Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun shared her expertise with Historic Preservation students from Westchester Community College last month, during a walking tour of the Newburgh Historic District.
Yaun highlighted some of the city’s most important historical landmarks and gave the SUNY Westchester students the opportunity to meet some of the people dedicated to protecting and promoting Newburgh’s historic treasures.
“Newburgh has the largest contiguous historic district in New York State and boasts a variety of buildings by renowned architects,” Yaun explained. “These include A.J. Downing, A.J. Davis, Calvert Vaux, Frederick Clarke Withers, George E. Harney, Frank Estabrook, and J. Percy Hanford, to name a few.”
First the group toured Washington Headquarters State Historic Site with Paul Banks, Interpretive Programs Assistant. They discussed Gen. George Washington’s wartime service, as well as how the headquarters, open since 1850, came to be the first publicly owned and operated historic site in the nation.
“As America’s first historic site, Washington’s Headquarters has remained open to visitors through many changes in the museum profession, they have had to reinterpret the history time-and-time again to meet the shifting expectations of the public,” Yaun noted.
The scholars then visited an art installation organized by STRONGROOM, located in the shell of what was once the William A.M. Culbert House. Built by A.J. Downing and Calvert Vaux in 1852, this is one of the first times that the ruin has been open to the public since it was severely damaged in a fire about 40 years ago.
Other stops on the tour included:
- The Crawford House museum with Historical Society of the Hudson Highlands Trustee Steven Baltsas. This museum preserves the story of David and Fannie Belknap Crawford and their daughters, a successful mercantile family in the early 19th century.
- The Dutch Reformed Church, which was constructed by A.J. Davis in 1835.
- Calvary Presbyterian Church with longtime member Jim Ferguson. The church survived a fire in 2019 and is undergoing extensive restoration.
- St. George’s Church with the chair of the St. George Cemetery committee, and lifetime member of the church, Catherine Costello.
In addition to serving as the Orange County Historian, Yaun is also an instructor in the Historic Preservation Certificate program at SUNY Westchester, where she teaches Intro to Historic Preservation at the Peekskill campus. She, her husband Douglas, and her son Calvert are restoring the 1917 Tudor Revival style home of architect J. Percy Hanford, located in the City of Newburgh.
For more information, contact Johanna Yaun at JYaun@orangecountygov.com.
Learning to clean and preserve gravestones in Newburgh's oldest burial ground
CITY OF NEWBURGH - Every gravestone tells a story.
But over time, nature tends to cover the details of those stories with dirt, pollen dust, and other things that get blown onto the stone and obscure its message.
Sixteen area residents got a lesson in the proper way to clean and preserve gravestones on Saturday at a workshop offered by the Orange County Historian's office.
Their teachers were cemetery restoration experts Dale and Tina Utter from upstate Chenango County, and the location was Newburgh's oldest burying ground, the Old Town Cemetery, adjacent to Calvary Presbyterian Church on Grand Street.
And the Utters said you only need simple materials to clean a gravestone to make the names, dates and other details carved on them stand out clearly again. Ammonia, bleach and other household cleaners should not be used, as they can damage stones.
"Plain water and a soft brush will do wonders," Tina Utter said.
When the short lesson was done, the "students" went to work with their scrub brushes, and gradually, names and dates hidden by grime for years became legible.
Kristen Verge, of Beacon, who came with her husband Joe O'Brien-Applegate, said she wanted to learn to clean gravestones so she can keep up graves of some family members who are buried in New Jersey.
Steven Baltsas, of New Windsor, said he just wanted to "learn a useful historic preservation skill that I can't learn anywhere else."
But he also said he saw potential for the cemetery, which reputedly dates back to 1713, four years after the first German Palatine settlers founded Newburgh.
"This cemetery could be a real tourist attraction," Baltsas said. "But it should be protected more."
Adam Staiger, of the hamlet of Wallkill, said this was the second time he'd attended the workshop, which the historian's office usually offers six times a year at rotating sites around the county. He said it is "very cathartic and therapeutic to help preserve someone's legacy."
Mary Murphy, who was born in Newburgh but also has a family home in Ireland, where her mother is buried, said now she will be better equipped to keep up her mom's gravestone.
"I've wanted to learn how to do this for years," Murphy said. "Today is my mother's 103rd birthday, so this is a way to honor her."
Dale Utter said besides gathering your very simple tools and materials, there are a few safety checks you should perform before cleaning a gravestone.
First, make sure the stone is sturdy, so there's no chance that if you push on it, the stone will fall over and hurt you or someone else.
Also, make sure the stone does not have cracks or show other signs it might break easily. If it does, move on to another stone.
But sometimes, problems are only discovered after you start the job.
As a bonus lesson, Dale Utter was showing attendees how to reset a stone that has tilted, using the stone marking the grave of Isaac DuBois. But as he and a couple others dug around the stone, they gradually found it had leaned after its collar, which surrounded the stone at its base, had broken.
Utter resolved the problem by removing the collar and burying the stone 19 inches deeper. All of the writing on the stone was still visible above the ground after the work was done.
Johanna Yaun, the Orange County historian, said the gravestone cleaning workshop has been especially popular in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, "because it gives people a chance to get outside and socialize."
There are at least 914 cemeteries in the county, and Yaun said the workshops assist in their preservation.
"We hope we are creating a team of people who have the knowledge to restore the stones, and now they can pass that on to others," she said.
A new program based at its Center for the Digital Arts/Peekskill Extension Center location. This is the only such certificate program in Historic Preservation offered at a community college in New York State. The program provides training in Historic Preservation for students interested in the field of historic preservation including historic site management, fundraising, research and building trades as well as for working professionals looking to hone their skills and earn credentials in this expanding field. Courses required towards completion of the certificate include Introduction to Historic Preservation, American Architectural History and Historic Preservation Field Work I & II. Students will benefit from courses located in the heart of the Peekskill Historic District in the magnificent Hudson River Valley. Field work courses are held in and around Westchester County. Classes began in Spring 2020 and have been renewed for a Fall 2020 offering. For further information contact: Alan.Strauber@sunywcc.edu or call 914 606 7300