The people in charge of the Stewart’s chain of convenience stores paint themselves as good neighbors, and officials in New Paltz clearly agree. In particular, the village’s historic preservation commissioners were moved by the donation of 3 Broadhead Street, what’s now known as the Ann Oliver house, rather than tearing it down as an eyesore. That’s why they determined that the corporation, while not a person in any real sense, deserves the Partners in Preservation award. Intended as a way to acknowledge property owners whose efforts improve the look of village streets — typically through renovation, painting, gardening and the like — the Partners in Preservation award is given annually to one or more individuals whose work stands out.
Commissioner Tom Olson told trustees that this time was different, that it’s the “most culturally significant Partners in Preservation award we’ve ever made.” Whichever human beings actually made the decision chose to take part of the land that had been purchased to build a new Stewart’s, and donate it together with that neglected house to the village itself. Trustees have since placed their own trust in Esi Lewis to create the Wade-Lewis Cultural Center in that house, which is itself historically significant for having been built by Jacob Wynkoop and owned by the widow of a Civil War veteran. The award might well have been given simply for replacing the old gas station with a gleaming new shop that didn’t inherit any of the sense of squalor or seaminess, but this donation is expected to have a much longer-lasting impact than all that other investment.
Present to accept the award to the corporation was an actual person, Chuck Marshall, who was an essential part of the process of securing the land donation. Marshall worked on the entire store relocation project, first trying to build it where Zero Place now stands only to find that the rules of the neighborhood-business-residential zone precluded this, and then moving ahead with it across the street after securing a variance from enough of the NBR requirements to make the new location palatable. The project, which was generally well received, was delayed by the determination by state transportation officials that a traffic light was now needed at the intersection; there were negotiations about how to pay for that light, and a lot of red tape and engineering inspections to get that work done. Another unforeseen wrinkle was the creation of the Empire State Trail alongside the property, which required a number of engineers to get involved in creating that multi-use path through an easement that also was donated from the corporate books. In all, Marshall recalls eleven meetings to comply with the various standards and regulations.
It was during the early stages of the Stewart’s project that the historical significance of 3 Broadhead first came to light. Mayor Tim Rogers recalled that the donation “request felt like a long shot,” but that Marshall and other company officials were “very supportive.” The house that otherwise “would have been bulldozed” instead was sold into the public trust for just a dollar. Rogers tied the house both to local and national history: Wynkoop and Richard Oliver served together in the 20th United States Colored Infantry during the Civil War, and thereafter Wynkoop built a number of houses in New Paltz, one of which Richard and Ann Oliver came to own. It’s one of the few houses Wynkoop built here that remains standing at all, testament to a minority community that flourished in New Paltz as the 19th century turned to the 20th.
While Marshall received gratitude on behalf of the faceless corporation, Rogers singled out another human to thank: Susan Stessin-Cohn, town historian, who according to the mayor has been a “champion of black history for years.”