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County Historian’s Roundtable: Lessons from Putnam County

My review of conferences attended and/or would like to have been able to attend continues with the Putnam County Historians’ Roundtable. I did attend this conference. The meeting was called by the Putnam County Historian’s Office and was held December 7, 2019, at the Putnam County Historical Society in Cold Spring.

Although I am not a resident of the County, my involvement with it goes back many years. I initiated a County history conference (Dan Ricci, one of the attendees spoke at it) in 2011. The conference drew over 100 people. In comparable terms it would be as if a county history conference in Westchester where I live drew about 900 people … and in the thousands in some of the boroughs in New York City. It showed there is a definite interest in history in the County. Since then there have been a couple of conferences and I hope it will be renewed.  On the County’s birthday, there is a celebration with awards given to various people and organizations for their contribution to County history (see Kudos to Putnam County Historian’s Office, the Oneida County History Center and for Upstate History Conferences, August 6, 2019).

The Roundtable has been held periodically over the years. It is a straightforward event. You go around the table and each person talks about what they or their organization has been doing. There may or may not be a formal presentation of some kind. The cost is coffee and doughnuts and someone may bake cookies. It is a social networking opportunity to bring people together from the towns and villages in the County in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

The attendees at the Roundtable ran the gamut of the segments of the history community:

A graduate school intern – she did not participate but I certainly would like to know what exactly this grad student does as an intern and if she could serve as an example for other graduate students

An elementary school teacher and a high school social studies teacher

Municipal historians including the high school teacher

Municipal historical societies

Historical Museums

Cemetery Committee

County Tourism Department Chair.

So while the number of attendees was not large, it did include a wide range of the different facets of the history community.


Tracey Walsh is the comparatively new chair of County Tourism. Fortunately for the history community, she brings a love of the County history to the position. She already knows many people involved in County history and was a teacher herself. In this regard, she is a breath of fresh air. She will take a proactive role in promoting tourism in the County. That means she won’t simply be waiting for the history community to show up in her office and say, “Here is an event we are doing. Please promote it.” Quite the contrary, she intends to be out there in the community to learn what is going on and to see how she can help. Even before the meeting she had contacted me about being added to the distribution list for my blog so obviously I think highly of her!

Tracey updated us on various tourist related developments specific to Putnam County.

I had the opportunity to speak about two items which I have blogged about in the past:

1. The value of history signs in and of themselves as tourist destinations even when there is no museum, gift shop, or bathroom at the location
2. The creation of actual paths or itineraries for weekend or weeklong programs. These require cooperation and collaboration among the various history locations to be created.

I left the meeting with impression that it really will be possible to do something along these lines for the 2020 summer/fall tourist season.


At this point, the County has not undertaken any actions to prepare for the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution. The Roundtable served as an opportunity to chat about how the County might pursue it.

Jennifer Carlquist, the Executive Director, Boscobel, is very interested in this subject. Boscobel is a Loyalist house formerly in Westchester now on a spectacular location on the Hudson River, especially at sunset.  The site has an attendance of about 81,000/year. One drawback is the lack of motel lodging in the vicinity so visitors are always on their way to someplace in other counties where they will stay for night. She also wants to know about how to reach out to schools.

Fortunately I was able to offer some assistance here. The annual Westchester/Lower Hudson Valley Council for the Social Studies conference was held the Friday following this Roundtable. As a member of the Board, I was pleased to inform her about the opportunity to present to the teachers at the conference next year. This lead to a brief discussion about the disconnect between the schools and the historic sites with their separate conferences and never the twain shall meet. I brought this point up in my last blog on the New England Museum Association conference and will return to it in my next blog about the social studies conference, the last conference I will be reviewing for 2019.

I also had the opportunity after hearing Jennifer discuss her site to invite her to speak at a teacher program on Slavery in Westchester I organized for April in New Rochelle. I do enjoy these meetings where we get to hear and learn about what others are doing.

Another topic raised for the Semiquincentennial was signs. Putnam has a lot of them thanks to Benedict Arnold and John André. People will want to see where Arnold lived in Garrison across from West Point as he was rowed to work (there’s not much left). There are many markers along the way. What shape are they in? Are there any markers/brochures/websites which show the entire route? People will want to follow the trail down to Hudson when he made his escape (and maybe have a replica of the Vulture to sail on). People also will want to follow the trail John André took. That means Putnam where he rode, Westchester where he was caught, and Rockland where he was imprisoned [in a still functioning restaurant] and hanged, need to work together along with Orange County where West Point is located. The reopening of Constitution Island a boat ride across from West Point in Putnam should factor into this as well. Will the four counties be able to work together to create an Arnold/André tour? Will the state tourism department assist? This issue will occur with many incidents in the American Revolution that are not bound by our political boundaries at the county or state level. Let’s see what happens.


Mary Jean Cerbini, a 5th grade teacher in Mahopac and from the Bronx, spoke about her local history in the classroom program. It includes the creation of a book by the students. Unfortunately, this program is her fifth grade program meaning it is not a program the other 5th grade teachers in the school use. This led to a brief discussion about the place of local history in the state-mandated curriculum. This topic also came up in the social studies conference. Teachers can do a lot of wonderful things involving local history but so often it is a labor of love by that particular teacher. Unless the state curriculum is changed so local history is integral to it and not just an option for the individual teacher who happens to love it, local history is bound to be peripheral. The absence of local history is related to the absence of civics (another topic at the social studies conference). While occasionally a 16 year-old can become a superstar and Time Person of the Year, most civics starts locally with the places students can visit, the officials students can meet, and the issues students can see right in their own community.

In a brief 2+ hour meeting (the historical society was about to open to the public so we did have to finish!), a lot can be accomplished. Kudos to Jennifer Cassidy of the County Historian’s Office for reviving the practice and for the proactive role she is going to take in the future. This kind of low key event is something every county can do. I am sure many already are doing something like this. It would be nice to hear what you are doing.

AMC Mocks the Path through History

“Turn” is an AMC cable series set in the American Revolution in New York. The series purports to tell the story of America’s first spy ring. It was based in Setauket, Suffolk County. The fidelity of the TV series to history is not the issue of this post. That subject has been addressed elsewhere and by others. Rather the focus is on tourism and the squandered opportunity by New York State.


The history roundtable on May 29, 2014, in Albany, was convened by State Legislator Steve Englebright of Setauket. He began the meeting by expressing his disgust about the TV series set in his home town being filmed in Virginia. Worse was the state of Virginia advertised on the show inviting viewers to come to Virginia to see where the American Revolution happened. So here we had a situation where Virginia was leveraging an American Revolution show set in New York to promote tourism in Virginia while New York did nothing. I will leave it to your imagination to choose the words to characterize the performance of New York State in this matter.

The story gets even worse. Towards the end of the third season, the locale of the show shifted. SPOILER ALERT: Benedict Arnold is a traitor and John André is captured and hanged. All these events happened in the Hudson Valley, a region full of American Revolution sites and signs. Part of the presentation on the show was historically laughable:



Beverly Robinson House (Garrison Union Free SD) Arnold’s Flight (Robyn Luzon)

  1. Benedict Arnold did not live at West Point. He lived in the Beverly Robinson home on the east side of the Hudson in Garrison, Putnam County. Little remains of the house save for a root cellar. I have been there with the teachers and the current owners of the property invited us into their home. There is, of course, a NYS history sign to mark the site.
  1. Arnold fled to the Hudson River to make his escape. There is another history sign on the opposite side of Route 9D in Putnam marking the start of his escape route. In the TV show, Arnold is shown on a waterway representing the Hudson. It looks more like the creek Sheriff Taylor took Opie fishing. There is none of the majesty of the Hudson nor the S-curve, the choke point where a chain was placed across the river from the western point (hence the name “West Point”) to Constitution Island.
  1. Washington and the captured Andre are shown living in tents in the open field. In fact, Washington stayed at The DeWint House aka George Washington’s Headquarters, Masonic Historic Site, in Tappan, Rockland County. Far from being held prisoner in a tent, André was ensconced in good officer tradition in the 76 House. I have been with the teachers to both locations and enjoyed several meals in the still-operating restaurant.
  1. The hanging did not occur in the open field ether as depicted in the show.


76 House and the monument to the hanging (Rolf Müller)

One can understand the logistical advantages of not filming on location but still the publicity opportunities to showcase these tourist locations should be obvious to anyone with some exceptions.

DeWint House
DeWint House

I mentioned this deplorable condition to someone from AMC during a panel discussion at the New-York Historical Society last spring. I gave the person my card and was told it would be referred to the appropriate person within AMC. Naturally nothing happened.

The story gets even worse. Guess what took place in the middle of these two episodes on “Turn” where André is caught and hanged — that’s right, the Path through History weekend.  The event celebrating New York history was smack in the middle of two nationally-shown episodes about events in New York history of national importance. It’s almost as if AMC went out of its way to mock the Path project. Only Virginia chose to advertise its American Revolution sites during these shows.

The story gets even worse. As is well known, New York State provides no staff or funding to develop paths through history. To compensate for New York’s failure to support the Path program, last year I recommended that the history community submit requests for “Pathfinders” in the REDC funding process.

These people would then do what should have been done for years. Their job would be to create itineraries which could be offered to tour operators as “shovel-ready” tours. Priscilla Brendler, executive director of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN), the organization which actually handles the Path weekend program, responded to my suggestion by submitting exactly such a proposal to the Mid-Hudson REDC, the region where these “Turn” episodes were set. Meghan Taylor, the Regional Director for the Mid-Hudson Region, previously had meet with the regional history community at my initiative, was receptive. The Pathfinder application was approved at the regional level and submitted to Albany.

