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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Teaching the Hudson Valley: looking back and looking forward

Teachers at THV 2013 Institute. Photo: NPS, Bill Urbin

Teachers at THV 2013 Institute. Photo: NPS, Bill Urbin

(This is a guest-written blog about Teaching the Hudson Valley. It was written by classroom educator Shaun Boyce in response to Christina Ritter’s article about the THV program in our Spring 2013 issue of The Hudson River Valley Review.)

As a beneficiary of the offerings at the Teaching the Hudson Valley program, I can attest to their usefulness, and share Ritter’s enthusiasm for its programming. The online resources are educator-developed and highly relevant. I have had the privilege of using these resources as I teach at Arlington High School and Marist College.

The summer institutes have been particularly interesting. Teachers often don’t get much time to network, so I have made valuable contacts that have helped me in the classroom. For instance, after an inspirational workshop on the Mid-Hudson Antislavery History Project, I approached Vassar College Professor Rebecca Edwards and asked if the singers from her project would be willing to perform my local history students at Arlington High School. My students were awed by the Professor Edwards and her colleagues who regaled my students with several abolitionist songs. In between each song, she shared the historical background of each piece of music. One of my colleagues who stopped by to listen remarked that it was one of the most interesting things that he has seen in his several years in teaching.

As we move toward implementing the Common Core, it has also become very important for primary and secondary educators to attend these kinds of summer sessions. Since there are opportunities for Q and A during workshops, I have been able to learn more about the many concerns that elementary teachers have about how we are going to meet these standards, prepare students for tests, and still ensure that our students are interested and engaged. These conversations may help assist school districts as they labor to vertically integrate their curricula.

During the 2010 institute attendees were able to listen to Dr. David Sobel speak about the benefits of a placed-based education. Fish are the last to discover water, so my students simply underestimate the historical importance of the Hudson River Valley. When I am able to weave the stories of what happened here into the tapestry of American history, my students actually pay attention.

Using the new ideas that I picked up at the summer institute, I was able to create a local history curriculum for high school students called “Hudson River Heritage.” We studied topics ranging from Native American life, the colonial period and American Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. Guest speakers included archaeologists Tom Lake and Wendy Harris, Bernie Rudberg from the Hopewell Junction depot restoration, and members of the Mid-Hudson Anti-Slavery Project. As a capstone project, my students interviewed Mr. and Mrs. George Wade. Mr. Wade grew up on a farm adjacent to Arlington High School and was able to share some interesting experiences with my students.

Finally, students may also benefit from field trips that may be funded through the Teaching the Hudson Valley “Explorer Awards.” Field trip money is hard to come by, so teachers who are creative enough may be able to stitch together enough to fund their activities.

Although teachers are very busy with all of the changes that currently confront them, they may wish to spend the time to peruse the online resources or attend the summer institute. They won’t be sorry that they did!

The History of the Hudson River Valley – From Wilderness to the Civil War


Upcoming readings & signings:

Saturday May 31, 7:00 @ Inquiring Minds Bookstore (Saugerties)

Saturday June 14, 5:00 @ The Golden Notebook (Woodstock)

Saturday June 21, 1:45- 2:30@ Millbrook Literary Festival (History of the Hudson Valley panel)

Saturday June 28, 3:13 @ Town of Ulster Library


Combining historical record with anecdotes from the colorful characters who lived this history, Vernon Benjamin presents a book about the area U.S. Congress once called “the landscape that defined America.” Beginning with the Native American communities that first inhabited the Valley, through Henry Hudson’s Dutch-sponsored voyage up the river later named for him, the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the rapid growth of metropolitan New York, and ending at the close of the Civil War, no previous text has traced the history of the Hudson River Valley in as comprehensive and entertaining a way as historian Vernon Benjamin’s expansive new book.

The History of the Hudson River Valley: From Wilderness to the Civil War (Overlook Press / Hardcover $45.00 / ISBN: 978-1-59020-079-7 / Publication Date: June 3, 2014) covers the depth of history to 1.2 billion years ago, from traces of zircon found in Rockland County stone up to President Abraham Lincoln’s somber multi-city funeral procession, all seen through the lens of one of America’s most historically and culturally important regions.

