Figure 1 (l to r) County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus, County Clerk Kelly Eskew, Executive Secretary Yvonne Marse and County Historian Johanna Porr Yaun at the Orange County Veteran's Day annual ceremony in Goshen.
OFFICE OF THE ORANGE COUNTY HISTORIAN
Johanna Porr Yaun, County Historian
Nicole Nazzaro, Senior Clerk
101 Main Street
Goshen, N.Y. 10924
2021 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 by appointment; 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 2021 we were able to hire a temp/clerical employee to help to organize records and books in the 1841 Courthouse and redesign our website. The office is funded by taxation.
Figure 2 County Historian Johanna Porr Yaun presents to the Orange County Legislature, Education and Economic Development Committee in Goshen.
Research/Presentation Requests & Public Appearances Requests for in-depth research on a variety of topics were plentiful in 2021. Invitations to speak through video conferencing or appear at local events were spread throughout the year with a concentration in the summer and fall months.
Several YouTube videos were prepared including a history of Weigand’s Tavern for the America 250 Foundation and a memorial service for Dr. David Schuyler about the life and legacy of the horticulturalist A.J. Downing, these videos were filmed, edited and spliced with images using a combination of borrowed and personal digital film equipment and software.
We attended historic marker unveilings in Cornwall-on-Hudson and New Windsor.
Figure 5 Research can take on a variety of forms, some records are digitized, others are copied and some our stored in original form, making the tasks of organizing and locating records complicated process.
Family History Research On a regular basis we receive inquires related to family history, house history, or newspaper archives. Depending on the topic and availability of documentation, we sometimes research for answers or sometimes refer the questions to other departments. This includes referring people to the Orange County Clerk’s office for vital records, land records, deeds, mortgages, maps, or naturalization records and to the Orange County Surrogate’s Court for trusts, estates, and legal documents. Many family history questions are researched by the volunteers in the Orange County Genealogical Society who provide this service from our shared space in the 1841 Courthouse. We also receive a steady stream of offers to obtain family records and papers, each of these scenarios has to be considered on an individual basis related to the collection’s relevance to the County office, usefulness to the genealogical society, space and climate concerns.
Urban Renewal Research A group of SUNY professors 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. I provided them with some information in the spring and then met with them in Oswego, NY while at the APHNYS conference. In the fall, I began reviewing a collection of 2,000 photos of Urban Renewal that are in a private collection owned by Jerry Mastropaolo and we are developing a long-term plan for preservation and exhibit of the extensive slide collection.
Figure 6 One of our four gravestone cleaning workshops in 2021 was held in conjunction with the Annual Hudson River Valley Ramble.
Gravestone Cleaning Workshops The 2021 season was our last in collaboration with Gravestone Preservation Services owned and operated by Marianne Greenfield. During the partnership from 2015-2021, we hosted over 35+ cemetery care programs and trained over 500+ Orange County residents in the proper law and techniques prescribed for cemetery upkeep. We hosted four cemetery workshops in 2021 which were held in Walden, Port Jervis, New Windsor and Otisville. We were able to survey several cemeteries throughout the year such as the Potter’s Field at Valley View, Howells cemetery, Monroe Community cemetery, Slate Hill cemetery, Hillside cemetery and participate in Wreaths Across America at the Cemetery of the Highlands. We hosted a gravestone cleaning workshop in conjunction with the Hudson River Valley Ramble. In 2022 we plan to continue offering the gravestone cleaning workshops although we will be seeking a new instructor for the series.
Website Redesign A part-time/temp employee, recent high school graduate John Castricone, was hired for several weeks during the summer of 2021 to work with us on several projects including organizing the collections and redesigning the Historian page on the Orange County website. The old material was wiped clean and new tabs were created including research FAQs, links to help direct inquires to the proper department or agencies, information about our collections committee, gravestone cleaning workshops, the WWI exhibit and the Tavern Trail. We did not have enough time John to continue on to creating video content or a digital archive that could be assessable online, but he was able to get the basic structure up and running and we hope to expand upon it if resources are available in the future.
