Ulster County Historical Society launches strategic plan campaign (2024)

Ulster County Historical Society launches strategic plan campaign (1)

Given its nature, a historical society – especially the oldest of its kind in New York State – might be forgiven for being “stuck in the past.” But that’s not the vision of Pamela Herrick, who came on board at the end of August 2022 as the Ulster County Historical Society’s new director. “From my perspective, history is yesterday,” says Herrick, who got her Master’s degree in American Material Culture through the University of Delaware by studying the enormous decorative arts collection of the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. “The job of a good historical society is to document the change that’s happening right now. That’s something we can be wickedly good at: capturing that change. We’ve got big work ahead.”

The Ulster County Historical Society (UCHS) was founded in 1859, the brainchild of George C. Pratt, who was a member of the New York State Senate at the time and saw a need to document the great events that occurred locally during the Colonial period, the American Revolution and the decades that followed. As colonel of the 20th Regiment of the New York State Militia, Pratt marched off to command his troops in the Civil War as the 80th New York Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the Ulster Guard, only to be mortally wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August of 1862. With his death, the Society became dormant for several decades, until a judge named G. V. D. Hasbrouck spurred its revival in 1898.


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Nowadays UCHS is largely identified with its museum, the Bevier House: a handsome two-and-a-half-story stone structure located at 2682 Route 209 in Marbletown. But it didn’t take up residence in that building until it was donated, by the seventh generation of the Bevier family to have occupied the house, in 1935. “The notion of a museum came much later. This was originally the headquarters,” Herrick notes as she takes HV1 on a tour of the Bevier House. “They were publication- and program-oriented. They printed the Proceedings of the Ulster County Historical Society for many years.” This regular newsletter was later renamed the Ulster County Gazette in honor of the original periodical of that name, which was published by Samuel Freer and Son from 1798 to 1803.

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Over time, UCHS acquired a collection of significant local artifacts, and began reorganizing the building to store and display them. The Bevier House itself is a gem, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. A walk through the museum is a trip through time, as the initial iteration of the building – now seen as a Dutch Colonial-style kitchen with original hearth – was only a single-room dwelling, constructed by Andries Van Leuven in the 1680s as the focal point of a 450-acre farm. The Van Leuven family began expanding the house almost immediately.

Then, in 1715, the wealthiest of the original “Duzine” or New Paltz patentees, Louis Bevier, purchased the property for his third son, Louis, and daughter-in-law Elizabeth Hasbrouck. Louis Jr.’s son David Bevier and his wife Maria are said to have rebuilt much of the structure following a fire circa 1800. More expansions and alterations ensued with each succeeding generation, peaking with a massive interior redesign overseen by the fourth Louis Bevier circa 1870.

It wasn’t until the 1940s, after the building had been donated to UCHS, that the Bevier House acquired plumbing and electricity. In the 1950s some of the later adaptations – porches, a staircase, a dormer, interior walls – were removed to open up the central hall as a reception area, improve traffic flow and bring the layout and visual impression of the building closer to its historic roots. The much-altered original core of the building was restored to recreate a traditional Dutch kitchen by Kingston architect Myron S. Teller in the 1970s.

Each room of the Bevier House now has a specific function or story to tell. The central hall gives access to a gallery space for rotating exhibitions, on the north side of the building, and in a former parlor on the south side, a combination meeting room for public programs and display area for historic paintings and period furniture. Behind this is the kitchen, and behind that a former unheated storage shed that now houses the Peter Sinclair Gallery: a superb collection of original tools used in agriculture, blacksmithing, carpentry, coopering and working with bluestone from the Colonial period to the 19th century. Some printed materials are also on display, including a toll placard from the days when what is now Route 28 was the Ulster & Delaware Turnpike, showing what it cost to traverse the road with a wagon of various sizes or a herd of livestock on the hoof.

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At present, the upstairs rooms of the Bevier House are closed to the general public for maintenance and reorganization. That means that Civil War buffs may be disappointed not to be able to view UCHS’ collection of artifacts from the Ulster Guard’s storied role in that conflict. Scholars, however, can request access by appointment to any of the collections by sending a research query to UCHS at PO Box 279, Stone Ridge NY 12484 or via e-mail to info@ulstercountyhs.org. The organization manages a “small but diverse” archive of “culturally significant” print documents, including issues of the Ulster County Gazette, maps, land records, letters, diaries, ledgers, family Bibles, photographs, postcards, business brochures, cemetery listings, biographies, town histories and more. These documents have not yet been digitized for online access, but that’s certainly on the wish list for the future.

Formulating that wish list is the goal of a strategic planning process – the organization’s first-ever such – that is just now getting underway, under Herrick’s leadership. Curation and exhibition of its collections is but one prong of the mission of UCHS; the other is education and public programming. Herrick has applied for grant funding to engage a consultant beginning this autumn to coordinate the organization’s board and staff in formulating a ten-year plan to provide better services, enhance public engagement and “make the Society relevant and sustainable…especially to communities that have not participated in what we do.”