Mr. Benjamin, a historian, lecturer, and journalist, treats every subject in his book with careful consideration. This is not merely a well-researched account of American history, but a detailed look into every subject that residents, visitors, students, and historians of the Hudson River Valley could want to know about this significant and vibrant area. Topics include geology, paleontology, archaeology; aboriginal and Native American history; the Dutch and English periods; the American Revolution and U. S. Constitution ratification; the rise of the new nation and advance of the Industrial Revolution in all its permutations; West Point and a military history of the Valley; women’s history and the history of education; the cultural history of the Valley; a literary history that includes the first full review of Edgar Allen Poe’s life in the Valley; art history, including architecture and landscape design, that culminates in the Hudson River School of Art and its relationship to transcendentalism and American manifest destiny; African-American history in a level of detail never explored previously; and the march to the Civil War as it unfolded in the Hudson Valley.

Vernon Benjamin spent two decades working on The History of the Hudson River Valley. The first four-and-a-half years alone were spent solely on the research and early writing. The result of his passion project is a gift to the Hudson River Valley and its many residents and visitors: a book that carefully collects the stories of the land and its people and delivers them in an accessible and engaging way.

The Hudson River Valley Review: Spring 2014 issue

Out now!


The spring issue begins with “‘The Great North River of New Netherland’: The Hudson River and Dutch Colonization” by Jaap Jacobs, which examines how the old-world colonists faced, and translated, their new-world experience. This article is adapted from the second annual Handel-Krom lecture in Hudson River Valley History. Amy Godine’s “The Abolitionist and The Land Reformer: Gerrit Smith and Tom Devyr” examines the relationship and the differences between these two men so dedicated to social change. Laurence M. Hauptman and Heriberto Dixon present a biography of a leader as well as his campaign for improving the conditions of the Ramapough in “The Recognizable Ramapough: Chief Butch Redbone’s Quest for Federal and State Acknowledgement.” James Johnson offers a Notes and Documents article presenting and adapting Merle Sheffield’s research into the design of Fort Arnold in the Hudson Highlands. Thom Johnson and Rob Yasinsac share their recent “discovery” about the unknown past of the Northgate Estate in Cold Spring. Of course, we feature a Regional Writing poem, three book reviews, and the latest batch of New and Noteworthy books to come our way.

 You can preview the issue, read the contributors’ notes, Book Reviews, and New and Noteworthy Books online at:

The Hudson River Valley Review is available at select booksellers and museum giftshops throughout the region for $15.00 each. Subscriptions are available through the website at:, or by calling 845-575-3052. A one-year subscription (two issues) is $20.00, save even more by subscribing for two years at $35.00.

Articles in the Spring 2014 issue:

“The Great North River of New Netherland”: The Hudson River and Dutch Colonization; Jaap Jacobs

 The Abolitionist and The Land Reformer: Gerrit Smith and Tom Devyr; Amy Godine

 The Recognizable Ramapough: Chief Butch Redbone’s Quest for Federal and State Acknowledgement; Laurence M. Hauptman and Heriberto Dixon

 Notes & Documents

Who Planned Fort Arnold?; James M. Johnson

 Regional History Forum

The Ruins of the Northgate Estate in Cold Spring; Thom Johnson and Rob Yasinsac

 PLUS : Regional Writing, Book Reviews, and New & Noteworthy

Site Visit: The newly renovated FDR Presidential Library


The FDR Presidential Library recently underwent a massive capital improvement. The museum space expanded for an enhanced visitor experience. During the recent update, the library installed an interactive component to various areas of the museum. Among the permanent exhibitions, the visitor can chronicle the family history of the Delano and Roosevelt families.

As visitors enter the property, it’s as if they travel back in time. The Hyde Park venue is surrounded by massive fields and adorned with slate stone buildings. A massive stonewall marks the perimeter of the property and the landscape is marked by period correct structures. The only exception is the visitor’s center, which is a modern styled structure. The grounds are meant to reflect the time that FDR spent here as well as his eye for forestry. The National Park Service offers a guided informational tour to start your journey. A two-day pass to the library, museum and home modestly priced at $18.00 for a two-day pass. Visitors can elect to visit only the museum and library for $9.00. I recommend the full tour in order to obtain the full FDR experience; I however elected to view only the museum and library as a return visitor.

