Bank windows reflect on local history

A large-scale collage on display outside Ulster Savings Bank on Wall Street was designed by Stephen Blauweiss with accompanying text based on his and Karen Berelowitz’s forthcoming book about Kingston and Ulster County history. The collage features topics ranging from John Jay and the New York State Constitution to Sojourner Truth, the Burning of Kingston, and the Louw-Bogardus House at Frog Alley. (Stephen Blauweiss)

For the final installment of our weekly serial column, the authors are pleased to announce a special historic display currently on view. In celebration of the 170th anniversary of Ulster Savings Bank, a large-scale, 7-panel, 25-foot-wide outdoor window display created by historians and authors Stephen Blauweiss and Karen Berelowitz, based on their forthcoming book, was installed last week at 280 Wall Street.

The display features both engaging images and informative text related to more than a dozen topics, including locations within a stone’s throw of the Uptown bank. These include historic events that took place at the Courthouse, such as the writing of the New York State Constitution and Sojourner Truth’s fight for her son’s freedom, and the Old Dutch Church, including its burial ground and the story of the hobgoblin.

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Blauweiss and Berelowitz’s 475-page book, The Story of Historic Kingston: Featuring 950 Images and Connections to the Catskills & New York City, includes many rare, never-before-published photographs, then-and-now comparisons, an engaging visual design, and concise stories about the lesser-known aspects of our history that keep it alive and engaging. It will be released in early 2022.

The window display is co-sponsored by Ulster Savings Bank and Blauweiss Media and was printed and was installed by Timely Signs. Following are select excerpts from the book that are included in the first set of panels depicted above:

The glass above the Ulster Savings Bank ATM beautifully reflects the Ulster County Courthouse, one of the historic topics covered in the recently-installed window panels that refer to locations within sight of the display. (Karen Berelowitz)

John Jay (1745–1829) was the principal author of the New York State Constitution written at the Courthouse in Kingston. Although he himself owned slaves, he advocated tirelessly for the abolition of slavery in the state, but his efforts failed among the many slave-owning lawmakers, one of his greatest disappointments. Jay was chief negotiator (with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin) of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. Jay was appointed by President George Washington as the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1789, after having served in that role in New York State. He was elected second governor of New York from 1795 to 1801, during which time he signed the “Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.”

Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816) played a prominent role in the passage of the State Constitution, but was an arrogant, irritable womanizer disliked by many contemporaries—perhaps the reason he is often overlooked as a Founding Father. Morris was snubbed by New York leaders to be a delegate for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, so he moved to Pennsylvania. There, he was appointed to the Convention and became its most vocal participant. He was an avid supporter of a strong central government and brought the guiding principles John Jay had developed in Kingston to the Philadelphia Convention. Much of the language was incorporated into the U.S. Constitution, including Morris’ immortal opening words “We the People” to replace a list of individual states. The U.S. Constitution would not be the same without the ideals born at the Courthouse in Kingston.

Sojourner Truth was a famous abolitionist and women’s rights activist who won a case in the Ulster County Courthouse to free her son from slavery in Alabama. Born a slave named Isabella in Ulster County circa 1797, she was sold multiple times as a Dutch-speaking child. She later learned learned English. After a religious conversion, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843 and traveled the country speaking as an abolitionist and suffragette. A tall woman known for her powerful singing voice, she went on to meet President Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Susan B. Anthony, forging a lasting legacy far beyond the norm for an illiterate Black woman. Sojourner Truth died in 1883 at age 86, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981. A statue of her stands in Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol, the first to honor an African American woman.

A second set of panels covers additional historic topics that also relate to locations within a half-block radius of the bank, including the following:

The sixth oldest reformed church in North America, Kingston’s First Reformed Protestant Church was established in 1659, one year after the Stockade was completed. It remained the only church in the Village of Kingston for 170 years. It was destroyed by fire during a raid by the native Esopus in the 1660s, rebuilt, enlarged in 1752, but again burned down during the British raid in 1777. The structure was once again rebuilt by the time President George Washington paid a visit in 1782, commemorated by a letter proudly displayed on the wall today. The church was torn down in the 1830s and a new one was built across the street on the corner of Main and Wall Streets that was used from 1832–1852, after which the congregation moved to its current location. The abandoned building served as an armory and then became St. Joseph’s Church, as it remains today.

The name “Old Dutch Church” was adopted in the 1940s. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2008. By city ordinance, no structure in Uptown may be taller than the base of its steeple, preserving the unique historic character of the Stockade District. The church lives up to its motto of “Increasingly Inclusive since 1659” and continues to welcome all members of the community and host many organizations and public events, including concerts, lectures, and a winter farmers market.

The burial ground in front of the church contains more than 1,000 burials, of which there remain about 300 headstones dating from the 17th–19th centuries, including 77 Revolutionary War soldiers. The cemetery filled to capacity after a cholera epidemic in 1832 that resulted in widespread deaths, at which time Sharp Burying Ground on Albany Avenue was created. The grave of New York’s first governor, George Clinton, along with the nine-ton obelisk that marks its location, was moved from the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. to his hometown Kingston in 1908, partly because Kingstonians felt excluded from the grand festivities being planned for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration along the Hudson River that was only to reach as far north as Poughkeepsie. They surmised, correctly, that this grandiose undertaking would attract attention. Five thousand people attended the reburial that took place within sight of the location where Clinton was sworn in as governor in 1777. A flat stone lies near Clinton’s grave to commemorate those moved from the Houghtaling Cemetery on Pine Street that was open from 1811 to 1865. The site is currently occupied by medical offices.

To see sample pages and information about supporting the 475-page book, The Story of Historic Kingston, featuring 950 images, that will be released in early 2022, please visit: HudsonValleyHistoryAndArt.com.

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