Black cultural center to be sited in New Paltz’s Oliver House

The house at 5 Broadhead Avenue. (Photo by Tim Rogers)

A house on Broadhead Avenue in New Paltz that was once slated for demolition will be preserved and converted into a cultural center under a plan submitted by Esi Lewis, an attorney who will also be joining the Town Council in January. The house, one of the few remaining ones built by Jacob Wynkoop in the latter part of the 19th century, was home of Civil War veteran Richard Oliver and Oliver’s wife Ann, who was widowed due to the malaria to which the soldier succumbed. Black residents of New Paltz formed a vibrant community at the time, but that history was largely unknown when the proposal to build a Stewart’s on the lot that included both this house and a gas station of ill repute was first advanced.

Once the significance of the house was understood, that portion of the lot was conveyed to the village as part of the approval process, and trustees named a committee to review proposals for its salvation and repurposing. That committee, comprised of historian Susan Stessin, teacher Albert Cook, local pastor Limina Grace Harmon and Steven Cook who serves on the Village’s Historic Preservation Commission, unanimously recommended this particular proposal. Lewis, child of the late professor Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis and former Town Council member David Lewis, is prepared to write grant applications seeking funding to pay for the significant renovations that will be required to make the house safe and useful again. Title to the land will remain with the Village government to facilitate that process, as there are grants available to municipal bodies that private persons cannot procure.