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Faces of New Paltz

Tyler Patti, Max Singer, and Davida Haber

All SUNY New Paltz students can benefit from the lessons of Historic Huguenot Street. Students are now automatically eligible for free admission to the buildings and tours of the National Historic Landmark District, including free entry to all education programs, special member rates for all other events, and a 10 percent discount at the museum shop. All they need to do is present a valid SUNY New Paltz student identification card. 

SUNY New Paltz and Historic Huguenot Street share additional connections. College President Donald P. Christian serves on the Advisory Council of Historic Huguenot Street and Mary Etta Schneider, President of the Board of Trustees of Historic Huguenot Street, is also Treasurer of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board of Directors. Together with the Mohonk Preserve, the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, the College and HHS belong to a group of New Paltz anchor institutions that offer cultural, historic, and recreational benefits to those living and studying in New Paltz.  

Historic Huguenot Street’s ties to SUNY New Paltz, and role as a provider of quality education in the community, extend to the founding of the village. The first schoolmaster, Jean Cottin, was appointed by New Paltz’s Huguenot settlers in 1689 and given “a little cottage” as a home on the end of what’s now Huguenot Street.  The New Paltz Classical School was started in 1828 by their direct descendants and followed five years later by the construction of an academy on Huguenot Street. In 1889, that academy became the New Paltz State Normal School, which remained on Huguenot Street until 1906, when a new building—now “Old Main”—was constructed a mile away. The academy became one of the founding institutions of the State University of New York in 1948.

Past Faces of New Paltz
Payal Batra
Ricardo Hernandez
Political Science/Journalism

Students hone their history, acting chops at Historic Huguenot Street
History through performance: SUNY New Paltz students take a trip back in time at HHS

It’s no secret that the Village of New Paltz is a history lover’s playground. But for some SUNY New Paltz students and alumni, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) – one of the Hudson Valley’s most treasured historic landmarks – offers a wealth of learning opportunities not just for history students, but also those looking to hone their dramatic acting skills.

Among the dozen-or-so current and former SUNY New Paltz students who work at HHS, roughly five of them serve as site interpreters, assuming character roles and wardrobe meant to transport guests to bygone eras.

Founded in 1894, HHS was established by the descendants of the Huguenots, who fled from France in the 1600s to escape religious persecution by the Catholic Church. The refugees first fled to die Pfalz in Germany, and then to the U.S., where they purchased 40,000 acres from the local Esopus tribe along the banks of the Wallkill River – the community that would become what we now know as New Paltz.

Today, HHS is a thriving National Historic Landmark District, with 30 buildings across 10 acres, including seven stone houses dating to the early 1700s. Rather than simply convey information about the historic homes to tour goers, HHS interpreters try to recreate the experience of actually visiting them when they were inhabited by New Paltz’s original settlers.

“It’s nice to learn about the history of the street and then talk about it with other people,” says Tyler Patti ’13 (History), who works in the Bevier-Elting House, one of the oldest homes on Huguenot.
Stationed in the Jean Hasbrouck House, set in 1755, Max Singer ’15 (History) greets tour goers by introducing himself as a cousin of the family who lives in the house. Donned in full period costume, down to the old Dutch shoes that lack “left foot, right foot” designation, he apologizes for the family’s absence – they are still attending church services down the road – but offers to take the guests inside for a tour before the hosts return.

“It’s a combination of all the things I’m interested in,” says Singer, who minors in theater in addition to his history major. “My main passion is acting. This is a type of performance art that I haven’t done before, and I have a feeling I’ll find myself doing more historical re-enactments in the future.”

Just across the street in the Deyo House, Davida Haber ’13 (French, Theater Arts) is living in much more modern times than Singer’s character. Playing the role of a servant named Abby in 1908, Haber says she often draws from the lessons she learned as a theater major and linguistics minor in order to achieve historical accuracy. She carries herself in a nervous, timid manner, as a maid probably would during that time period, and tells herself to “look serious” when guests take her picture, because that’s the expression people wore in old portraits.

 “It’s opened my eyes to the history here in New Paltz,” says Haber. “I love being in character when people ask questions. It’s like a time machine. … It’s important to know where you came from.”


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