OFFICE OF THE ORANGE COUNTY HISTORIAN
Johanna Yaun, County Historian
101 Main Street
Goshen, NY 10924
Annual Report 2018
The Office of the Orange County Historian works to research, preserve, contextualize 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 articles for local publications, makes speaking appearances at commemorations and coordinated research projects amongst town historians and local museums.
Staff, Intern and Volunteer Projects
The office consists of 1 full-time historian, 1 full-time senior clerk and occasional part-time temps. This was an extremely successful year regarding our staffing arrangement. As a full time clerk, Nicole Nazzaro has been able to accomplish all general office procedures, as well as take on the coordination of public programs including taking a lead on planning cemetery cleanups throughout the County. With the addition of Joseph Geidel as a part-time temp to work on collections, the office was able to operate efficiently and meet the demand of public inquires and programming. With quality staff in the office, I was able to attend many local history events and prepare lectures for schools, community groups and historical societies.
1841 Courthouse Renovation
In August of this year, the Historian’s Office regained access to the courtroom and four offices on the second floor (The Tourism office is occupying two rooms). Former intern, Joseph Geidel who had previously organized several boxes of paperwork related to the Brinks Trial while in the office as and intern, was asked to return as a temp to unpack the hundreds of boxes that DPW was able to retrieve from the basement. During the process several boxes were found to contain mold and we had to discard of the books after recording the titles for future replacement. Mr. Geidel was able to organize and shelf about 80% of the collection by the end of his term and we plan to invite him back in 2019 to complete the task. The Orange County Genealogical Society resumed holding heir monthly board meetings in the courtroom as of September.
World War I Centennial
Orange County has a longstanding tradition of honoring the 40 men who died on September 29, 1918 with a memorial service at the Orange County Veterans Cemetery held annually. For the centennial year, 2018, a very special trip was planned to hold the ceremony on the burial ground in Bony, France.
In preparation for the centennial trip to Belgium and France, we teamed up with the Company of Military Historians to host a special behind-the-scenes tour of the World War I collections housed at the West Point Museum. This tour included a presentation from military historian Frank Licameli about the 107th New York Infantry Regiment in the lead up to the breaking of the Hindenburg Line in 1918. Throughout the summer we also hosted three info sessions at the North Plank Road Tavern to discuss the upcoming trip and plan the centennial day commemorations.
This large coordinated effort included having several historians in the County present the history of these soldiers in the month’s leading up to the trip. The County Historian Johanna Yaun, City of Newburgh Historian Mary McTamaney, Town of New Windsor Historian Glenn Marshall and West Point museum staff all participated in planning lectures, tours and exhibits related to the centennial.
Aaron Lefkowitz conducted and compiled research related to the World War I monuments that were erected for soldiers who served in the 107th Infantry Regiment and Yvonne Marse and Richard Goring provided stories to the local newspapers.
The sweater worn by Private Walter Allison was restored and returned to Newburgh Free Academy for display. In conjunction with all of these events, the Newburgh Brewing Company named a beer in honor of Pvt. Allison.
The highlight of the commemorations was the trip to Belgium and France coordinated by the Orange County Historian. Fifteen delegates from Orange County traveled together from September 24 – October 2, 2018 following in the footsteps of the local soldiers. The group visited graveyards, museums and trenches and they connected with dignitaries in Europe who have been caretakers of the graves of our local men. On the day of the centennial of the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line, the Orange County delegates met up with 30 travelers from New York City and held a joint service at the Somme American Cemetery.
For the third summer in a row, the Historian’s office offered free training in the techniques and best practices regarding the care and cleanup of cemeteries. Marianne Greenfield returned to host the events, training 16 people per session to properly care for headstones. This year the programs took place at St. James’ in Goshen, Little Britain Cemetery in Rock Tavern, Chester Cemetery in Chester, and the Old School Baptist Cemetery in Warwick.
The committee met four times in 2018 to discuss a variety of concerns related to storage, preservation, accessibility and acquisition policies related to the materials in possession of Orange County.
As boxes were opened and books were shelved, the committee was able to make recommendations about organizing the collection. Many articles of clothing and other objects were uncovered during the unboxing process. Some of these items were put into display cases and other await determination about how they will be stored.