Conferences and Webinars Staff was able to take advantage of the new widespread usage of Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other video conferencing programs. Staff attended digital programs and conference seminars hosted by the Association of State and Local History, American Alliance of Museums, Greater Hudson Heritage Network, Association of Counties, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, Office of the New York State Historian, Hudson River Valley Institute, Warwick Library, American Genealogical Studies, etc. Nicole was able to attend the Annual Conference of the Association of Gravestone Studies remotely. I attended the annual conference of the Association of State and Local History in Oswego, NY and participated in several seminars related to archival training and skills, compelling storytelling, newspaper digitization and the Semiquincentennial, I was able to tour historic locations including Fort Ontario, the Richardson-Bates Museum and also made a detour to explore the William Seward (Orange County native) house in Auburn and meet with the staff there.
Painting Restoration We obtained an estimate for the restoration of two historic paintings. The painting once hung in the Orange County Government Center but were identified to be aged and tattered during the renovation of the building. Since that time the paintings have been in the basement of the 1841 Courthouse stored in extremely poor climate conditions. In 2021 we requested and received funds to cover the cost of the refurbishing through a Capital Plan budget. The money will be dispersed in the 2022 budget cycle.
Figure 7 A walking tour of Newburgh's historic district was hosted by the Orange County Historian for SUNY Westchester students enrolled in the Historic Preservation Certificate program.
Adjunct Teaching at SUNY Westchester I continued to teach the Intro to Historic Preservation course offered by SUNY Westchester from their Peekskill Campus. This includes preparing and presenting a series of lectures on a range of topics such as preservation law, historic district ordinances, hertiage tourism, cemetry care, historic marker care, public archaeology, controversial monuments, the economic benefits of historic preservation, the environmental impact of demolitions of historic structures and the impact and history of the Urban Renewal program in the Hudson Valley.
Orange County Semiquincentennial Commission A great many strides were made in establishing the 13-member commission and beginning to host regular meetings to plan for the America 250 period which will occur from 2024-2033. The commission has begun the process of collaborating on a field guide which will be produced in 2022 to provide teachers, museum professionals and local historians with unifying themes and resources to help in framing future programming. Sections were assigned to different individuals for completion in early 2022. Documentation about the Bicentennial and material produced for the Bicentennial was extracted from several sources and reviewed. Strategies to digitize and make these materials public was explored.
Figure 8 Vietnam War veteran and retired teacher Dave McTamaney pays his respects to the fallen soldiers of the 107th Infantry Regiment in France, one of the images on display at the Orange County Government Center.
World War I Centennial In 2021 we placed an order for a display case to accompany the photo exhibit showcasing the 2018 Orange County Centennial Delegation to France and Belgium which is already on display on the third floor of the Orange County Government Center. A uniform from a Goshen soldier, a collection of metals and a few maps related to the topic are ready for installation when the case arrives. A new WWI themed tour to the trenches and museums of Belgium and France was designed this year through EF Tours for the summer of 2023. The new tour will focus on the histories, sites, battlefields and monuments of the 369th NY Infantry Regiment. This is the beginning of an effort to compile research and documentation that illustrates the history of the African American soldiers from Orange County who fought with the 369th including the famous painter Horace Pippin, and Elmer Earl who received a Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic deeds, Earl had ties to Goshen and Middletown.
Figure 9 Learning and teaching historic preservation techniques such as historic window repair.
Historic Preservation Trades I continued to teach the Intro to Historic Preservation course at SUNY Westchester in 2021. As part of the program I also offered site tours of Orange County landmarks to students. I participated in training in historic window restoration through a program offered by Hudson Valley Houseparts and attended the historic crafts days at the Edmonston House. Arrangments were made with Real Property and the Parks Department to partner on brainstorming ways of better mantaining and restoring the 1860 stone house at Cronomer Park. We are thinking of ways to incorporate public programming related to preservation trades training.
