The Minisink Valley Historical Society
Our Society has had a busy year working on a variety of projects and programs that include the following:
We continued our cooking demonstrations using techniques from the period of 1770-1800, a time of important historical activities in our area. Frank Day, Brian Lewis, Nancy Conod, Nancy Vocci, Marge Fuller, Margie Sierski, Kelly Winters, Norma Schadt, Denise Marcel, and her children Luke, Dan, Annie, Barbara Johnson, and Florence Gray all served as volunteers, and thus enabled the director to conduct the cooking program.
We were open on the last Saturday of the month from May to November. We believe that this major effort by our volunteers continues to enhance our programs at Fort Decker and increases public awareness of our Society. We are already thinking about next year, and how we can improve our programs to make them more interesting. If you would like to volunteer please contact the director. We want your help because there is always a need for another pair of hands.
The people who did visit were curious about the smoke from the cooking fire and people wandering around in period garb. Visitors were fascinated with the food preparation, and many visitors took copies of the recipes, or "receipts," as they were known, to try at home. We gave away copies of colonial currency, brochures, coloring sheets, and to young people a Guide To Fort Decker For Children. We cooked trout, chickens, roasts, cider cake, journey cake, ash cakes, sappaen and puddings. We were host to an encampment by the Navasing Long Rifles. Norma Schadt and Barbara Johnson demonstrated sewing techniques on most Saturdays.
Our heirloom vegetable garden had its best year ever as it was faithfully tended by Debbie and Kevin Schofield. After many years of hard work and dedication, Florence Gray retired from taking care of both the Society's herb garden and the city's Memorial Rose Garden across the street. We are thankful for all of her service.
Not only was the Fort open for summer hours, but we had other special programs as well. We did a special cooking demonstration for the young people who were attending Port Jervis Summer School. Our museum was host to the annual meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Old Mine Road Chapter. During the city's Spring Antique Festival and the Fall Festival our volunteers set up camp in the middle of Front Street, and cooked eighteenth-century recipes. We gave away samples of bread to hundreds of people who visited our booth, including many of the area's elected officials.
One of our most pressing needs is to put a new roof on Fort Decker. It has been more than thirty years since the current shingle roof was installed after we purchased the building. While we have not had any troubles with leaks, the roof has long outlasted it useful life. Members who might be able to help us financially, and are interested in seeing this come to fruition can call the director to discuss details with him.
We celebrated the hard work and donations of our many friends with a party at Fort Decker during the holiday season. We also note the work of Betty Collins, who retired earlier this year. Janet Day, who took over, works one day a week for the Society and handles all of the memberships, sales orders and general office duties.
Our internet efforts are an important tool for the Society, as it presents itself to the world. Since May of 1997 more than two hundred new members have joined the Society from all over the world. It reaches people twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year. We have sold thousands of dollars of merchandise, and are pleased with the response. We have had almost 115,000 hits or visits to our web site since its inception, and we are receiving many e-mails every week related to the Society's activities.
Member Betsy Krakowiak has done a beautiful job of keeping the page updated. We have a section on the Revolutionary War, our cooking demonstrations, the gift shop and a page on letterboxing. Letterboxing is a very popular hobby, participants visit sites that are listed on a master web page, and try to find a guest register. We are listed as a letterbox site, and have the appropriate materials located at Fort Decker thanks to member Marge Fuller.
Many visitors have told us how impressed they are with the quality of the page. The home page neatly organizes information that is sought by visitors, members and genealogists. It also includes features that represent members' interests including genealogy, history, historic preservation, a photograph of the week, discussion rooms and regularly scheduled activities.
If you have not visited it lately please be sure to do so. The Society's address on the web is www.minisink.org. We have a section that includes our latest press releases to save the Society money on postage, envelopes and paper. If you want us to email you notices of upcoming events please drop us a note at email@example.com.
