Monday, June 28, 2004

New Paltz

Reconstructed Church

Friday the wife and I drove down to New Paltz, New York. New Paltz is a tiny town (less than 10,000) on the left bank of the Hudson River. It is on the Wallkill (people kept calling it the Wallkill River, but that would be either redundant or contradictory because “-kill” means ravine.) It is under the Catskill mountains, surrounded by small vineyards. Our primary reason for going–other than to get away for the day–was to see Old Huguenot Street: the original houses of the community of Huguenots that settled there in the seventeenth century. (There was no sun that day, so the pictures suck).

The (French) Huguenots who settled in the area took the long route to the Hudson. They were expelled from France, settled in Mannheim, the capital of the Palatinate (hence the name “Paltz”), moved across to Kingston, New York, then bought land from local Indians who were otherwise being pushed out by the British and Dutch. They existed as a Reform community among the Dutch, using French in daily life, Dutch for commerce, and English for government. About 1800 they abandoned their practical trilingualism and integrated into English-speaking society and entered into the mainstream of Reform Christianity (after a brief schism).

Stone house

The houses were in various states: all were in good condition, but some were modernized with the times. We took a tour to visit four houses and the rebuilt church. The first was the original house built by the community. The house was built in a typically Dutch style–with stone. The one room was a moderately sized space with a large jambless fireplace. The one room was originally a staging area that sheltered the men as they prepared other dwellings for the community. The tour guide (who was very knowledgeable and went into great depth about the construction history of each house) explained how improvements were made to the house over the time with new heating technologies. Eventually, the house was expanded upon to included rooms specifically for cooking and sleeping, as well as a basement that housed the slaves/servants. The house was decorated with typical objects of everyday life that the Huguenots would have purchased from the Dutch.

The second house was built later, but showed more influence from English style–it included a hallway.

Next we looked at the church. It was a recreation of the church that originally stood there. The square church consisted of beautiful wood (some of it which was part of the original construction).

The third house was more of a federal style–it looked as if someone added two columns to the front of a typically Dutch house . The rooms were more differentiated in use, they were larger (more wasting of space). In many ways this house–built in the early nineteenth century–had not changed from the original houses other than showing more affluence and a modicum of outside influences.

Hybrid house

The last house was much more of a hybrid. The Queen Anne style was a reaction to the Victorian. It used one of the original stone houses as a foundation, so that it was a stone house one the bottom, a wood house on top. Inside, the architect attempted to preserve elements of the original house, incorporating them into the house and adding elements that referenced colonial architecture. However, the house was really a mix of styles, even including elements of Victorian decoration that they wanted to criticize (especially with the ornate wall papers).

The tour took longer than anticipated: it should have lasted only one and a half hours, but extended to more than two. We drove from Old Huguenot Street to one of the vineyards on the Shawagunk Wine Trail, Adair, just to taste some of the local product. Their wines were descent, but where the shined were in their blackberry products, especially the cremant than they make. The drive out to the vineyard revealed a vine-covered landscape.

Finally, we went into New Paltz itself. For a small town, New Paltz has a very busy and commercial downtown. Everything is located around a narrow, winding street. The shops and crammed in together, giving the impression of a much busier town. It reminded me of small European towns that had built themselves into narrow geographic features–the buildings are very vertical. Unfortunately, the state highway also ran through the middle of town: there was a constant line of cars sitting in traffic, adding noise to an otherwise peaceful area. The culinary offerings were diverse–it was surprising how many different restaurants there were. There were nice culinary shops and restaurants as well. How does a small town sustain such a commercial area?

The only real disappointment was the small outdoor mall–a group of stained wood buildings that were attractive, but the shops themselves were taken over by uninspired crafts and new age offerings.


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