Historic Markers We successfully applied for a new historic marker through the William G. Pomeroy Foundation in 2021. We also provided the paint and supplies necessary for community officials and local historians to repaint their damaged or weathered historic markers including for Port Jervis (Kelly Decker), Montgomery (Brian Fitzpatrick), and Highland Falls (Stella Bailey).
Figure 10 Matt Kierstead of Milestone Heritage Consulting explains the history of the powder mill site to Orange County officials at Algonquin Park.
Algonquin Park Progress was made this year in working out a plan to target the first row of stone structures for masonry stabiliation and repair. Plans were draw up, partners came together to exaimne the site, a series of remote meetings worked out a strategy and a safety fence was installed to ensure the safety of the public while the project proceeds. Recommendations were were compiled for a possible updating and expansion of the National Register designation to include W.P.A. era structures and powder milll structures that were overgrown and overlooked during the first phase of nomination in the early 1990s. The map, history brochure and poster created by Milestone Heritage Consulting for installation on site are ready to be installed.
Frederick Douglass Project Although off to a shaky start with the pandemic impacting both the 2020 and 2021 annual events, through the work of Gabrielle Burton-Hill, Naomi Ringskog- and others, the program continued. There are plans to expand this celebration of African American history in Orange County and establish a template to follow each year. Research about Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth was rewritten for local publications.
Figure 11 The public archaeology program at Weigands Tavern led by County Historian Johanna Porr Yaun was featured in the Times Herald Record and on Spectrum News.
Weigands Tavern Public Archaeology For two weeks in the summer of 2021 I led an archaeological excavation of the dirt from the basement of the historic property known as Weigands Tavern. This public archaeological dig engaged the neighboorhood and taught basic archaeological theory and skills to voluneter community members. Along with the group of volunteers we constrcuted archaeological screens, documented the site, sifted the soil, extracted artifacts and cataloged the findings. The discoveries were vast and varied and included 18th and 19th century objects such as glassware, ceramics, coins, building materials personal items such as buttons and kitchen refuse such as oyster and clam shells. We were able to unearth about 1/3 of the potiential of the site and plan to return in the summer of 2022 for further excavation.
Covid-19 Recordkeeping and Service We continued in 2021 to collect material related to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic for archiving. Nicole also allocated time towards helping the Emergency Services department in covid data entry
Figure 12 A ceremony was held at Downing Park to honor the late author David Schuyler with a tree planting with County Historian Johanna Porr Yaun as M.C.
A.J. Downing Project Throughout 2021 there has been a focus on studying the life and legacy of the landscape architect and tastemaker of the 1840s, A.J. Downing, and producing research that can be used for interpretive materials. At various times I toured horticulturalists and surveyors around the original Highland Gardens property to point out remnants of Downing’s estate. This included the country’s leading expert in Ginko trees, Peter del Tredici, who was able to estimate dates for the trees and confirm Downing’s planting of them. I supported the promotion of the art installation in the Culbert House/ City Club and helped to provide research about Downing’s life to the non-profit who hosted the series of events there. We also secured a William G. Pomeroy grant in collaboration with the Fullerton Cultural Center to fund the production of a traditional blue and yellow roadside historic marker which will be placed on the site of Highland Gardens. In the spring, I was the M.C. for a ceremony and tree planting honoring the late author David Schuyler at the Shelter House in Downing Park.
Historic Structure Advocacy We made phone calls, wrote letters and garnered public support to advocate for the preservation and/or extraction of historical elements of endangered historic buildings in Orange County. These included 32 W. Main Street in Washingtonville which had suffered a fire, it was unfortunatly demolished. Anthoer advocacy project was to raise awareness for the last mansard roof mixed use commerical building at 242 Broadway in Newburgh. At the close of 2021, the fate of the building is in litigation and pending decsion. During the outreach for the protection of this historic structure, we were able to collect over 100 letters and 1,600 petition signatures in support of the Architectural Review Commission’s recommendations to retain the building. Letters were written to advoacte for the extraction of a time capsule at the Salesaian School in Goshen. We photographed the Balmville School and the New Windsor School before and during the demoltion of those historic structures.
