Between the Thruway and the Hoogebergs, a clump of rolling hills behind Winston Farm where Saugerties blends into the Catskills, sits Asbury. If advocates have their way, the little neighborhood of farms and stone houses will become the town’s latest historic district.
At an April 13 town board meeting, Commission President Stefan Yarabek presented initial plans to get the area listed on state and federal historic registers, beginning a process that he estimates will culminate a year from now.
“If you dedicate the district to the scenery and the architecture that is still there, you will have preserved something for generations to come,” said commission member and A Brief History of Saugerties author Michael Sullivan Smith. “A designation doesn’t do anything but tell people that the town cares.”
The commission began researching the area last spring in light of a proposed solar array installation in the area by Kaaterskill Solar. While the company neglected to renew their lease or keep their application with the planning board open, the commission’s findings made the cultural value of the area apparent to the group. In December of last year, they began assisting area property owners in collecting historic documents about their properties
A trail of documentation resulting from an 18th century land dispute sheds light on the history of this section of Saugerties. According to Smith’s research, German settlers known as Palatines came to Asbury in 1710, taking advantage of an existing treaty that allowed newcomers to settle unopposed lands between the sites of modern Kingston and Albany. The settlers cleared the lands and made them arable; a dispute between the colony of Albany and the early settlers of Kingston challenged this unopposed status, resulting in a legal battle that left a clear paper trail for modern historians. After the French and Indian War, the British crown sent surveyor William Cockburn to settle the boundary dispute once and for all in 1765. Ultimately, the Palatines were allowed to keep their land between the mountains and the Sawyerkill River and gave those settlers titles that applied in both jurisdictions. When Greene County was carved out from Albany at the turn of the 19th century, all Palatine lands were turned over to Ulster County in their entirety. The current farm sites in the area, like the David Smith farm, remain largely unchanged today, according to Smith.
“As soon as you come upon that area you know you’re in an extraordinarily special place, with the farms that have been tended by the owners for many centuries, the great stone houses and the dramatic views of the Catskills,” said Yarabek. “It really exemplifies the beauty of the Hudson valley in Saugerties in a very unique way.”
The process began with the initial December meeting and the commission’s announcement of intent to the Town Board. A 5 p.m. meeting on May 21 in the Building Department room of Town Hall at 4 High St. will be the first of several meetings discussing their intent to designate the area to area property owners and townspeople. Yarabek hopes that a public meeting before the town board will take place in July. Should the board accept the nomination, a declaration of intent will be sent to the state and federal historic preservation offices. Yarabek estimates that this second phase will take six months.
Should the area receive the designation, property owners would be eligible for tax breaks and grants for home restoration; however, homeowners and potential businesses alike would need to seek approval from the historic preservation commission for any processes that require a building permit before beginning the traditional zoning appeals process.
Four historic stone houses, including the Trumpbour Homestead, Sebring House and the Comfort Smith House, will be prominently featured on the Commission’s historic stone house bus tour on