Open for 63 years, closed for 68. The Tower of Victory is open once again thanks to the efforts of the Palisades Park Conservancy to raise 1.8 million dollars through private philanthropy and public grants. The tower is not open to the public yet but will reopen very soon. Article by Johanna Yaun, Orange County Historian.
The Drowned Lands Historical Society announces that the Orange County Legislature has issued a resolution proclaiming William Grohoski, of Pine Island NY, the official Black Dirt Historian. The resolution notes that William “Bill” Grohoski was one of three founding members of the Drowned Lands Historical Society, which was formed in the early 1970s on an ad hoc basis. The Society collected archives and artifacts related to farming in the Black Dirt Region.
What’s that in the middle of the official Orange County seal - an orange tree?
How did THAT get there? There aren’t orange trees within 800 miles of here.
“I researched it, and there weren’t even orange trees in Florida back in 1683,” says Johanna Yaun, the Orange County historian.
The county, one of New York’s original 12 counties, was formed in 1683 and named after the Prince of Orange, who eventually became King William III of England.
On a regular basis, Yaun speaks to elementary school students about the seal and even has them design and color their own seals.
She walks back into her office and lugs out a seal press from the past. It must weigh 50 pounds.
"Back in the 1700s, every county department had a different seal," she says. "This one is from the treasury department."
She grabs a piece of paper, inserts it into the press and pushes down on the handle. The resulting imprint is umm... somewhat indistinct.
"The supervisor's office had a seal, the surrogate's office had a seal and the treasurer's office had a seal," she says. "Orange County had a seal, as well."
She pushes a piece of paper across the table with a blurry image of the Orange County seal circa 1691. It definitely has some sort of a tree in the middle of it.
"You know kids are geniuses," she says. "And I was speaking to a group of them at the Coldenham School and one student looked at it and said, 'That's not an orange tree, it's an apple tree.'"
Which makes a lot more sense - but still doesn't solve the mystery.
"In 1962, County Clerk Albert Gottschalk found a silk flag in a box and put it up in his window," she says. "It had the county seal with an orange tree in the middle."
"Mildred Parker Seese, a historian and writer for the Times Herald, saw it and said, 'Where did that come from?'" Yaun says.
The pair researched and it was thought the flag was from the 1939 New York World's Fair.
"Apparently every New York state county was asked to send a flag so it could be displayed," Yaun says. "But we don't know where that flag is today."
"Orange County's seal was made official in 1970," she says. "That's when the county charter was changed and that seal with the orange tree was adopted."
Apparently there were other options available without the orange tree, including a version of a woman milking a cow and another with an eagle. But the orange-tree version won out.
Right afterwards, Seese wrote several articles in the paper asking, "Why an orange tree?"
"And she made a pretty good case against that orange tree," Yaun says.
Donald Clark, the county historian in 1970, appealed to the public for help and started collecting examples, and a committee – with Mildred Parker Seese onboard - was formed to solve the mystery.
"But the committee hit a dead end and eventually fizzled out," says Yaun.
The answer, she suggests, may be tied up with the royal houses of the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau or the French Principality of Orange.
Or it may not.
The first Orange County clerk in 1691 was Derick Storm, and in her reporting Seese calls him a Dutchman and surmises that he would have known of the orange tree being used as a symbol of the Dutch royal family at the time.
She also assumes Storm created that first image.
"But it's also very possible that Storm drew an apple tree and it was so blurry it got changed to an orange tree at some point," Yaun says.
"It's been a topic of conversation since at least 1962."
"Lou Heimbach, when he was county executive, attempted to have it changed to an oak leaf back in the 1980s," she says.
"That was certainly a better idea, but it didn't happen, either."
And apparently there is good reason for that.
"Turns out the official seal can't be changed by the county executive or the county legislature," Yaun says.
"It can only be changed by a group of judges and by judicial decree."
So the orange tree remains smack-dab in the center of the Orange County seal.