The journey begins with a walk across an open field from the visitor’s center to a stone building. My initial impression was this building is the same as I remember from my last visit. Once I entered the building, the similarities ended. The museum holds a wealth of artifacts and photographs. The journey begins with an exhibit of FDR’s childhood. I was surprised to see the Eleanor’s childhood was also presented. It was full of interesting photos and the library even has some old report cards! This first exhibit was my first opportunity to see one of the updates to the library. In the center of the exhibit was a massive touch-screen tablet the size of a small table. This massive screen provided the opportunity for the visitor to page thru a massive archive of old photos.

The library’s expansion also permitted additional floor space for temporary exhibits. The current exhibit is “See America”. The walls decorated with New Deal era posters encouraging citizens to travel and see the natural landmarks of the country. The posters are a mix of original and reproductions by the artists.

The artistic theme is carried to the next section of the tour. It begins with a focus upon the Great Depression and how it becomes part of FDR’s path to 1600 Pennsylvania Blvd. The Depression era statics dot the landscape to create the full picture of the state of the economy. FDR’s response to the depression was getting people back to work. FDR was able to accomplish this in large measure to his New Deal programs. The details of the New Deal are laid out for the visitor complete with personal notes and press clippings. The relationship with his uncle (President Theodore Roosevelt) is also highlighted.

To my surprise, the largest section of the tour was the wartime President. Some historians believe that FDR’s greatest feat was the ending the depression, but the role of Commander and Chief seems to be at the center of his legacy. The remainder of the tour is spent walking through the days of World War II. One of the exhibits of note is the original office. It was from that spot that FDR gave some of his most famous “fireside chats”. FDR was able to create a bond with the public, which viewed him as a friend not a political leader. The visitor is able to listen to hear some of the more notable radio addresses in period correct rooms. Possibly the most interesting exhibit for me was the “map room”. FDR created the precursor the “situation room” in his White House. The map room provided him with the most current intelligence and events during the war. Massive interactive screens allow the visitor to pick up a period correct phone and work in the map room.

The journey through the exhibit, covers all aspects of FDR’s life. I was surprised to find that Japanese interment (Executive Order 9066) covered and the aspects of his personal life. The library covers everything from his alleged affair to his adapted car. The majority of the expansion to the library takes place underground to preserve the original state of the campus. Perhaps the most enjoyable change to the site has been the addition of technology. The library is able to display a vast amount of information using the tables. The library uses short movie clips and soundtracks as well. The visitor is able to fully immerse him or herself in the FDR experience.

At the start of my day, I was not sure why the museum would sell a standard two-day pass. However, as I got lost in the exhibit I found myself needing to move faster than I wanted to ensure that I was able to take it all in. I would recommend planning for a two-day visit to fully appreciate all that the library has to offer. The museum has me hooked and I plan to return with my family. The FDR Presidential Library is a national treasure. President Bill Clinton sends the visitor off with an emotional tribute to the late FDR.

More information about the FDR library can be found at

– Dennis Primiano, Marist ’15



An Interview With Alice Gerard: Transcribing the Past

I was able to get the inside scoop on Alice Gerard’s latest project that focuses on transcribing the personal diaries of Nicholas Gensler. He was born in the village of Palisades in 1765, and one very notable event in his lifetime is the fact that he witnessed the hanging of John Andre, a British spy, during the American Revolution (being born in a colony and living in a new nation is another notable accomplishment).  Ms. Gerard has been transcribing his stories and is planning to publish them in the near future. Read here about her reasons, inspirations, and hopes for the book.


1.       Have you always been interested in publishing books?

No – I have always been a great reader, and writing was easy for me, but for years I wanted to be an archaeologist. I respected authors but didn’t expect to become one.

2.       Did you ever think you would be telling such an untold story of a man like Nicholas Gesner?

I first heard about Nicholas Gesner from my mother when I was in my teens, and for years I resisted the idea of getting involved with his diary, although I did help my mother with some of the translation-transcription when I was older – I’m not sure exactly when but perhaps after I had retired from teaching in 1990. I thought it would be very boring, and it can be if you only read a few pages and are not familiar with the characters. I never thought that I would be the person to finish her work.

You know, my mother and I are not the only people to have read large portions of the diary; both Winthrop Gilman, a 19th century Palisades historian and Carl Nordstrom, the author of a book titled “Frontier Elements in a Hudson River Village” probably read most of the diary and transcribed sections of it.

