OFFICE OF THE ORANGE COUNTY HISTORIAN
Johanna Porr Yaun, County Historian
Nicole Nazzaro, Senior Clerk
101 Main Street
Goshen, N.Y. 10924
2020 Annual Report
The Office of the Orange County Historian works to research, preserve, explain, and promote the historical intricacies that are at the foundation of our society today.
The department maintains a research library that is open for public hours; staff and volunteers in the office provide historical information to answer public inquires related to Orange County’s past; staff plan and host special programming, lectures, professional development and community workshops. The County Historian writes for local publications, makes speaking appearances at events and coordinates research projects amongst local stakeholders.
The office consists of 1 full-time historian, 1 full-time senior clerk and occasional part-time temporary clerical positions. In 2020 we were able to hire a temp to work as our collections professional, organizing the research library and digitizing records and compiling research related to Covid-19 pandemic as it unfolded. The office is funded by taxation.
The year started out with big plans for public programming and the kickoff of the Orange County Semiquincenntennial Commission. In January I attended the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Golden Hill lecture and tour hosted by the Sons of the Revolution at Fraunces Tavern. In February I presented a PowerPoint about “Benedict Arnold & the Betrayal of West Point” to local senior groups. In the first week of March I attended the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre with a cemetery ceremony hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution and a lecture at the Massachusetts Historical Society Historical Society.
On March 16th, I was informed by County leadership at a Department Head Meeting that we must close the 1841 Courthouse and send staff home to work remotely. We instituted weekly staff meetings via Zoom and shifted our work to respond to the immediate need for pandemic responsiveness. This new approach included five goals:
· Business-As-Usual We continued to maintain responsiveness to public inquires. Without access to the County archives at the 1841 Courthouse nor access to local library history rooms for several months, this process was more time-consuming. But we did our best to give answers or explanations with previously established regularity. When we returned to the office in the summer, we noticed that we were receiving fewer calls then in previous years but by October we were flooded with requests from researchers once again.
· Long Term Projects Staff prioritized long term projects, using this time of remote work to develop new presentations and focus on the meticulous tasks of compiling resources on a variety of County history topics.
Converting to Remote Programming Staff rescheduled public programming and public meetings to digital platforms and maintained communication with the State and Local historians via email and video conferencing.
Long term research projects have been prioritized for times of remote work.
Prioritizing Morale Projects With citizens of Orange County asked to make sacrifices and remain close to home, we worked to reach the public through a variety of methods. This included the e-newsletter, press, social media opportunities and videoconferencing events. We prepared a list for the Times Herald Record request for a “12 Books to Read in Quarantine” list and disseminated Association of State and Local History and our own GoogleDoc templates to the public to encourage individuals to document their personal experiences and contribute to the Orange County archive.
· Collecting Material Related to the Local Covid-19 Response It is the official duty of a government appointed historians to document not just the past but also the present moments of historical significance. As we lived through this pandemic of international magnitude, staff documented the local emergency response and community experiences as the virus impacts daily life. Due to social distancing measures, the work was done remotely gathering news stories, images, social media comments and personal experiences for the archive.
Despite the budgetary setbacks resulting from the pandemic that we faced in 2020, the staff was able to accomplish many important tasks. Highlights included:
· Cemetery Care Workshops Senior Clerk Nicole Nazzaro took the lead in ensuring that the cemetery care workshops were able to continue. New rules and procedures were developed to ensure adherence to social distancing guidelines. These events were more successful than ever before due both to the longevity of the series gaining a reputation and also because it is an outdoor group activity that lends itself well to distanced socializing and learning.
· Contemporary Collecting When the pandemic began, we were lucky to have Temp Clerical Joseph Geidel on staff and he successfully shifted his approach from one of primarily organizing records to a focus on building a living archive of Covid-19 information. This included work on a Facebook page “Documenting Covid-19 in the Hudson Valley” and in creating a GoogleDoc that could be filled out and submitted by members of the public.
Remote Conferences and Webinars Staff was able to take advantage of the fact that many programs were rescheduled as remote events. Staff attended digital programs and conference seminars hosted by the Association of State and Local History, American Alliance of Museums, Greater Hudson Heritage Network, World Monuments Fund, Hudson River Valley Institute, etc.
Frederick Douglass Project During the summer, the Frederick Douglass Project Commission had to cancel the plans that had been on the calendar for a two-year planning process in order to reimagine the 150th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ visit to Newburgh to fit social distancing guidelines. The event series was consolidated into a one-day presentation and I was asked to deliver a talk exploring the events surrounding Douglass’ 1870 appearance.
Orange County Semiquincentennial Commission In the first quarter of the year I participated in several events and lectures related to the America 250 anniversaries. Due to the pandemic, the later commission meetings were moved to Zoom. The panel discussion I had scheduled to host as a partner with Sergio Villavicencio of the New York City committee at the American Association of State and Local History Annual Conference in Las Vegas was postponed to next year.
· World War I Centennial In February we partnered with the Veterans Affairs Department to offer free viewings of the film 1917. In October, the photos and panels showcasing the 2018 Orange County Centennial Delegation to France and Belgium were placed on display on the third floor of the Orange County Government Center.
· Urban Renewal Research A group of history professors at SUNY received a grant to build a web based research compilation of documentation related to the Urban Renewal programs in Albany, Kingston, Newburgh and New York City. Throughout the year I have helped to compile information and add to their databases.
· County History Research During the year, Orange County Bar Association requested information about the history of the District Attorney’s office. The Orange County Legislature requested information about the history of Orange Farm/Valley View and the Sheriff’s department requested information about the history of past Sheriffs. As we unpack and reconstitute the archives, we have been trying to identify and organize these files in particular.
· Heritage Trail Interpretation Plan In the fall we worked with Matthew A. Kierstead of Milestone Heritage Consulting to develop an interpretive plan and cost analysis for placing historic markers along the full length of the Heritage trail.
Developing New Presentations Throughout the year we’ve used our remote time to enhance educational materials. This includes refreshing old PowerPoint presentations and creating new lectures.
· Educational Programming The lectures and walking tours that were planned for the Desmond Campus at Mount St. Mary College duirng the 2020 term were cancelled but I was able to continue teaching Intro to Historic Preservation at SUNY Westchester as the school switched to remote learning via Blackboard and Zoom.
· DAR Membership After several years of work to prove my lineage documentation, I was accepted into the Daughter of the American Revolution Quassaick Chapter at an outdoor ceremony held in Algonquin Park. With three DAR Chapters in Orange County, this is an opportunity to support local historical service efforts and bring more people into the work that we do on the County level.
The office goals for 2021 are to continuing organizing the Orange County history archives and to continue enhancing accessibility to the records. We are also continuing our efforts to develop new presentations that can be adaptable to alternative platforms. The budget cuts that were made as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic will cause a reduction in our office’s ability to offer a speaker series or launch any new programming in the upcoming year but we hope to maintain the popular Cemetery Workshop series.