Hell Towns, Butternuts, and Spotted Cows: Bringing the History of a Small Town in the Hudson Valley into the Digital Age

Saturday, January 5, 2013
La Galerie 3 (New Orleans Marriott)
Matthew Thorenz, University at Albany (State University of New York)
Statement of the Problem

       In the Spring of 2010, I was asked by the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz to research and write historical narratives for 1,775 historic homes and properties in the Town of New Paltz, NY based on a 2004 survey of properties of historic note conducted by Neil Larson & Associates of Woodstock.  This research would be used to develop an interactive web-based map (www.hpc.townofnewpaltz.com) for the local historic preservation commission; promoting further research and inquiry from home owners, historians and the general public and increase awareness of historic properties that are in need of preservation. The amount of data relating to time of construction/alteration, architectural style, prominent homeowners and building materials, rectifying inaccurate information in the 2004 survey that misrepresented a property historically, geographically or functionally and conveying this information in a meaningful way to a diverse audience were several problems faced and overcome throughout this project.

Methods for collecting data on historic properties

        Initial data was collected via the Haviland-Heigerd Historical Collection at the Elting Memorial Library; using the original 2004 property survey as a reference.  Because of the short amount of time and limited staffing assigned to the project, it was determined that the initial properties to be investigated would be those constructed between 1730 and 1929, narrowing the focus to 309 buildings, while representing several key periods in the history of the town. To build a more cohesive narrative and add a historic context to the satellite image, an 1875 school district map was added; thus dividing the town into the nine original hamlets. Each hamlet would have a personal narrative and a focus on the churches, public buildings and schools that contributed to the overall character of the community. The public building narratives, featuring historic newspaper clippings, personal narratives and photographs, would serve as examples for what would be possible with future property narratives.


       The research showed numerous inconsistencies in the original 2004 survey over the location of several buildings, leaving a disparity between the survey data and historical research.  Data verification and re-writing those narratives found to be inaccurate rectified these issues. The website went” live” the following spring after the programming phase of the project was completed and allows the user to search individual properties via an internal search function, view the original 2004 survey and contribute additional information

      This poster will elaborate on the issues and process of researching historic properties, while demonstrating the  website and its implications for viewing the Town of New Paltz in multiple historical contexts. The intention is to use historical documents, screen shots and (if internet access is possible) the Historic Properties Map to give the viewer an idea of the capabilities of the website in addition to demonstrating how the geography of the region led to a rich cultural and economic history as exemplified through the historic buildings and documents cited on the historic map.

See more of: Poster Session, Part 1
See more of: AHA Sessions