New Kingston hamlet gets historic designation

By Diane Galusha
The hamlet of New Kingston has been officially listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, recognizing its highly intact architectural heritage. The New York State Historic Preservation Office announced its designation late in 2007; the National Register listing was confirmed last week. It is the nation’s official list of properties worthy of preservation. Listing on the National Register recognizes the importance of these properties to the history of our country and provides them with a measure of protection. 
The designation was largely based on “The New Kingston Valley Comprehensive Historical Resources Survey,” which documented in maps, photos and narrative the histories of 75 buildings that are 50 years old or older. Among the properties included in the survey is the New Kingston Presbyterian Church, which was named to the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2002.
The 2004 study of New Kingston was conducted by historical research consultant Jessie Ravage, who covered the valley from Route 28 in Dunraven to the head of Bovina Mountain Road to photograph existing buildings. She then researched ownership and use of the parcels, from farms to shops to residences, going back to Chancellor Robert Livingston’s 1782 donation deed of a 5,000-acre tract in the valley to the homeless citizens of the City of Kingston, which had been burned by the British during the Revolutionary War. She also used Census records of 1855 and 1875 to determine family names, crops produced and property values of each parcel.
The study and the application for Register listing, sponsored by the New Kingston Valley Association, were supported by the O’Connor Foundation and local contributors.
“I’m gratified that our beautiful community, which has so much visible history, has been recognized in this way,” said Fran Faulkner who actively supported the effort to catalogue and designate valley properties. Added the former New Kingston postmaster, long time hamlet resident and member of the HSM Board of Directors, “I hope this will help future generations to love and appreciate this great place.”
Added Middletown Town Historian Shirley Davis, “I am very excited about the designation of New Kingston to the State and National Registers.  Although New Kingston is a tiny village, it has a huge history. My hope is that this recognition will help preserve its history for the future and keep the heritage of this community alive in the minds and hearts of those who live in the Valley.”
There are no restrictions placed on private owners of registered properties. Private property owners may sell, alter or dispose of their property as they wish. But the hamlet’s listing allows property owners a 20 percent federal income tax credit for the costs of substantial rehabilitation. Municipal and not-for-profit owners of listed historic properties may apply for matching state historic preservation grants.
In addition, being on the Registers provides some protection from the effects of federal and/or state agency-sponsored, -licensed or -assisted projects through a notice, review and consultation process.
New Kingston property owners who would like more information about these programs are invited to contact the New York State Historic Preservation Field Services Bureau at 518 237-8643.

Time capsule
The hamlet, little changed in over 100 years, began to develop in the early 1800s and grew to serve outlying farms. While most of the farms are now gone, the New Kingston Valley is home to the last three remaining dairy operations in the Town of Middletown. A fourth farm in the valley actually sits just over the town line in the Town of Andes.
The community’s history is tied to the 1,500,000-acre Hardenburgh Great Patent of 1708, the largest one ever granted by the British crown. It was named for Johannes Hardenburgh, one of eight patentees who formed a cartel of entrepreneurs and gentry linked by family, religious affiliation, and business relations eager to profit from the development of unsettled lands in the British colony of New York.
The patent, however, languished unsurveyed and unsettled for nearly 40 years, although shares in it were traded regularly, including to Robert Livingston (1688-1775) of Clermont. When, during the Revolutionary War, the British burned both Kingston and Clermont in 1777, Robert R. Livingston, son and heir to Clermont, seized the opportunity to initiate settlement of the far reaches of the patent. He made a gift of 5,000 acres in that region to 100 designated “Kingston Sufferers,” who had lost their houses. Fifty-acre parcels were given to the chosen “sufferers,” however, neither the 1790 nor the 1800 federal census shows that any of them took up their lots. Some of their descendants, however, did eventually transplant to the New Kingston Valley.
By the 1840s, Samuel Ackerly, who had acquired some of the valley land, sold pieces of it to members of the Reynolds and Birdsall families, who, between 1855 and 1889, platted and sold most of the house lots that now form the hamlet of New Kingston.
Swart & Birdsall’s store, which opened soon after 1848, appears to have provided the initial commercial impetus for the hamlet. Its frontage on the main highway connecting Bovina Center with Margaretville placed it at a spot closer to many farms than either of those larger places. Next to the new store, Isaac Birdsall built a handsome two-story Greek Revival-style house (now owned by Fran Faulkner). In 1854, Birdsall was appointed postmaster at New Kingston.
The advantageous location at the base of the three farming hollows, combined with the entrepreneurship of Swart & Birdsall, sufficed to plant the seed of a small hamlet. By 1869 it included a dozen houses, a church, the store, a blacksmith’s shop and a wagon shop.
Carpenter-builder James R. Scott was among entrepreneurs in the new community. He may have run a sawmill and, with four sons and other relatives, played a leading role in the development of New Kingston. They built several homes in the hamlet and a number of barns in the valley. The Scotts are believed to have constructed several farmhouses as well.
The houses built in this period reflect the wide availability of decorative millwork and dimensional lumber in the last quarter of the 19th century. A variety of verandas display different shingled and scrollsawn motifs. Lathe-turned spindles grace both vergeboards set in the peaks of some houses as well as some porch railings and rooflines. “New Kingston is notable for the degree to which these elements survive and for their variety, running from the Italianate taste through Queen Anne and early Colonial Revival styles,” relates Ravage.
Each deed for a new house in the hamlet homes required that the new owner build and maintain a sturdy fence. Ravage points out that the loss of these fences, which protected houses from the depredations of roaming livestock, is probably the most notable change in New Kingston’s appearance from the late 19th century.
While a creamery in the hamlet continued to process milk drawn from local farms until the mid-20th century, New Kingston eventually faded as a commercial center. However, its church, the store/post office building, nearly all of the houses, and many outbuildings retain the sense of how Delaware County’s upland hamlets, which served far flung farms scattered across a mountainous landscape, looked during the 19th century.