Members of the Saugerties Town Historic Preservation Commission are seeking to have the Hamlet of Asbury at the Town’s northern end designated as a historic landmark district.
Stefan Yarabek, the Commission’s chairperson, said that they are in the process of having a portion of the hamlet along Old King’s Highway and Schoolhouse and Wilhelm Roads designated as a historic district by the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). He said that the agency has already accepted the nomination package and is expected to hand down a decision this fall.
Once that’s done, the Commission can forward the nomination to the federal government, which could designate the hamlet as a National Historic Landmark District. Such a designation would be the fruit of 30-plus years of work the Commission has done to catalogue all the historic structures in the Town.
Noting that the Town has a great relationship with the agency, Yarabek said, “We’re fairly confident the state is going to approve it.” He’s proud to share that Saugerties has the most stone houses of any place in the state.
As for why preservationists chose Asbury, it has a sizable number of historic structures of significance, dating from the 18th through the early 20th century, large open pastoral fields, many of them still active farms with spectacular vistas of the Catskills, like Yarabek’s personal favorite at the Dillon Farm at 27 Wilhelm Road. “When you look across these farms and see this assemblage of buildings, you are transported into the 19th and, in many areas, the 18th century,” he said. “That’s the main trigger for National Landmark status.”
Asbury’s residents include the Trumpbour family, an early German-speaking Palatine family who settled in the area early in the 18th century. Once owning four farms in the area, the family continues to farm portions of the hamlet to this day, while other portions have passed into the hands of different families.
Methodism also looms large in the hamlet’s history and its name. He said that, along with Asbury Park, New Jersey, his favorite beach spot, Asbury derives its name from Francis Asbury, a pioneering Methodist bishop who, according to the United Methodist Church, was sent here by the father of Methodism, John Wesley, 250 years ago in 1771 to spread the new Christian expression to the US. He helped to lay the groundwork for what would become the United Methodist Church, along with numerous other Wesleyan Christian traditions that would crop up.
Asbury was home to the pioneering Methodist circuit-preacher Reverend John Crawford, who ended up marrying one of the Trumpbours’ daughters. The home that Crawford lived in, dating to 1770, located at 2079 King’s Highway, still exists.
While an early Methodist Church on Schoolhouse Road, not far off King’s Highway, has been gone for a century, the cemetery where Crawford is buried still exists in a small wooded lot off King’s Highway, as does a circa-1795 Methodist parsonage at 2083 Old King’s Highway known as the John L. & Catherine Crawford House. Residents like Crawford would’ve been very familiar with King’s Highway, as the documentation sent to SHPO by the Commission highlights how the road was a major artery connecting the hamlet and Albany from the Colonial Era right up to the construction of the New York State Thruway – which flanks the eastern boundaries of the proposed historic district – in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “It’s a big modern incursion; it’s unfortunate it’s there,” Yarabek said.
Other than the construction of the Thruway, little changed about this agriculture-dominated rural corner of the Town until about three years ago, when a landowner was approached by a solar company looking to convert farmland in the district into a solar power plant. He said that the Commission first caught wind of the proposal when the Planning Board had it review an application for a solar farm in what he billed as one of hamlet’s “prime meadows.”
Yarabek contended that such an installation would be detrimental to preserving Asbury’s historic resources. “A homeowner of one of the historic properties said a solar farm could come to their property. “He was convinced it would be okay. The Commission got involved, and that homeowner regretted signing a lease with a solar company.” Residents of the district expressed near unanimous objection to the solar farm, and eventually the plan was dropped. But that proposal more than anything else kicked off the efforts to get the area designated a historic landmark district.
Returning to the present, he expressed excitement at the arrival of two new residents within the district whom he described as avid preservationists. He said that the Commission actively reaches out to assist new residents and help them to learn about state and federal incentives and tax breaks available to owners of historic homes, along with tips and advice for restoring historic buildings.
Yarabek noted that the state also provides grants to owners of such properties, but cautioned that those are very competitive; public-owned sites and public places like cemeteries get first dibs on such grants.
“This is a very exciting time; Saugerties is on the move to preserve history,” he said.