Figure 13 Many meetings and presentations were held via video conferencing in 2021, including this gathering of the NYS Historian's "New York 250" advisory committee.
Committees and Commissions I continued to serve as the Orange County representative to Hudson River Valley Greenway and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area advisory committee although the meetings were entriely via phone conference this year, I was invited to serve on the newly formed Dutchess Quarry Cave Site Advisory Committee and attended two meetings chaired by Orange County Legislator Leigh Benton to stratigize plans to protect and interpret the pre-historic and archaeological relevance of the caves. I continued to chair the Orange County Semiquincentennial Commsion but have also continued to participate as a member of the New York State “NY 250” advisiory committee orgainzed by the New York State Historian Devin Lander and was invited to join the leadership team for the “Revolutionary NYC” non-profit which is being formalized in 2022. Through connections in the Orange County Semiquincentennial Commission, I was introduced to the St. Eustatius Island Historian Walter Hellebrand and took him on a tour of local sites with connection to Carribbean trade networks and swapped research. I also contnue to chair the Orange County Collections Committee which meets 4 times per year to discuss possible acquisitions to the County archive.
1841 Courthouse Collections We did our best this year to continue the work of organizing the county collections. After the 1841 Courthouse was emptied for the renovation in 2014 and the items were returned in boxes in 2017, there has not been serious investment into properly staffing the building. Our department requests for a records care professional have been denied. There was once a full-time curator position in the 1980s and 90s which has not yet been restored to the budget. Without full time staff to help in this endeavor, much of the work of reframing images, scanning newspapers, cataloging maps, culling the bookshelves, installing new archivally secure organizational systems, creating exhibits and cataloging the vast collections of DVDs, CDs, books, photographs, slides, cemetery records, scrapbooks, maps clothing, paintings and other items is impossible to accomplish. We have done our best to consistently bring in part time/temp clerical help and to cultivate volunteers to do basic organization, but it is not enough if we want to have a professional research center that we can be proud of.
Figure 14 The endeavor to document and to tell the story of the African American soldiers from Orange County who fought in WWI will require new primary source research.
Outlook and Recommendations In 2022 we will focus on three in-depth research projects:
Figure 15 A sample of images from the County Historian's activities and projects during 2021.
Creating a field guide for the upcoming 250th anniversary of the American Revolution which will be distributed by the Semiquincentnnial Commission to help local educators, museum staff, and local committees with resources to help unify the commemorative efforts. The field guide will include themes, timelines, historical information to set the foundation for programming. events and exhibits that are on the horizon for the 2024-2033 timeframe.
2021 Top 5 Report
3.A research project to gather information about Orange County soldiers who fought in Co. K of the 369th New York Infantry Regiment (aka Harlem Hellfighters) during World War I was organized. This work includes compiling information about the soldiers, sourcing out personal letters and newspaper materials that will give a sense of what they experienced and creating presentations for schools using the primary documents. We are also partnering with a Veterans non-profit (YIT Foundation) to connect descendants of the soldiers to the possibility of retroactively applying for their ancestors’ metals (due to racial segregation in the military at the time, the black soldiers fought under French command and therefore were often overlooked for the decoration they deserved.)
LINKS to 2021 VIDEOS:
Newburgh: 300-year-old bits of history unearthed at Weigand's Tavern https://www.recordonline.com/videos/news/2021/07/26/newburgh-300-year-old-bits-history-unearthed-weigands-tavern/8071807002/
Unearthed artifacts tell story of Newburgh's first residents https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/hudson-valley/news/2021/07/30/unearthed-artifacts-tell-story-of-newburgh-s-first-residents
Downing and Vaux: Collaboration and Friendship https://vimeo.com/659091867
A.J. Downing's Life and Legacy: In Honor of Biographer Dr. David Schuyler https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14XUKkDg9YA
History of the County House https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Idmwl-L9MyM&t=102s
Almost President: William Seward and Geraldine Ferraro https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKEkkuqzdrI