Huguenot Street used to be the “Main Street” of New Paltz for centuries, and in that spirit, the staff at Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) is working on several projects to bring the oldest incorporated street in America back alive.
HHS executive director Tracy McNally and board president Mary Etta Schneider gave a presentation to this effect at a recent Village Board meeting. “I have several irons in the fire,” said McNally, who took up her post at HHS one year ago. “They’re all geared towards the vision of bringing this amazing Street back to life.”
One critical component to McNally’s vision is to get a catering kitchen into the DuBois Fort, which serves as HHS’ visitors’ center and gift shop and was once a restaurant called the Old Fort. “We’re not interested in getting into the restaurant business,” cautioned McNally, “but we do want a kitchen back at the Fort, so we can bring caterers in to do private parties, fundraisers for HHS, weddings, special events.”
McNally is anxiously awaiting to hear if HHS will be awarded a $21,800 grant for which she applied from the Fred J Brotherton Foundation (http://foundationcenter.org/grantmaker/brotherton), which should be announced this January. As it stands now, any time that HHS does an event, it has to bring everything prepared, or have a caterer come with everything prepared, which is both “costly and time-consuming. People want to hang out here after a tour. Brides want to have weddings here. That space between the DuBois Fort and the Jean Hasbrouck House is magical. But to make this a real gathering place, we need to be able to offer food and beverage.”
Another project that HHS is excited about is having been selected as one of 200 Most Significant Historic Sites in governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Path through History,” a statewide roadmap that will showcase New York State’s historical and cultural significance with specific signage. “This is huge,” said McNally, as she showed the New Paltz Times the governor’s Path through History Guide, which will include signage along the Thruway and off Exit 18 for HHS. “We’re one of five sites chosen off Exit 18,” she said, including FDR’s birthplace, Vassar College and the Walkway Over the Hudson. “Think about the hundreds of thousands of people that travel the Thruway who will now be pointed in our direction. It’s not only great for us, but it’s great for all of New Paltz.”
HHS has also been focusing on repurposing its buildings and renovating and restoring their 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century homes. The organization completed the restoration of the Abraham Hasbrouck house this past summer, had several of its properties repainted and moved its administrative offices to the Research Library so that Craig’s House could be turned into a “much-needed rental income.”
In another effort to bring the Street alive, HHS has teamed up with the SUNY New Paltz Metals Department, and this past weekend had an exhibit where graduate students, after visiting the site, created metal pieces that were inspired by the homes, rooms, objects and textiles that they experienced on the HHS tour. “SUNY New Paltz’s Metals program is one of the best in the country. And we teamed up with them to bring contemporary art to Huguenot Street. Too often history buffs never see contemporary art, and contemporary artists may not visit historic sites. The blending of the two has been incredible,” she said about the exhibition called “Insight/On Site: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Huguenot Street.”
The result was stunning. Incorporated into five of HHS’ historic homes were metal and silver sculptures: some that blended into the décor, some that stood out making a bold statement and others that were just whimsical — like the Magic Lantern, which when plugged in projected paper stencils onto the living room wall of the Deyo House.
Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, who is a renowned fine artist, as well as a SUNY professor and head of the Metals Department, said that the exhibit “gives us this unique blend of past and present as well as innovation … HHS has given us an incredible opportunity, and from a teaching perspective, it gave my students and educators a reenchantment of the work we do.”
McNally said that she wants to do “more collaborations like this” in the future. “It brings a different audience to Huguenot Street, and is illuminating to us as well. Just look at these pieces — they’re breathtaking!”
To that end, HHS has “repurposed” the red brick LeFevre House and turned some of the rooms into portrait galleries. “We’re thinking of changing the exhibits more often, bringing in a textile/quilting exhibit, as well as more contemporary exhibits,” she said.
One more “iron in the fire” for McNally is a grant application that she submitted to the Open Space Institute (OSI), which if funded would allow HHS to pay a photographer to take pictures of the “exact places that inspired our incredible collection of landscape portraits. Because of organizations like OSI, the Mohonk Preserve, Scenic Hudson, there are many landscapes which have been preserved, but there are others that have not. I think that could be a powerful exhibition to see how the Hudson Valley landscape has changed over time. They’re the keepers of land preservation, and we’re the keepers of the landscape paintings. I think environmentalists and historical sites have a special relationship that something like this project could highlight.”
To learn more about the goings-on at HHS, just call 255-1660 or visit www.huguenotstreet.org.