3.       What was so fascinating about this man that convinced you to transcribe all 1,600 pages of his diary?

I had several reasons for completing all 1600 pages. One was that my mother had spent years working on it and only completed about 400 of the 1600 pages. I realized that the document would be a treasure for 19th century historians and to do it properly I would have to do the whole thing. Also, I was curious about what I would discover in the pages that were left. She died in 2006 at the age of 105 – I wish I could tell her that I had finally completed her work.

4.       In transcribing his story, what story are you able to tell as an author?

When I began, I knew little about Nicholas Gesner’s life. Now that I am almost finished, I find myself at times mentally living in his world, the world of 19th century Palisades New York (then called Rockland). The differences between his life and mine are very great. I feel as though Nicholas is an old friend, a respected and talented man but at times a bit of a curmudgeon. And I see our community, where I have lived for 73 years, almost as a palimpest – a parchment containing a series of layers imposed one on top of the other. Nicholas’s house, which he built in 1794, still exists in Palisades.

5.       You have been involved in almost every part of publishing a book. Can you describe the differences between the process of writing as a journalist/historian and the process of transcribing/editing? Which is more preferable to you?

Transcribing the diary is just a means to the eventual research, not nearly as satisfying as writing. I’m not doing much editing with the Gesner Diary, because I want his words to speak for themselves. I enjoy research – I think one of the reasons I wanted to be an archaeologist was to help to solve some of the mysteries of our past history. I also enjoy desktop publishing: the process of laying out a book; finding appropriate illustrations; and producing an effective and attractive publication. I have never been interested in writing fiction, although in 1997 I wrote a series of stories about real children who had lived in Orangetown, New York in the past. It was published by the Historical Society of Rockland County as “Adventures from the Past.” I have written books on breast feeding, alternative schools, historic houses of Palisades, NY, and the archaeological site of Glozel, in France. I enjoyed writing all of them, as well as doing the layout for the recent ones. I don’t enjoy proofreading but it is a necessary evil.

6.       How has the diary of Gesner affected your life?

I began the transcription on January 1, 2013, and have been working on it constantly ever since then. I expect to transcribe the last page on May 20, 2014 but there is still more work to do: proofing; adding more pictures; and finding people who want to buy the books. Currently I do three pages a day and am always looking forward to see what happens next.

8.       Which aspect of this time period is most interesting to you?

There is no one thing – I have learned about farm work, Methodist preachers, shipwrecks off Long Island, steamship disasters, Halley’s comet, and 19th century medical treatments, among other things. It is particularly interesting to me when Nicholas expresses his feelings about people, animals or events.

9.       What is the biggest difference you have seen in people from 180 years ago vs people now?

People spent their time in the past in very different ways. They had fewer choices and making a living could be difficult. Most men had to work hard at physical labor, either for themselves or for their neighbors, and were in better shape physically than people today. Nicholas was unusual because he had been a schoolteacher and could do surveying and legal work for his neighbors, but he still had to keep up with the back-breaking daily work on his 50-acre farm. At one point he took the census for Orangetown, traveling throughout the area mostly on foot. He would often walk five miles to attend a prayer meeting. There was little to entertain people. I have a feeling that church services and prayer meetings were the most stimulating events in many peoples’ lives.

10.   When you are not reading or transcribing what do you do for fun?

I spend time with my family and friends, sing with a local choral group, study Tai Chi, walk every day, enjoy sailing in the summer, and travel to visit archaeological sites. Reading is very important to me. I write and do layout for our local newsletter, 10964. It has a website:

11.  Lastly, what is the impact you are hoping tomake by sharing the story of Gesner?

I believe thatthe full-length diary will be an important resource for historians. For example, Nicholas records almost every penny he spent – in pounds, shillings, ounces, and dollars and cents – and all of the work done on the farm. Once I have finished and published the whole thing – four volumes, each several hundred pages – to be published at cost by subscription – I will write another, shorter book with highlights from the diary and more analysis of Nicholas’s life and his times. I expect that book to be more accessible to the general reader.Image

Ms. Gerard would be glad to hear from anyone who has questions about the book or thinks they might like to order copies.  She can be reached at PO Box 225, Palisades, NY 10964, or by email at

Marist College to host Conference on New York State History June 12-14


35th Annual Conference on New York State History to Meet at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY, on June 12-14, 2014

 2014 Conference on New York State History

Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York

June 12-14, 2014


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (04/30/2014) — The 2014 Conference on New York State History will be offering something for anyone with interest in New York State history when it meets at Marist College in Poughkeepsie on June 12-14.

