the Annual Report for 2016
Office of the Orange County Historian
Compiled by Johanna Yaun
1841 Courthouse Renovation
During the summer of 2014 the County Historian’s records, artifacts and research material had been packed into boxes and sent to long-term storage at the Orange County Airport. That fall, the office located at 101 Main Street in Goshen was closed for renovation and the office’s operations were moved to a room in the SUNY Orange Newburgh campus. The Orange County Genealogical Society moved their materials to a space at the Valley View campus. This made our work very challenging because we were unable to provide access to books related to public inquiries and unable to research within the County records for our own programs. The separation of the offices led to communication difficulties and even now, we hear from residents who have had a hard time finding us despite our outreach. In spring of 2015, we had adjusted to the temporary locations, but since we were unable to invite visitors to any particular address, created an agenda of proactive programming out in the community. For example, the first incarnation of the Tavern Trail, school talks, radio appearances and a community forum to discuss current issues in the field.
We spent 18 months in the temporary office. In the early months of 2016, DPW helped to return our belongings to the 1841 Courthouse. We began the arduous task of unpacking boxes upon boxes, and began addressing inquiries that have lingered during the long displacement. Meanwhile we continued providing successful and proactive programming into 2016. As of the end of 2016, the unpacking was only 30% complete. Even with the help of interns and DPW, the process of carrying boxes and books, and delicate items up from the basement, organizing them in the decreased space is a time consuming and delicate process. Meanwhile, we now have many new inquiries that, depending on the topic, we either farm out to the appropriate source, or handle ourselves. The unpacking has to take a back seat to county business, fiscal affairs, daily inquiries, speaking engagements and the research duties of the County Historian.
These difficulties have had the positive affect of fostering collaborations with the Orange County Youth Bureau and Orange County Clerk as each have hosted our staff and belongings at times and assisted in training our new staff this year.
New Staff and Intern Projects
A vacant part time clerk position was filled in February of 2016. With a second person in the office, responsiveness of public inquiry, processing of internal protocols and effectiveness of programming has improved. This has also manifested itself in the success of the e-newsletter. Contributions have ranged from site visits to local museums to highlighting the accomplishments of local historical societies.
Having help in the office also enabled us to create an intern program in which four interns (two college students and two high school students) worked in the County Historian’s office at various times in the year. The intern projects included compiling cemetery records, building a database of specialized talks in local museums, helping to unpack and organize books from storage and editing our municipal historian and e-newsletter contact lists.
The Tavern Trail event series continued into 2016 after the success of the program in 2015. We improved the program greatly by joining forces with the Dutchess County Historian, whose addition of seven historic sites on their side of the river, with our own seven taverns created a schedule of fourteen events in total. These events, as you well know, highlighted the history of our great historic taverns and inns, and the owners who continue to promote local history. In order to improve programming, Matt Kierstead from Milestone Heritage Consulting was hired to plan speakers, arrange restaurant specials, design a signature cocktail and create merchandise for event raffles. The events grew in audience size to the point where a podium with speaker system had to be set-up, and larger spaces had to be explored.
Historical research for press materials was sourced from local municipal historians and historical society archives. Promotion was done collaboratively between the County Executive’s staff, Orange County Tourism office and though our e-newsletters. An economic impact report for the 2016 Tavern Trail series was presented to the Orange County Legislator’s at a budget meeting in October.
Several workshops were added to the County offerings in 2016. These events were held at the EMS center in Goshen.
The series included a workshop for museums and historical society volunteers on how to improve outreach and fundraising efforts through free social media tactics. Moderator, Nicole Scholet of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, touched on a variety of social media platforms and highlighted ten ways to improve a public Facebook page.
We also hosted a Cemetery workshop moderated by Marianne Greenfield, Cemetery Preservationist, and the Town Historian of Delhi. Attendees learned about the best practices associated with cemetery care and cleanup, and also an historical overview of burial symbolism and headstone artistry. Greenfield also provided a hands-on demonstration on properly cleaning lichen from cemetery stones.
Lastly, we coordinated with Erin Tobin of the Preservation League of New York State and Middletown’s Thrall Library to offer an update on historic preservation for the homeowner and business owner, and ways to navigate NYS’s Historic Tax Credit program.
All these workshops were well attended and we heard great feedback from attendees.
With the collections and archives slowly returning to the 1841 Courthouse in 2016, the Collections Committee was able to revive regular meetings (4x per year) and return to a status of active collecting. A temporary collections policy remains in place and items are reviewed by committee members as necessary. Once all vacancies on the committee are filled, a revised collections policy will be discussed and implemented.
In 2016, the Collections Committee approved the acquisition of a 1920’s voting machine that was found in storage at Minisink High School, and purchased two newly published books related to Orange County history.
In collaboration with the Orange County Parks Commissioner we reviewed some of the historic structures that are owned and operated by the County. This included visits to and research related to Dutchess Quarry Cave, Hill-Hold and Brick House Museums, the D&H Canal Park and Algonquin Park. With $25,000 in funds provided by the Orange County Legislature for a masonry study at Algonquin Park, we drafted an RFP which has been sent to be reviewed by the legal department and will soon move forward.
Research & Presentations
Programs related to the following topics were prepared and presented to various groups around the county including local schools, professional associations and at historical commemorations: the centennial of WWI; the history of the Orange County seal; architectural preservation; the legacy of the mastodon; public history best practices; heritage tourism trends; strategies for experiential programming at historic sites and Loyalism in the Revolutionary war. Our office receives many inquiries for historical lectures throughout the year, and we try to accommodate as many requests as we can.
