landmark designation would not have surfaced this time without the siting of a multi-acre solar array that has put this location in need of protection.

The designation process always faces the challenge of fitting into a living heritage. This designation involves a settlement area of the early Palatine immigration. The Palatines were, and still are, a people with a character known for fierce independence. Protection has been written in stone here, in this rural historic landscape. A strong “don’t tread on me” history will emerge in these public hearings.

The Palatines of Saugerties

The memory of Palatine grandfathers commemorate the expulsions of their 17th-century forbearers who suffered in religious and political conflicts that they contended were simply excuses for border disputes from a France that coveted their Rhineland home.

In the waning years of Queen Anne’s War in 1710, their families arrived in America with a promise of land on the Schoharie frontier. That Schoharie paradise was given instead to the governor’s favorites, exactly as the same had happened at the “Camps” where landed interests of the governor and the Corporation of Kingston contended for the right to own the improvements of Palatine sweat and toil. After the end of the French and Indian War, their families had been threatened with eviction from the land they had settled. The entire north half of present-day Saugerties was claimed by both sides in an argument over different interpretations of the boundary between Albany and Ulster counties.

This expulsion threat occurred in this period between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Their homesteads made a community from Saxton to Asbury to West Camp, all across the present northern line of the Town of Saugerties, where they had tamed the wilderness, plowed the fields, resided, and made themselves a home for two generations.

Though these generations served gallantly in many conflicts, recognition of this origin of our Palatine community is not a war or a battle. The land is dotted with intact stone houses and the remains of others. Period surveys and legal depositions mark places of significant archaeological remains left to remind us of our earliest dwellings, industry and commerce. They are treasures for those seeking a true past for Saugerties and an origin story for the American spirit.

The historic district

The proposal for a historic district in the Rural Historic Landscape category of the national and state historic registers is centered on the intersection at Asbury of three Colonial pathways: the Kings Highway, the road from Blue Mountain (Wilhelm Road), and the West Camp Road. The area of study runs from the west along the base of the Hoogeberg, eastward to the Sawyerkill. On the north it takes in the part of the town line between these, as west to east limits. On the south it goes as far as documented property lines from a survey done in 1774. That covers a bit of Dave Elliott Road and the course of the Minne Kill before it meets the Beaver Kill. From the Beaver Kill, the southern extent continues due east to the Sawyerkill.

The general character of the district’s description follows the 1984 National Register of Historic Places documentation for the Trumpbour homestead farm. The Trumpbour farm, occupying the entire northeast quarter of the district’s study area, offers key themes for the entire proposed district.

The open farm-and-fields landscape has been in existence for over two and a half centuries. The houses are known as the Fiero/Trumpbour house, the Sebring (Crawford) house, Dillonhurst, and the Comfort Smith house. All these landmarks are totally visible from public thoroughfares.

Two previous landmark designations of the town, the Kaatsbaan Church and the Kochertall/Eligh house, are stone structures that bring the Palatine immigration of 1710-11 into focus. Both are equidistant from the study area on roads that have passed through it since even earlier times.

This will be the preservation commission’s first designation of an historic district. Any concerned individual can Google Bulletin 30 of the National Parks Service and download it free. Use it to hold the commission’s feet to the fire, or just to follow along.

This districting and the secondary theme of our stone houses are on the front burner for the historic preservation commission for 2018. Stay tuned for another tour which is being planned. 2018 should prove a banner year for spreading awareness of our heritage.

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