Annual Report for 2017
From the Office of the Orange County Historian
1841 Courthouse Renovation
Since moving back into the 1841 Courthouse in 2016, the office has been operating with limited access to the archives. 60% of the collections and books belonging to the County are in boxes in the basement because there is not enough office space available to unpack them yet. Fortunately the entirely of the Orange County Genealogy Society's records have been returned to the shelves (encompassing three large rooms on the main floor and two large storage rooms in the basement) and have been a resource for the dedicated volunteers to answer inquiries.
We are looking forward to 2018 when we will regain the second floor offices spaces and be able to complete the unpacking of the archives.
Staff and Intern Projects
In May, our part-time clerk MJ Goff vacated the position. A temp, Cher Vickers, was brought in for three months to handle office affairs and work on a special project scanning Urban Renewal documents. In October, a new full-time Senior Clerk, Nicole Nazzaro, began taking on office responsibilities. From October to December, Nicole was busy with year-end closing procedures and Oracle training. Ellen Russell, Executive Secretary and Administrative Assistant in the Planning Department, was particularly helpful in volunteering to assist Nicole's transition into the office procedures.
The Tavern Trail Series from 2015-2016 was brought back in 2017 for a one night program at Baird Tavern in Warwick planned by Milestone Heritage Consulting. On snowy evening in December, the event attracted over 75 people and served to highlight the latest renovation of the historic "Washington-Slept-Here" authentic 18th century stone inn.
In September, I traveled to Austin, TX to attend the annual conference of the Association of State and Local History where I was presented with a "Leadership in History" Award for the success of the Tavern Trail Series.
In continuation of the Cemetery workshop, which was very well received in 2016, we created a series of cemetery clean up events at a variety of locations in Orange County. Marianne Greenfield returned to host the events and teach a group of 16 people per event to properly care for headstones. The program took place at Circleville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Temple Beth Jacob Big Rock Cemetery in Newburgh, Washingtonville Presbyterian Church Cemetery and the Gumaer Family Cemetery in Cuddebackville.
For the fourth year in a row, we invited Nicole Scholet, the Vice President of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, to present her expertise and advice on using social media to promote historic society, museum and public history material to a broader audience.
We also began a new program series to discuss the needs and challenges associated with attracting the Spanish speaking community into local history membership and programs. Sergio Villavicencio spoke to a group of history professionals about the history of Central and South American counties and which themes are common threads that can be used to reach out to new audiences. We hope to continue this conversation into 2018.
The committee met three times in 2017 to discuss a variety of concerns related to the storage, preservation, accessibility and acquisition policies related historical materials in possession of Orange County.
The bulk of the collection remains in storage at this time. It was easier this year than it was in 2016 to navigate the stacks because interns had been put to work in organizing the most used volumes. We plan to bring the rest of the books upstairs in 2018 as the Courts will be vacating the 2nd floor spaces. In the meantime, a temporary display related to the World War I centennial was installed in the main hallway.
Many historical items were donated to Orange County in 2017. This includes: A) A map of Crawford farms from the 1830's found in Michigan. B) Two binders of photo slides taken by archaeologist Jack Meade, when he examined the Haskett, Colden, and Edmonston homes in the 1960's. C) Two research papers about the "Asylum Baseball Club" in 1880's Middletown. D) A collection of papers, letters, and emails related to the citizens' group founded in Warwick to advocate for the preservation of the Paul Rudolph building. E) A collection of newspaper clippings of the Newburgh Optimist Club in the 1950's.
Ted Sly's interview series has been located from the storage boxes and will be organized when the 2nd floor offices are available. We have made an effort to begin interviewing people again to add to the collection of local reminisces. In particular we have been focusing on collecting stories related to the history of the City of Newburgh from 1945-1975 including those who were associated with the Urban Renewal project.
Collections funds were used to preserve important one-of-a-kind artifacts related to the history of our County including: A) clean and convert a fragile "Silverchrome" cassette to DVD, containing a video of the opening of the Orange County Government Center on October 16, 1970. B) stabilize and clean the NFA football jersey that was worn into battle by Private Walter Allison at the Hindenburg Line on September 29, 1918. C) properly box the Allison jersey and build a case that is secure and light sensitive for long term display at the newly renovated Orange County Government Center.
Research & Presentations
In 2017 I prepared talks for presentations at two local rotaries, several schools, twice to the Good Work Institute, the West Point Parents Association, SUNY New Paltz history students, County & Borough Historians Institute, Hudson Valley Greenway the Orange County Legislature, and several local historical societies. Topics of these presentations included: Claudius Smith/Roots of Loyalism, Weygant's Tavern, the Battle of Newburgh, Mastodon Day, Orange Mills/Algonquin Park , the preservation of Washington's Headquarters and Storm King, the Palatine settlers of Newburgh, Paul Rudolph's OC Government Center, Judge William Fullerton's 200th birthday, Lustron Homes, Women's Suffrage convention, AJ Downing's steamboat accident, etc.
I was also invited to be a guest on Richard Hull's radio show "History Alive" twice in 2017 to discuss topics related to the future of the historical enterprise.
A Legend & Lore Historic Marker featuring Claudius Smith was dedicated in October in front of the 1841 Courthouse.
The Orange County History and Heritage online newsletter was 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 9,500 through online outreach 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 2017, 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 the restoration process continues.
This year I was invited to join the grant advisory committee for Arts Mid-Hudson as a juror and program auditor.
Orange County Poet
In 2017 the County Poet position was revived. After a competitive search, Robert Milby of Florida, NY was chosen to serve from 2017-2019. The appointment event was held under the "Poe Arch" at the West Point cadet Library in May.