Guess what. There was no funding line appropriate for the request. Remember all the times how New York State talks the talk of collaboration and cooperation. Now when a grassroots application was submitted to create exactly such collaboration and cooperation among history sites, there was no bucket into which the application could be placed. Not only is there no staff or funding for state bureaucrats to develop paths on a fulltime basis, there is no funding either to support such efforts by the history community itself. The application was denied. The next time anyone from New York State talks about collaboration and cooperation, say SHOW ME THE MONEY!

The story gets even worse. The Path project is intended to generate revenue especially from sales, lodging, and gas taxes as tourists travel the highways and byways of the state. Typically tourist travel to historic sites happens during the summer tourist season.  For example, here is an excerpt from a state press release reported in a previous post:

As the Fourth of July weekend kicks-off this summer season, the Governor’s summer tourism ad campaign invites residents and visitors to celebrate the state’s history and experience the unmatched destinations, attractions, events, landmarks, and cultural opportunities New York State has to offer.

Please note the references to summer travel and state history. One might logically conclude therefore that Path through History programs would focus on this time period. Think again.

Here are three items for your consideration highlighting the stark reality that New York State no longer even pretends that the Path through History is a tourist-driven project designed to increase tax revenue through a robust history tourism program.

  1. The Museum Heritage Weekend in May renamed and rescheduled as the Path weekend in June occurs prior to the summer tourist season designated by the Governor and consists of local events for the local community. I have recommended that it be called Community Heritage Weekend. One notices that the reports about the success of the weekend are strictly limited to the body count of events with no tax benefits calculated or even contributions to the economy suggested. By contrast when the Tourism industry has its advocacy day in Albany, it is sure to provide dollar figures.
  1. I Love NY has now proposed an extension of the Path through History weekend to the fall.


You spoke and we listened.
We received a variety of feedback regarding the timing of Path Through History weekend, so we are exploring the option of expanding in 2017 to two weekends: a Spring PTH Weekend on Father’s Day weekend in June, and a Fall PTH Weekend on Columbus Day weekend in October. Host sites would be able to choose whether they wanted to participate in one or both of the weekends; sites would not be obligated to participate in both.

It’s nice to know that I Love NY is listening to the history community. A second community heritage weekend is a perfectly valid initiative. Just as many sites could not offer programs in May during the original Museum weekend (some upstate sites weren’t even open then), Father’s Day weekend may not be the best time for local events either. A three-day weekend does provide opportunities for events involving overnight lodging that generates tax revenue. Let’s see if any such programs are proposed. That would be a big change.

  1. The new New York State Historian has issued a notice about this year’s celebration of New York History Month in November. The event is defined by state regulations:


57.02 New York state history month

  1. Each month of November following the effective date of this section shall be designated as New York state history month.
  2.   The purpose of this month shall be to celebrate the history of New York state and recognize the contributions of state and local historians.
  1. The commissioner of education, through the office of state history is hereby authorized to undertake projects to recognize New York state history month. Such projects may include the creation of an essay contest for state residents who are enrolled in any elementary or secondary education program which shall reflect upon the importance of New York state history. Any project or projects created pursuant to this subdivision may, in the discretion of the commissioner of education, authorize non‑monetary awards to be given to project participants or project winners as such commissioner may deem appropriate.


Again, the State History month is one of community heritage and civic engagement, not tourism. The notice just sent by the State Historian is consistent with this definition.

New York State History Month represents an opportunity for historians and cultural institutions to assert the vital importance of preserving and learning about our state’s history. It is also a time to engage with the public through programs and learning opportunities about the history of New York State and the ways in which we can help preserve our history.

The New York State Museum encourages historians, museums, historic sites, archives, and libraries across the state to join us in presenting events, tours, lectures, discussions, publications, and exhibitions that highlight the importance of New York State history and the role we (and the public) play in preserving it.

Marketing: New York State History Month Logo and Path Through History Logo

Any historical or cultural organization hosting programs for New York State History Month is encouraged to use the New York State History Month logo in their marketing. It is recommended that Path Through History sites also use the Path Through History logo.

So once again, the Path through History project is associated with a non-tourist community-heritage program not designed to generate tax revenue.

How come there are path through history events listed on the path website outside the tourism season but no path through history tours are listed during the summer tourist season?

Even if I Love NY advertised on “Turn,” are there any American Revolution tours available on the Path website…or just a lot of sites (but not the signs of either Arnold’s or André’s escape routes that would be of interest to an American Revolution tourist buffs because signs are not museums).


Tarrytown,Westchester County                                              Carmel, Putnam County
(Courtesy Researching Librarian and The Historical Marker Database)

Has anyone ever heard of Elderhostel? It’s not as if New York State has to reinvent the wheel. Just do what has been done for decades elsewhere.

How come the non-tourist community-heritage program is even located in I Love NY.

Happy 4-year old birthday, Path through History. May your future take a turn for the better.