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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”
Known as “The Cowboy of the Ramapos,” Smith and his gang, which apparently included his three sons, were sympathetic to the British cause during the Revolutionary War. So they stole horses and cattle and sold them to British troops.
“Cowboys,” back then, were sympathetic to the British cause while “Skinners” were sympathetic to the Patriot cause. Horses, cattle and supplies were plundered by both sides.
With the British in control of New York City and Washington and his army in Newburgh, Patriot materials and information moved along Orange Turnpike and through the gap near Tuxedo, which made them targets for ambush.
The area was considered to be neutral ground or “no-man’s” land.
“Even though he was on the side of the British, the local Patriots did respect him,” says Sal LaBruna, local history author.
“People today don’t appreciate how much the Revolutionary War was actually a civil war, because locals were on both sides of the fight.”
“But the area around Tuxedo was really lawless back then,” LaBruna says.
Smith’s hidden “den” was a natural formation in a stone cliff high up in the Ramapo mountains, east of the Village of Tuxedo.
Almost assuredly, it was a Native American shelter long before Smith used it. There was an upper chamber for sleeping and a bottom section for his horses.
Smith was first captured in 1777, but as the sheriff escorted him to the jailhouse in Goshen, a band of Smith’s followers attacked and set him free.
But when Major Nathaniel Strong was murdered on Oct. 6, 1778, Smith’s name was mentioned as a possible suspect, and New York Gov. George Clinton placed a $1,200 bounty on his head.
So the Cowboy of the Ramapos went from being a local nuisance to a suspected murderer.
By Oct. 28 he was captured on Long Island and brought back to Orange County to stand trial. He was convicted of three burglaries and sentenced to hang.
“Smith was brought across the street from the courthouse,” says Yaun. “And an improvised gallows was quickly erected.”
A noose was placed over his head and the cart on which he was standing pulled away.
Many stories grew about the legend of Claudius Smith.
The most persistent was that his skull was embedded in concrete above the front door of the 1841 courthouse.
Others tell of treasures that are hidden in caves in the mountains, still waiting to be discovered.
But to Goshen’s Jeanne Krish, the story is more personal.
“I am Claudius Smith’s great, great, great, great, great-granddaughter,” says Krish, 81. “That’s five greats in there.”
“When I found out, I said ‘Neat-o,’ because it got my children interested in genealogy,” she says.
“It’s not every day that you find out you are related to somebody who is famous. Even if he was a horse thief.”
John DeSanto is a freelance photojournalist. Find more of his 845LIFE stories, photos and videos at recordonline.com. Reach John at email@example.com
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.”
Occasionally, something small can change the whole direction of a life.
“My sophomore year at Burke Catholic, I was one of the delegates selected to go to Milan, Italy, to help present the Da Vinci horse,” says Johanna Yaun, now 33, and the Orange County historian.
The 24-foot-tall bronze horse sculpture, based on drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, was cast locally by the Tallix Foundry in Beacon and unveiled on Sept. 10, 1999 at the Hippodrome de San Siro in Milan.
“I travelled to Italy with my grandmother, Ida Mauriello, who was born in Rome,” says Yaun, who was 15 at the time.
“I met planners, tourism and academic people and museum staff along the way. It was my first realization that history could actually be a career.”
Yaun, a Newburgh native, graduated from Burke in 2002 and enrolled at Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland, near the Italian border.
Two years later, she had her associate’s degree in European history and was planning on staying in Europe.
But a scholarship offer from SUNY New Paltz brought her back home.
“Of course, I needed a job, so I went over to Washington’s Headquarters and was surprised to find there was a full-time opening for historical interpreter,” 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."
Weigant’s Tavern is one of those special buildings in Newburgh surrounded by history, mystery, and neglect. It might look like scrap wood to you, but this building is special with Weigant Family connections to the Revolutionary War. According to local historian Mary McTamaney, the original tavern was located at the north side of Broad Street just east of Liberty. The building was most likely moved during the 1930’s, and it is unlikely any of the original 18th-century building parts remain.
However, as Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun stated,”The structure was moved and repaired so we’ll never know how much of the configuration is original. But the care given to moving the structure in the 1930’s illustrates a chapter of Colonial Revivalism in the early 20th century. I think this story, especially in a city so rich with Revolutionary War connections, is important to remember. We weren’t only the place where Washington headquartered, we are also the place that pioneered the historic preservation of sites associated with the founding era. The tavern reminds us that if not for the local militias and committees of safety (the men who rose up from the community to take a stand against the monarchy), Washington’s army would not have come into existence. We can’t explain the success of the Army without telling the story of what happened in the colony’s taverns.”
New York’s Hudson Valley has become a hotspot for creatives looking to relocate in recent years, something that has affected different towns in different ways. Beacon is Bohemian and artsy; Hudson cosmopolitan and chic. One town, however, continues to belie description: Newburgh. For decades it’s been dealt a number of hardships, but there’s something undeniably intriguing, majestic, and lovable about the city that refuses to take a set shape or be pinned down.
Information on the NYS Historian's website provided by the Orange County Historian.
Yaun will discuss a popular topic in Orange County historical circles: "Why does the seal of Orange County feature an orange tree?"
She will also provide an update on the historian's renovated offices, collections at the 1841 Courthouse and SUNY Orange, and upcoming projects. A short question-and-answer session with Yaun will follow.