In his role as city historian, Richard Roberts, our first vice-president, was responsible for the city's nineteenth annual Arbor Day program; four trees were planted around City Hall on Hammond Street. Honored were E. Arthur Gray, a former mayor and member of the Society, Dorothea Solomon, an important community booster and also a member of the Society, and Carol Doll, the retired principal of the Trinity Catholic School.
Dick was also responsible for the successful and informative twenty-eighth annual "Pause for the Pledge Flag Day" program at City Hall in June. The director coordinated with Dick the tenth annual reading of the Declaration of Independence that was held indoors at the Drew Methodist Church on a rainy July 4th. More than one hundred and seventy-five people were present as members, friends and the general public read the sacred words that began our nation's quest toward freedom.
The Society also assisted with the Battle of Minisink commemorative programs at Minisink Ford on July 22, 2007, the 228th anniversary of the only Revolutionary War battle that took place in the Upper Delaware region. The Society's director was the main speaker at the event.
The City of Port Jervis celebrated its centennial this year ,and the Society was involved in most of the activities. Dick Roberts, who chaired the centennial committee, provided the necessary leadership that saw many projects completed including the publication of Our Town: Historic Port Jervis 1907-2007, co-authored by the Society's director and member Daniel Dwyer. The book is filled with photographs, histories of local organizations and businesses, a history of the chartering effort, and a chronology of the community since its early settlement. The Society also assisted in the design of the centennial logo and new city flag replacing the flag designed by the late Clarence Edwards, a former board member of the Society, for the 1982 Diamond Jubilee.
In addition, the Society's director, Dick Roberts and Jason Randolph are finishing a project that is entitled "A Day in the Life of Port Jervis, July 27, 2007." The project is a compilation of more than three hundred photographs that were taken by twenty-five photographers on the day of the centennial of Port Jervis' chartering. The project, undertaken for posterity, will document life in the city as it was on that day.
The last event to celebrate the centennial will be a gala ball on December 8, 2007. For this event, a raffle is being held to help support the arts, culture, and history in our community. The proceeds will benefit Artswalk, our organization and the Port Jervis Centennial Committee. Peter Koenig, a local artist and member of the Society, has been recognized as one of the best traditional artisans in America by Early American Life magazine in its August 2007 issue. Mr. Koenig has created a vintage inn sign of Fort Decker to celebrate the centennial of Port Jervis.
The commemorative sign was recently unveiled at the annual Daughters of the American Revolution, Old Mine Road Chapter luncheon at the Cornucopia Restaurant, with Mr. Koenig presenting the program on "Early American Inn Signs." Peter has dedicated the Fort Decker sign to his mother-in-law, Myrtle Decker Fitzpatrick. At ninety-five, she is the oldest known living Port Jervis relative of Martinus Decker, for whom the fort was named.
The raffle drawing will take place at the Gala Centennial Dinner being held at the Erie Hotel Trackside. Prior to the drawing, the sign will be on display at Hawk's Nest Realty, Port Java, The Variety Show and The Herb Shoppe; tickets will also be available at various local businesses. You may also contact Marje Ranich to purchase tickets at 845-856-1704 or call the Society. The tickets are $5.00 each or three for $10.00.
The Society continued its efforts to organize our library archives. Our director and members Marge Fuller, Charles King, Terry Koch, Susan Stanton, Stella Kelsch, Margie Sierski, Irene Cosh, Nancy Bello, Nancy Conod, Brian Lewis, Nancy Vocci and Mim Carpenter have been meeting regularly to organize our collection. This year, efforts were continued to reorganize our large collection of files, and to put them in acid-free folders and boxes; the work was funded by a grant from the office of the Orange County Historian.
The most important project that we undertook this year at the library was the continuation of the inventory of our immense collection. This is a project that is going to continue for years to come but we are proceeding in our efforts to inventory and catalog each item that we own.
We continue to get hundreds of visitors annually, volunteers Nancy Conod, Marge Fuller, Brian Lewis, Nancy Vocci and Margie Sierski assist them with their research on Thursday afternoons and evenings or have been doing research for people who are writing for information.