Conference highlights include presentations by author and CBS news commentator Douglas Brinkley, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, and History Channel Vice President and Chief Historian Libby Haight O’Connell.

Conference attendees will also be able to hear celebrated filmmaker Ken Burns speak about his upcoming documentary, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” at a public program sponsored by the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the Home of FDR National Historic Site.

“This year’s program is intended to serve a broad audience and make good history more useful and enjoyable for all New Yorkers,” said New York State Historical Association President and CEO Paul S. D’Ambrosio Ph.D.

 The New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown is the principal conference sponsor. Co-sponsors include the Hudson River Valley Institute of Marist College, the New York State Museum, the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, and the New York Humanities Council.

The three-day program will feature presentations by more than 100 speakers who will together address a wide range of topics—from the most up-to-date professional research on such topics as women’s suffrage, the politics of the Civil War, and the changing public memory of 9/11 to the current state of such issues as classroom education, museum programming, and heritage tourism.

“New York State’s history community is extremely diverse. It includes scholars, teachers, museum and archives professionals, and history buffs of every description,” said New York State Historian Robert Weible, who chaired the committee that organized the conference. Both Weible and D’Ambrosio noted that one goal of the conference would be to foster closer relationships among New York’s many historical interests.

Dr. James M. Johnson, Executive Director of The Hudson River Valley Institute, added that “we are excited about hosting the 35th Annual Conference on New York State History at Marist College.  We have put together panels about important themes in the history of the Hudson River Valley from the Dutch to landscape architecture to the Roosevelts to African-Americans.  We will also host the distinguished Civil War historian Harold Holzer for our annual Charlotte Cunneen-Hackett Lecture in Hudson River Valley History.  We know that everyone will enjoy our new facilities and the magnificent views of the Hudson River.”

The organizing committee included representatives of the Association of Public Historians of New York State, Bard College, the Center for Applied Historical Research, the Cooperstown Graduate Program, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, the Hudson River Valley Institute of Marist College, the Iroquois Indian Museum, the Museum Association of New York, the National Park Service, the New York Academy of History, the New York State Archives, the New York State Council for Social Studies, the New York State Museum, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

The conference has a special interest in strengthening history education in New York by providing focused sessions for elementary and secondary teachers, as well as for museum educators.

Just prior to the conference on Thursday, June 12th, the Home of FDR National Historic Site, the FDR Presidential Museum & Library, and the Center for Applied Historical Research will sponsor a free public program entitled “Imperiled Promise: Public History and Shared Authority at New York’s NPS Sites.” Program participants will discuss and solicit public comment on a recent study, authored by the Organization of American Historians, that critically examines the ways in which the National Park Service presents history to the public.

Ken Burns will speak afterwards and screen scenes from his most recent production, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.”  This presentation is also free and open to the public.  Both the Burns and National Park Service programs will seek to attract conference attendees when they take place at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum. The Wallace Center is located a short distance from Marist College.

The conference program and registration information are available online at

For further information, please email Mary Zawacki, Managing Consultant for the Conference on New York State History at




For more information, please contact:

Mary Zawacki, Managing Consultant

for the Conference on New York State History

Phone: (607) 547-1453


Todd Kenyon, Public Relations

New York State Historical Association

Fenimore Art Museum/The Farmers’ Museum

Phone: (607) 547-1472 / E-mail:

About the New York State Historical Association

New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) has been welcoming and connecting people to our shared cultural heritage since 1899 through exhibitions and programs that provoke, delight, and inspire.  Whether you are a student exploring history through New York History Day; a visitor taking in the Fenimore Art Museum’s world-class collections; a researcher combing through the holdings of our Research Library in Cooperstown or online; a scholar, teacher, or history buff attending one of our conferences or enjoying the journal of New York History or another of our publications; or a family experiencing first-hand a 19th-century farming community at The Farmers’ Museum, a vibrant living history museum and sister institution, you are experiencing a dynamic 21st-century cultural institution.


About the Hudson River Institute at Marist College

The Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College is the academic arm of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. Its mission is to study and to promote the Hudson River Valley and to provide educational resources for heritage tourists, scholars, elementary school educators, environmental organizations, the business community, and the general public. Its many projects include the publication of the Hudson River Valley Review and the management of a dynamic digital library and leading regional portal site.