John DeSanto is a freelance photojournalist. Find more of his 845LIFE stories, photos and videos at recordonline.com. Reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org
Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun explained that this is the first step in the process to deciding how to preserve the ruins.
“[This] is the county’s initial chance to gather as much information as we can, so we know what to do and can make those changes,” said Yaun.
From a network of bootleggers operating secret distilleries during Prohibition to Urban Renewal erasing important landmarks in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun discussed the forgotten history of Newburgh during a recent talk at Mount Saint Mary College’s Desmond Campus for Adult Enrichment.
Most 845LIFE subjects are about living people. This one, however, is not.
Claudius Smith has been dead for almost 238 years, hanged in front of a crowd at the original Orange County Courthouse on Jan. 22, 1779.
Last week, the Orange County Historian’s Office unveiled a “Legend and Lore” marker in front of the 1841 courthouse – which replaced the original courthouse on the same site.
“There are lots of rumors and myths about Claudius Smith,” says Johanna Yaun, county historian.
“Which is why it’s a Legend and Lore marker and not a historical marker. Because everybody has a different story about him.”
County receives recognition for Historic Tavern Trail series, which featured local history discussions in historic restaurants
GOSHEN — Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus announced that the County’s Historian’s Office has been recognized by the American Association for State and Local History with an Award of Merit for last year’s Historic Tavern Trail series.
“I’m proud of the contributions that our historian, Johanna Yaun, has made to the economic vitality of Orange County,” Neuhaus said. “The Tavern Trail series promoted the county’s rich history and some of its diverse eateries. I commend Johanna on being recognized by her peers for this innovative initiative.”
A cross-promotion between the Orange County historian, tourism and economic development, the Tavern Trail events included a cocktail hour, a dinner featuring local food and friendly discussions of local history in a historic restaurant or tavern. The series was held last April through October at seven locations.
The American Association for State and Local History will present 48 national awards this year, honoring people, projects, exhibits and publications. Presentation of the awards will be made at a banquet during the group's annual meeting on Sept. 8 in Austin, Texas.
“The Tavern Trail received a wonderful response from our hosts and attendees,” Yaun said in the county's press release announcing the award. “It provided each establishment with exposure while highlighting Orange County’s rich history in a friendly setting. We are certainly proud of this recognition and enjoyed collaborating with Matt Kierstead and Milestone Heritage Consulting on the events.”
“In 1919, New York passed a law that every municipality must have a historian,” she says. “In 1933 it was amended to include counties as well, making us the only state in the nation to mandate it.”
“Originally it was for public education and record keeping, but the reality is that 100 years later, a lot of time is now spent using history to help tourism and supporting the local economies.”
“So my approach to history is a little different,” she says.
GOSHEN – Village of Florida resident Robert Milby has been named Orange County’s Poet Laureate for 2017-2019.
In that role, Milby’s duties will include creating pieces of literature in poetic forms to commemorate Orange County events, its people and places.
Milby, 47, is the author of five poetry books and has hosted events throughout the county since 1995. He began writing poetry in 1987 as a student at James I. O’Neill High School in Highland Falls.
He hosts poetry series at the Mudd Puddle Café in New Paltz, Florida Public Library and Noble Coffee Roasters in Campbell Hall.
“Orange County has a diverse population who all contribute to the fabric of our county,” said County Historian Johanna Yaun. “We believe Mr. Milby will represent our community well and give voice to it through his poetry.”
"Yaun noted: “In 1870, Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh was the setting for a visit by Frederick Douglass who came to commemorate the passage of the Civil Rights of 1870, which reinforced the right of African-American males to vote. As the County Historian, I am proud that Orange County has such a rich tradition of black history.”
Egbert Alsdorf served on the Newburgh school district’s Board of Education from 1862-65 and ran a successful shipping company. His family also founded the Alsdorf School of Music and Dance in the 1860s and it was in operation until the 1950s. Artist Horace Pippin, who lived in Goshen, had his artwork featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Pippin grew up
drawing pictures of scenes from Goshen’s Historic Track. He died in 1946 at age 58."