The Society's imprint, the Minisink Press, had a banner year producing three new books - Hail Matamoras, a centennial history of Matamoras, Pennsylvania, Our Town: Historic Port Jervis 1907-2007, the centennial history of Port Jervis, New York, and most recently, Perseverance and Vigilance: The History of the Decker Stone House, a new definitive account of our Society's museum, Fort Decker.
Each of the books brings forth new information on its respective subject, much of it never published before. Hail Matamoras, for example, is a compilation of stories, photographs, vignettes, and interviews with long-time Matamoras residents. The history of the chartering of the small borough on the banks of the Delaware River is told for the first time in detail, and offers many interesting new facts and insights. So far the book, of which about four hundred have been sold by the Matamoras Centennial Committee, has been well-received. Member Rick Hibberd designed the beautiful cover and template that was used for the book.
The second book, entitled Our Town: Historic Port Jervis 1907-2007, was co-authored by Daniel Dwyer and Peter Osborne. A project team consisting of a number of the Society's members worked on the history section of the centennial's official publication. It began meeting weekly in March 2006 and finished in May 2007 by pulling together a tremendous amount of material related to the city's history.
The team collectively worked hundreds of hours writing, fact-checking, editing, and finding new material and photographs that were included in the book. Those members included Dan Dwyer, Peter Osborne, Nancy Conod, Barbara Johnson, Janis Osborne, Nancy Vocci, and Fred Weissman. Member Rick Hibberd designed the beautiful cover and template that was used for the book. Member Brian Lewis provided digitally-enhanced photographs along with post cards from collector Dee Dee Backus.
The last third of the book is filled with advertisements for local businesses, institutions, individuals and organizations that allowed for the publication of the book. Many people helped to bring about this section of the book including Sharon and Stanley Siegel, Richard Roberts,Velma Leeper, Marlene Horan, Debbie Nestler, and Catherine Westfall. The Siegels took on the herculean task of laying out the hundreds of ads and boosters that made this book possible.
In addition, the city underwrote a portion of the costs which let the book be published at a price that allowed anyone to be able to purchase a copy of it. Society members who wish to purchase a copy can call the mayor's office at 845-858-4017.
Finally, after a twenty-five-year quest for information, the Society's director completed a new history of the Society's museum, Fort Decker. The book, entitled Perseverance and Vigilance: The History of the Decker Stone House, is also now available for purchase. The book includes a great deal of new information on the building's past including a contemporary account of the building's appearance during the American Revolution. There is a chapter about the possibility of who the spirit is that turns on the lights in the building regularly, and genealogies of people who have lived in and owned the building over the last two hundred years. Member Rick Hibberd designed the beautiful cover and template that was used for the book.
The publication of the book was funded in part by the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, an agency that promotes the route of New York State Route 97 from Port Jervis to Hancock, New York, more than seventy miles in length. The organization provided a grant of $2,036 earlier this year to allow the printing of this book. The funding came from a larger member item in the New York State budget that was procured by long-time friend of the Society, New York State Senator John Bonacic.
The first publication of the Society's imprint was the Delaware River Heritage Trail Guide. It was printed in conjunction with the city's reopening of the Delaware River Heritage Trail. The Society is indebted to the readers and researchers who worked on four major projects in the last year. Also, to Rick Hibberd who came up with the idea of the Society having an imprint that would publish books of regional and local historical interest.
The Society continued to help authors and publications with graphics, historical expertise and contributions. The Milford Magazine has regularly used our archives. Our archives remain one of the best in the region, accessible for writers and researchers to use. TheGazette, the Pike County Dispatch and Times-Herald Record, all regional newspapers, regularly featured the Society's programs. Among the scholars who visited our library archives was Paul Sorrentino, one of the nation's leading scholars on Stephen Crane, who lived in Port Jervis for a short time and who was the author of one of the great novels of the nineteenth century, The Red Badge of Courage.