In support of the documentation of the Paul Rudolph designed Orange County Government Center, we have been compiling research related to the history and recent transformation of the building. We are also working with photographer Isaac Diggs as he creates an art exhibit related to the renovation process of the building.
I was called upon twice in 2016 to fill in as the host of the County Executive’s weekly radio show on WTBQ. The topics were a) promoting the agricultural and culinary crossover programming that was being planned by various local historical sites called “A Taste of History” and a discussion on the importance of Main Street revitalization. I was also a guest with Warwick Historian, Richard Hull, on “History Alive!” and with Clare Sheridan on “Crossroads of Rockland History.”
Committees were convened to plan for upcoming commemorations. The Centennial of the US involvement in World War I begins in the spring of 2017 and ends November 2018. Planning was discussed for the continuation of ‘Mastodon Day’ which has occurs each September since 2014. New programming for these commemorations will be handled through collaboration with West Point Museum, Moffitt Library, SUNY Orange and Museum Village.
Applications for grants to fund three historic markers were submitted to the Pomeroy Foundation in 2016. The proposals are for markers related to local incidences in the lives of Andrew Jackson Downing, Claudius Smith and Susan B. Anthony.
The Orange County History and Heritage online newsletter is released every two weeks. The content includes updates on local exhibits and collections, acknowledgements of local residents who have distinguished in the duty of historic preservation, updates on Orange County history, and upcoming event announcements. This has become a popular form of communication between the County and 1,600 municipal historians in New York State and beyond. And, because of the success of the newsletter and level of writing, we’ve been invited to submit articles to the New York State History blog that has a reach of 20,000; this not only promotes Orange County historic sites well beyond our borders, but illustrates the commitment of our current Government officials to our place in American history. A quick tally of our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin followers demonstrates that our posts reach an audience of 7,600 through social media alone.
Since 2014, the County Historian has served as the Orange County representative on the Hudson River Valley Greenway Communities Council. Continuing this role through 2016, I collaborated on projects ranging from organizing local events on the annual Hudson River Valley Ramble to planning for the new Empire State Pedestrian Trail that will lead hikers through the Hudson Valley on a trek from New York City to the Erie Canal and on to the Canadian border.
As an advisor on the National Heritage Area committee for the Hudson Valley region, I helped to facilitate Federal grant money to regional projects such as the Teaching the Hudson Valley program and an MTA mobile app that provides historical and environmental context to passengers as they ride the Hudson Line train along the route from Grand Central Terminal to Poughkeepsie. The NHA program bring approximately $300,000 in Federal money for cultural sites into the region each year. I also helped to scout sites and review NHA designation applications for historic sites and museums who wished to be included in the brochures and website.
As a member of the Tower of Victory Committee, I supported the efforts of the fundraising committee to raise over $1.25 million in funds to restore the Tower of Victory Monument at Washington’s Headquarters. This commitment included writing contextual material for newsletters and mission statements, researching the local archives for historical documentation related to the 1880’s structure and photographing the progress of workers as they began the restoration process.
Continuing as a member of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route committee, which reports to the National Park Service, we continued a long-term project of connecting sites related to the joint army’s march to Yorktown in 1781. This project has been underway since 1999 (I joined the committee in 2009) so the research and selection work is behind us. This year the group coordinated the delivery and configuration of several historical markers from the DOT. These markers are spread throughout the Hudson Valley. In Orange County we unveiled one historic marker in the series at Washington’s HQ Newburgh in September 2016.
I also serve, in minor roles, on several historical society and advocacy boards such as the Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance (Hoyt House/Staatsburg), the Newburgh Landmarks Conservancy (Dutch Reformed Church/Newburgh), Fullerton Cultural Center (Fullerton Mansion/ Newburgh). And MJ Goff serves as a member of the County Executive’s Arts Grant Program Review Committee.
Historic Trades Education
There are two separate Historic Trades programs being created in the Hudson Valley at this time. The Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance has contracted the Boston Architectural College to run an onsite restoration course at the Hoyt House in Staatsburg. This program is being offered to local students through SUNY Dutchess. Here in Orange County a historic trades program is being designed as a collaboration between the Business department and the Architecture department at SUNY Orange and will be hosted at the Newburgh campus. I have been involved with both efforts this year and have been a conduit to keeping each apprised of each other’s progress.
Conferences, Training and Forums
Staff and volunteers from the Historian’s office attended many conferences and training sessions in 2016. This included a conservation and collection care workshop hosted by Boscobel, the Greater Hudson Heritage Network’s annual conference, the Association of Public Historians of New York State annual conference, the Museum Association of New York conference and streamed a public engagement webinar presentation hosted by the Association of State and Local History. We even participated in two #twitterstorian discussions hosted by AASLH on Twitter.
I attended the State Historian’s “Promoting New York History” County Historian and Clerk conference at the State Museum in Albany, the "Founding Mothers Celebration" part of the NYS Women's Suffrage Centennial featuring Anne Hutchinson's birthday event series, the Association of State and Local History annual conference in Detroit, and two regional meetings (one in Hyde Park and one in Albany) related to setting a course for State-wide collaboration of professionals in fields related to historical preservation and advocacy.
At the AASLH conference in Detroit I was a speaker at the Current Issues Forum in which we discussed the nature and quality of civic engagement in historical institutions.
I was also invited to participate on a panel discussion hosted by Congresswoman Nita Lowey in honor of a visit by Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. This discussion commemorated the centennial of the National Parks Service and focused on topics related to the next 100 year of historic preservation.
Many of the topics that are touched upon in the 2016 annual report can be looked at in greater detail on e-newsletters and blog posts from the year.