We received several donations in 2018 including: a usb loaded with new research, maps and documents about the Palatine Germans who settled Montgomery in the early 18th century and the entire contents of a 18th century oak paneled parlor from the Colden Ruins. We also received and/or purchased several books for the research library.
Research & Presentations
In 2018 I prepared talks for presentations at the Company of Military Historians, BOCES History teacher Conference, Desmond Campus, Orange County Student Day luncheon, Battle of Minisink battlefield commemoration, unveiling of the Brewster forge at Edmonston House, Mel Johnson’s funeral, and Hudson Valley Greenway. Topics for these presentations included: the roots of Orange County’s Half Shire, the history of Thornton M. Niven’s twin courthouses, Orange County’s dairy history, Loyalism in the Hudson Valley during the American Revolution, Charles Willson Peale’s Mastodon, the preservation of Washington’s Headquarters and Storm King Mountain, Orange County natives in the White House William Seward and Geraldine Ferraro, and most frequently the centennial of the 107th Infantry Regiment’s forays in World War I.
I filled in as a host of the County Executive’s weekly WTBQ radio show on two occasions in 2018 to discuss the centennial of World War I. And also represented the County Executive at events such as the DAR 125th celebration, Newburgh Memorial Day Parade, New Windsor 4th of July and presented a ceremonial check at the Newburgh Illuminated fundraiser on behalf of eth County.
In the 1930's curators of the American in the Metropolitan Museum of Art sent buyers to Montgomery to strip the carved paneling from the deteriorating former home of Cadwallader Colden, Jr. Some of that wood was used to create a period room in the Manhattan museum and the rest was maintained in storage. Decades later the museum decided to de-accession the unused items, they ended up in the hands of antiques dealer for a time but ultimately were returned to the Town of Montgomery.
The County was contacted over the summer to remove historical wood paneling from the Montgomery Town Hall in order to find a more appropriate storage location. Montgomery Town Historian John Pennings created an inventory list and corresponding labels to keep track of the individual pieces of wood as they were moved County storage.
Later in the year, the Village of Walden Historian, Mary Ellen Matise and I spoke with the Education and Economic Development Committee of the Orange County Legislature to make them aware of the historical Colden Ruins that still remain along Rt. 17K in Montgomery.
During 2018, the congregation of the historic A.M.E. Zion Church in Newburgh submitted a request to the Architectural Review Commission (ARC) to demolish the 1905 structure. I was asked to weigh in on the historical value of the building which is listed as a contributing structure to the East End Historic District. As a result, I spoke at several ARC meetings and wrote letters of concern to the local newspapers.
In the spring I participated in a podcast program called “the State of the City Address” in which participants discussed a variety of political and social issues affecting the City of Newburgh. During those sessions I was asked to weigh in on the proposed redevelopment of the Dutch Reformed Church (built 1835 by A. J. Davis) and City Club (built 1852 by Downing & Vaux).
In the fall of 2017, consulting firm, Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson Architecture & Preservation LLP, was selected through a RFP process to produce a report on the masonry conditions at the historical gunpowder ruins of Algonquin Park located in the Town of Newburgh. In the spring of 2018, they sent a crew to survey the property through a variety of techniques including sending drones into the collapsed sluiceways. The results of their study were compiled into a document submitted in November that includes recommendations on how the County should phase out a restoration process.
E-Newsletter & Social Media Outreach
The Orange County History and Heritage online newsletter was released 1 to 2 times per month. The content included 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 2018, 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. Planning for the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution and the 50th anniversary of Woodstock were initiated in 2018 and I have committed to serving on these committees in the coming year.
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 took place. In August I was invited to climb to the top of the Tower as part of a re-dedication ceremony.
I was invited back to serve a second year on the Arts Mid-Hudson grant committee as a juror and program auditor.
Orange County Poet
The Orange County Poet Robert Milby (2017-2019) coordinated speaking engagements with the County Historian including joint participation in the annual Writer’s Institute summer program at Museum Village. Mr. Milby also published a book of Orange County inspired poetry in 2018.