This year we have begun a major new effort to raise funds for the general operation of the Society's affairs. We had good success in that we received four grants. We conducted one fundraising event, and have plans for a second later in December. We were able to get a 2001 member item that had been procured from the late Assemblyman Jake Gunter resolved and used towards the director's salary. We were delighted and surprised to receive word that the Society had received a $5,000 grant from New York Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther in the 2007-2008 New York State budget. The grant will be used towards undertaking the Society's programs in the coming year.
We are so grateful for Assemblywoman Gunther's important and critical support of our organization. Mrs. Gunther, and her staff, also helped with our research for the Our Town project, and provided a resolution that was used in the book. She has also been supportive of another effort that has benefited the Society, in which we have played a major role: the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. Her husband Jake, whom she succeeded when he tragically died several years ago, had previously secured funding for the Society that allowed for the installation of security systems in the Kleinstuber House and Fort Decker.
We also received a $1,500 grant from Orange and Rockland Utilities for the reprinting of two of our most popular brochures - the Battle at Minisink and D & H Canal Heritage Trail. They will be printed in the coming weeks and available for distribution. A grant of $2,036 allowed for the printing of our history of Fort Decker as previously noted. We received a grant of $660 from the Office of the Orange County Historian and, finally on May 12, 2007 we undertook a fundraising concert for the Society celebrating the city's centennial which raised $782.25. The concert was coordinated by Janet Clark, the director of the Tri-State Community Chorus and wife of board member Bill Clark.
We have two other proposals pending before the grants committee of the Society of Colonial Wars - one for the printing of more Fort Decker brochures for our larger marketing effort, and the second for $45,000 to undertake work on the roof of Fort Decker in the coming months. Board member Michelle Figliomeni has been spending a great deal of time assisting us in our efforts to track down money that will help secure our Society's financial future.
We continue our efforts to promote the region, the city of Port Jervis, and our stone house museum. The Society has played a valuable role in creating and undertaking the efforts of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. MVHS regularly provides both on-site and off-site educational programs including slide shows, bus tours, walking and river tours, and visits to Fort Decker. The director was called upon to provide slide programs and various presentations for the following local historical, civic and cultural organizations and events:
Leadership Orange, Town of Wallkill Historical Society, Middletown Historical Club, Port Jervis Free Library Reading Group, Weboree - North Jersey Council BSA, Matamoras Centennial Committee Booksiging, Port Jervis Antique and Fall Festivals, Port Jervis Memorial Day Services, Neversink Valley Area Museum, Orange County Historian, Elderhostel/Leisure Study Program, Warwick Center, Port Jervis Antique Study Club, Montague Association for the Restoration of Community History, Heath Village, Voorhees State Park CCC Memorial Dedication, Grey Towers Pinchot Cemetery Presentation, Camp Turrell, BSA, and the Laurel Grove Cemetery Association.
The Society continued its Fireside Chats lecture series that is now in its tenth year. Presentations included the Murder, Mayhem and Human Tragedy Program by Nancy Conod, Barbara Johnson, Fred Weissman, Michelle Vealey, Marge Fuller, Kelly Winters and Peter Osborne, A Port Jervis Newspaperman Meets Three Presidents by Dan Dwyer, Andrew Carnegie: The Patron Saint of Libraries by Greg Giblin and A Night with the Long Knives by the Navasing Long Rifles which included a candle light tour of Fort Decker. Upcoming is a presentation on November 17, 2007 entitled Avoiding Armageddon: John F. Kennedy and American Foreign Policy by Dr. Philip Briggs.
The Society continues to provide programming and technical advice as well as assistance to other organizations around the region. Our director and volunteers answered over two thousand phone calls and many letters and e-mails from people requesting information during the last year.
The Society's membership now stands at about four hundred. About half of the membership lives within twenty miles of Port Jervis. The remainder is spread across the country, with California and Florida being home to a large number of members. We encourage members to become active in the Society's affairs, and help in the projects that are underway and planned for the future. Please call the director or any board member if you want to become more involved. Volunteers play an important part in our efforts to preserve the region's history.