Herrick admits that UCHS has had a bit of a branding problem in the past. “There’s a false impression that we’re only interested in the Bevier House and the immediate area,” she says. “But we take a countywide view.”

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As she envisions it, that mission should include more partnerships with the many other history-oriented not-for-profits and public agencies in Ulster County, and a renewed focus on documenting history as it happens, including the lives of much more recent immigrants to the area than the Dutch, Huguenots and English. “Supporting research and scholarship is important – the ‘doing history’ piece. Collecting the recent past is the most important. Our area of interest should be everyone who’s currently living in Ulster County.”

This process of shaking off the dusty trappings of “doing history” has already begun, with a recruitment campaign for new volunteers that began in April. UCHS is actively seeking new members for its Board of Directors and committees, as well as volunteers who want to work on curatorial and archival projects, help host special events or take on docent roles. With only two part-time paid employees (Herrick works half-time as director, and there’s a weekend manager on-site when the museum is open), much in the way of services, including access to the collections for research purposes, falls on the availability of volunteers. There’s a particular need for new board members with business experience, especially “people who have solved complex business problems.” Herrick says that she’s also open to setting up student internship programs with local colleges and universities, with the understanding that time for direct staff supervision is limited at present.

The other big piece of this modernization campaign will involve broadening the audience for UCHS services by finding out what kinds of programming people want, and then making it happen. “We’re beginning a period of asking, not telling,” Herrick says, with a stakeholder survey currently in the works. “The thing that makes a historical society really vibrant is the programming. That’s what really gets people connected, and that’s what we’re looking to do more of.”

The linchpin of UCHS programming in the past has been the annual exhibition in the main gallery, which sometimes interprets materials in the permanent collection according to some theme and other times is a touring exhibit. In 2022, the focus was on the various arts colonies that have existed in Ulster County. “This year’s is entirely loan-based,” says Herrick as she shows us around the exhibition that just opened on May 13, “Leaving Bishop Falls: An Ashokan Story.”

This new show spotlights a particular historical theme in the work of artist Kate McGloughlin, noted for her sublime landscape paintings as well as for running the renowned printmaking program at the Woodstock School of Art. A 12th-generation Ulster County resident, McGloughlin is descended from Irish immigrants who were among the first Europeans to settle in the Esopus Valley. Her ancestor Asa Bishop built a mill at Bishop Falls in 1792, followed by a family home, a general store and a boardinghouse. And they were among the first families to be forced out when New York City needed to build a reservoir in the early 20th century. The valley was flooded in 1916; 12 hamlets – remembered today as the “drowned towns” – were evacuated. McGloughlin still has memories of her great-grandmother Bessie Davis saying, “I grew up under the reservoir.”

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Describing the exhibition as “a look at forced migration,” Herrick says, “There’s a reason why Kate wanted to show this at a historical society and not an art museum. When she found out her family history, she got curious about the direction of it. It completely changed the course of her work and her life.” The displacement of the residents of the drowned towns “still reverberates in the descendants of those families in lots of ways.”

The exhibition creates a striking juxtaposition of McGloughlin’s peaceful waterscapes of the Ashokan Reservoir today with family mementos and historic documentation of the process and devastating impacts of its construction. More than 500 dwellings were razed or moved, we learn, and more than 2,700 bodies exhumed from burial grounds in the valley. Compensation for the displaced families was minimal, their lives’ work devalued.

“Leaving Bishop Falls: An Ashokan Story” is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays until October 29. Admission, which includes access to the rest of the Bevier House museum, costs $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students and is free to UCHS members.

All the UCHS programming currently planned for this summer is connected with this year’s main exhibition, which asks viewers to reflect on our own family stories and how they resonate in our lives today. From 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 24, the Bevier House will host a roundtable discussion titled “Share Your Family’s Stories.” Attendees are invited to discover deeper meaning behind the stories your family passed down to you – whether originating in Ulster County or anywhere else – as the group talks about family history and how it shapes our lives.

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From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 8, Kate McGloughlin herself will conduct a hands-on “Kinship Stories Art Workshop” for adults and older teens, which will use mixed media to explore family stories in hopes of arriving at a place of reconciliation with the past. Reservations are required and art materials will be provided. Finally, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 16, April Beisaw, associate professor of Anthropology at Vassar College, will discuss her new book, Taking Our Water for the City: The Archaeology of New York City’s Watershed Communities.

The fee for the art workshop is $30, $15 for members. All other events are free with regular UCHS admission, and all take place at the Bevier House at 2682 Route 209, near the border of Hurley and Marbletown.

For general information about the Ulster County Historical Society, visit www.ulstercountyhs.org, e-mail info@ulstercountyhs.org or call during weekend hours of operation at (845) 377-1040. Persons interested in becoming a board member or volunteer or in sponsoring a program can reach Pamela Herrick by e-mail at uchsdirector@gmail.com or text her at (845) 392-5868.

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Ulster County Historical Society launches strategic plan campaign (2024)


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