Effort underway to designate Saugerties hamlet historic

Looking west from Old Kings Highway. (Will Dendis)

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.”

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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
May 19.

There are 4 comments

  1. why this matters

    “A designation doesn’t do anything but tell people that the town cares.”

    This is not correct. Sullivan Smith, if he has any awareness of how the system works, should know this. Perhaps is he is being deceptive. As the article makes clear later:

    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.

    Ah yes… there’s the rub! And why property owners should care about this: It limits what you can do! It’s quite easy to get approvals from the Planning Board and ZBA. But the historic preservation commission? Forget about it! They are VERY particular. They’ve stood in the way of most local projects over the past decade.

  2. Stuart James Smith

    I am a descendant of David Smith and Mary Wykoff of Asbury, NJ. Warren County. I am looking for the origin of David’s father Robert Smith and cannot find any records before 1790 in NJ. I have always suspected he came down the trail from Rhinebeck, but never knew of Asbury in Saugerties. Asbury NJ was Hall’s Mill until Lord Asbury laid the cornerstone for the Methodist church. I am interested to know if the David Smith farm is named for the original builder and farmer. Please pass this along to whom it may concern.

  3. Rick Smith

    David Smith is the current owner. I don’t know who the original Smith was so I can’t help you there. David’s grandfather was Charles Smith and his former stone farmhouse is on the road of the same name. The hamlet of Asbury, NY had a methodist church (now gone, though the cemetery survives) and was named for Bishop Francis Asbury. Could just be coincidence though given the name. I’m no relation to the above Smiths.

  4. Stuart James Smith

    Thanks Rick Smith for your helpful reply. Bishop Francis Asbury is the same guy to lay the cornerstone of the Methodist church of my ancestor David Smith, and the town Of Hall’s mills became Asbury, NJ. It is an interesting coincidence. I must plan a trip to Saugerties. I have a pdf of my Smiths if you are interested I’ll post it here or email it.

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