Ed Ford, who served for 35 years as the city of Kingston historian, died this morning at Golden Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He was 103.
Born in 1918 in Highland, Ford moved to Kingston in 1928 and graduated from Kingston High School in 1936. He studied to be a teacher at what was then New Paltz Normal School, graduating in 1939. Ford student-taught in Pleasant Valley, but couldn’t find a job during the Great Depression. In the meantime, his mother Elsie rented a rooming house near Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where she took in female student boarders. Ford met his future wife, Ruth Vandemark of Kingston, there.
The couple dated for three years before deciding to marry in January 1942, weeks after America’s entry into World War II. At the time, Ford was working for a Manhattan ship designing firm and exempt from military service. That ended in 1943 when he was reclassified, drafted and ticketed for training as a bomber tail-gunner.
“Thank goodness I failed my eye exam and I was I was reassigned,” Ford said in 2018.
Ford spent the remaining war years in Brazil with an Army meteorological unit. The Fords welcomed their only child, Alan, in November 1946. Family tragedy struck three years later when Ruth, then 29, was stricken with polio. She endured three years of intense rehabilitation at what would become Helen Hayes Hospital in Haverstraw.
Ruth got around with braces and arm crutches until her death in 2005. Her handicap did not limit the Ford family from visiting by car 17 presidential homes and “every state except Hawaii and Alaska.”
Ford got into the printing business in Kingston with his brother Bill. Bill operated the machinery, and Ed was the salesman. Ruth ran the business office for the next 40 years. Bill left after a year.
The company’s printing relationship with Multiple Listing Services required him to process photos of hundreds of buildings in Kingston. That experience not only expanded his interest in local history, but produced many of the historic photos Ford used in his book of Kingston thoroughfares Street Whys, published in 2010.
He became involved with the Friends of Historic Kingston from its inception in 1965, and helped save numerous historic buildings in the city (and elsewhere). Ford was appointed city historian in 1984 by mayor Peter Mancuso, and served in that role until 2019.
Local preservation highlights in which Ford played a valuable role include the restoration of city hall, which had been vacant for nearly years before reopening in 2000, and the preservation of an African burial ground on Pine Street. “It comes down to respect for people,” said Ford in 2018 concerning the latter. “There could be hundreds buried there.”
But preservationists weren’t always successful. Most of downtown was lost to an urban renewal project in the 1960s and, in more recent years, the city lost a historic trolley barn, that was replaced by a chain drug store despite Ford’s protests. The demolition of the city’s historic Beaux Arts post office is still remembered with sadness.
“The post office was abandoned in 1968 or ’69 because it was too small, also the parking was limited,” Ford recalled in 2019. “It was moved to Smith Avenue. Mayor Garraghan wanted the property on the tax rolls, and along came Jack in the Box. When the [sale to the fast-food company] was announced, architect George Hutton called the head of the company — I think it was Ralston Purina that owned the chain — and said, “We want to buy it back from you.” The head of the company said, “We bought it for $30,000 and it would cost you $60,000 to buy it back,” [which was too much.] I watched them take the cupola off the top with a great big derrick.”
(Today, the building at the location most recently occupied by Planet Wings is owned by the city and set to be demolished in order to make traffic flow at the intersection more smoothly.)
Ford summed up his life’s work on the occasion of his retirement in 2019.
“All I want is to save the history, that’s my main goal, and tell our story as to why we’re here and how we came about,” said Ford.
“Our Ed Ford was one of our great community leaders and a delightful, remarkable person,” said Jane Kellar, executive director of Friends of Historic Kingston. “We are grateful to him for his legacy as a champion for Kingston’s local history and preservation.
“We are saddened by the passing of our former city of Kingston historian, Ed Ford,” wrote Mayor Steve Noble on the city’s Facebook page. “Ed had a vast knowledge of Kingston and is an irreplaceable treasure who graced our city for 103 years. He will be missed by all who knew him. My heart is with his family during this difficult time.”
“Edwin Millard Ford was the soul of Kingston,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. “He and his work were the embodiment of the spiritual immortality of a community that cherishes its history. Ed’s deep knowledge and cataloguing of our past was only exceeded by his insatiable thirst for more knowledge about who we are and how we got here, his favorite subject…It is a sad day for Ed’s family and friends and for our community. May his memory be as lasting as the history he shared.”
“Ed Ford was a great man, with an understated manner, an irrepressible sense of humor, and an unparalleled knowledge of Kingston history,” said Hudson Valley One publisher Geddy Sveikauskas. “He was responsible not just for saving the city hall from the wrecking ball but for the development of an appreciation of the past in a whole generation of Kingstonians. I will miss him always.”
We’re working on a longer article on Ed Ford’s life for next week’s paper. For now, check out two recent articles:
- Ed Ford retiring as Kingston city historian– an interview by Lynn Woods from 2019
- Ed Ford, Kingston’s iconic historian, turns 100– an article from 2018 by Hugh Reynolds, which includes a lot of details about his life