Guest Essay: The State of Dutchess County History

What follows is a guest essay by Peter Feinman of the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education (IHARE).

Over the last few months, IHARE has initiated a Dutchess County History Conference and a series of brown-bag lunches in different parts of the county. Based on the these events, I would like to make the following comments on the topic.

1. Dutchess County Historian

Numerous people raised the issue of the lack of a Dutchess County historian. This statutory-required position is seen as the leader of the Duchess County history community. Therefore the absence of such an individual directly contributes to the fractured community which exists at present. The up-coming election for County Executive provides an opportunity to redress this condition. Drew Nicholson,

Village of Pawling Municipal historian is preparing a job description identifying the scope and activities relevant to the position. He is drawing on the Putnam County notices for a new county historian. If you have any ideas you would like to share with him, he can be reached at dan.ddn@comcast.net. One of the participants in the recent programs expressed interest in becoming the County Historian should the new

County Executive seek to fill the position.

2. Dutchess County Archives

See above. The absence contrasts with Westchester County which just reopened its redesigned archive center. This is a major project which will require outside funding. Presumably, the new County Historian would play a leading role in this process.

.3 Dutchess County Heritage Days

In April, the County Legislature designated the ten-day period from October 23 to November 1 each year as &#8220Dutchess County Heritage Days.&#8221 This is related to the upcoming 300th anniversary in 2013 of the creation of the county on October 23, 1713. The chairman of the legislature is authorized to appoint an ad hoc county committee to

plan appropriate program activities for the celebration. The committee is to consist of the county historian and a fair representation of the various land patents and town historians. Furthermore, the legislature expressed the hopeful expectation that schools, historians and community groups would actively promote and encourage appreciation for the many aspects of Dutchess County’s past.

Presumably the legislature also is expressing the hopeful expectation that a county historian will be appointed.

There is no obligation to wait until 2013 to celebrate the County’s history. With the new school year fast approaching, now [meaning in a few weeks after vacations] is the time for schools, municipal historians, and historical societies to begin planning events at the local level for the Heritage commemoration beginning this October.

4. Heritage Ramble for Dollars

The recent release of the Ramble schedule for 2011 reveals some of the strengths and weakness of heritage planning in the County. While there are many events in scheduled in the County, they are not done so in a way which maximizes the revenue from them or which enhances a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging in the

county. Consider, for example, the events scheduled for Beacon:

9/10 9:00 Denning’s Point Kayak Tour

9/10 10:00 Madam Brett Sites Ramble

9/10 1:30 Bannerman Island Cruise and Walking Tour

9/11 1:30 Bannerman Island Cruise and Walking Tour

9/11 12:00 Woody Guthrie Sail

9/17 1:30 Bannerman Island Cruise and Walking Tour

9/18 1:30 Bannerman Island Cruise and Walking Tour

9/24 10:00 Denning?s Point Walk and Talk

9/24 11:00 Kayak and Paddleboard Demo Day

9/24 1:30 Bannerman Island Cruise and Walking Tour

9/25 9:00 Mount Beacon Fire Tower Restoration Project

9/25 9:00 Beacon Incline Railway Hike 3 hours

9/25 1:00 One River Many Streams Folk Festival

9/25 1:30 Bannerman Island Cruise and Walking Tour

with no Beacon Main Street Walking Tour listed.

How exactly can the Dutchess County Tourism Department, [representatives presented at the Dutchess County History Conference and attended two of the brown-bag lunches] go to MetroNorth or bus tour operators or market visiting Beacon with such a haphazard

schedule of events? Some events are simultaneous, some are overlapping, some are days apart because they are created individually at the organization level without overall coordination or planning. What opportunities are being missed for tourist revenue, sales taxes, and promoting community spirit by such a schedule? Similar listings

could be created for other communities in the county as well. The point is not to focus criticism on one municipality here but to use it as a case study for a county-wide issue.

With Heritage Days October 23- November 1 and New York Heritage Weekend May 19-20, 2012, each community to will the opportunity to develop to create a more focused celebration of its heritage.

5. Mid-Hudson Social Studies Council (MHSSC)

This annual conference for social studies teachers takes place on Election Day in Cornwall. I have requested that a session in the conference be devoted to Dutchess County History and that organizations be allowed to exhibit display tables with their school programs. Even if the Board accepts my proposals, the logistical challenge of going back and forth to Cornwall for a day will discourage many teachers in the county from attending, assuming they even know about it in the first place. This raises the issue of what are the best venues for reaching teachers about local and county history including for professional development and college credit.

I will be sending a version of this essay to the county schools and teachers as we get a little closer to the new school year.

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