This year the Oscar Greenleaf Memorial Fund continued to generate income for the Society. The terms of Mr. Greenleaf's will dictated that only the interest generated from our investments could be used. That interest now helps fund our operations. Several members have made contributions to the endowment including: Nancy and Charles Swartwout, Edward, Michael, and Jean Cosgrove in memory of their mother Helen Vail Cosgrove and Richard Roberts in memory of the late James Browning, a board member. The Cosgroves made an additional donation that allowed for the purchase of a new memorial plaque that was installed in Fort Decker to honor both Oscar Greenleaf and the generous donors who have followed. The Society's investment portfolio is managed by the Biondo Group in Milford, Pennsylvania. They have been managing our assets since the 1980s.
Another result of our marketing efforts is that members are making additional contributions and moving up to higher membership categories. Our Society has prospered for more than a century after its founding because of people like Robert Kleinstuber, Oscar Greenleaf, Augustine Stoll, Clara Merritt and the countless others who have volunteered their time, given of themselves and made financial contributions to save our region's history. Remember, if you are preparing your will and would like to help promote our heritage into the next century, please contact the Society's president or director. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
The Society has had a century-old interest in teaching young people about history. We have had a number of young people who volunteered to assist us with projects over the years. If members know of any young person who would like to volunteer with us please contact the director.
We note with sadness the passing of three members in the last few months. They were Dorothea Solomon, Joan Prey and Jerry Walters. Dorothea had a major influence on the community in which she had lived for so long. Active in Tri-State Chamber of Commerce, and founder of the Artswalk program she was a dynamo in enhancing the community. Retired from teaching at Orange County Community College, she was busy with activities almost to the end of her life.
Joan Prey had a long interest in the genealogy of her family and over the years had donated some of her research to the library. Her most important contribution was the collection of William Coulter's genealogical articles written about Sussex County, New Jersey.
Jerry Walters, owner of Jerry's Signs, had long been involved with the Society, having painted and donated most of the signs on our property. He was from the old school of hand-painted signs, a skill he had learned from an old sign painter decades ago. Jerry was instrumental in getting the Mahackamack Churchyard restored after a hurricane struck it in 1996. The Dutch Reformed Church, the Society and the City of Port Jervis all partnered to restore one of Orange County's oldest graveyards. Walters was also responsible for the restoration of the Civil War cannon that now resides at Orange Square.
We will miss them all. May they rest in peace.
We are facing many challenges as an organization as we look to the future. These are tough times for all not-for-profits whether they be historical societies, fire departments, school groups or civic organizations. Our organization is no different. We need to raise more money for our operations; we need a larger library facility and we need a state-of-the art storage facility. Increasingly we are being inundated with requests for information. Funding sources are drying up and there are a growing number of organizations that are competing for a smaller financial pie. However, we will press on, and continue to proceed forward with preserving our region's history with all the various programs that we offer.
As we conclude our 118th year of operation, our Society's proud record of preserving our region's history continues. We have challenges to be sure - financial and maintenance issues top the list - along with increased competition from television and the internet. However, we are still the organization many look to when they need a historical program for a meeting, when a new homeowner wants to restore his house and needs a photograph, or the place that scholars, genealogical researchers and historians come to when they look for information.
We have often been at the center of many of the collaborative efforts to save major treasures in our area including the Minisink Battleground, the former Port Jervis Erie Depot Museum, The Erie Turntable, the Forestburgh Log Cabin, the Mahackamack Graveyard, the D & H Canal Trail, the Delaware River Heritage Trail, the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway; the list goes on and on. So as we conclude our meeting let us remember that the future generations are counting on us to save our heritage for them to enjoy and study.
In closing we note the retirement of first vice president Richard Roberts, after more than thirty years of service, on our board of directors. Active in many of our community's organizations and presently involved in local school board affairs he felt it was time to step down. We wish him well and he assures us that he will continue to maintain an interest in our activities. Dick played an important role in a number of the community's special celebrations of its history over the years.