History of the Huguenots and Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz
All in the family: Some of the Valley’s earliest European settlers, the Huguenots arrived in New Paltz not long after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock
Stately manse: Originally built in the traditional Dutch style, Huguenot Street’s Deyo House was “modernized” in 1894 in the Queen Anne style
Photographs courtesy of Historic Huguenot Street
(page 1 of 2)
The Puritans get all the press, but they were hardly the only group to settle in the New World in the 17th century. The Dutch and Spanish also receive a lesser share of deserved credit, but one group of pilgrims often gets entirely overlooked. They were called the Huguenots (or, less frequently, the Walloons), French-speaking Calvinist Protestants who fled religious persecution and established a colony in New Paltz just 57 years after Plimoth Plantation was founded. What’s more, they left behind a collection of late 17th-century stone houses on the village’s Huguenot Street, which has been recognized as the oldest authentic street in America.
The key word here is “authentic.” “I’m not dissing Colonial Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village or Plimoth, but they are not authentic like this,” says Tracy Doolittle McNally, executive director of Historic Huguenot Street (HHS). “They are reproductions. What is so amazing about this place is that we really are the preeminent museum of family history.” The houses in this National Historic Landmark District have been standing for more than 300 years; many were owned and lived in by the same family for generations. “There is no place in the United States like it,” she says.
In 1677, leaders of seven prominent families from present-day France and Belgium, collectively known as the Patentees, purchased 40,000 acres of land from the Esopus Indians on the west side of the Hudson River. The contract for the sale — whose purchase price included domestic supplies, farming tools, clothing, blankets, wine, horses, tobacco, and gunpowder — was signed by five Esopus chiefs, and 21 Esopus braves approved the property deed. Governor Edmund Andros gave the settlers a patent grant for the land on September 29, 1677. (The original contract, deed, and patent grant are all in the HHS Museum’s archives.) Note that this occurred about five years before William Penn negotiated his treaty with the Native Americans to found Pennsylvania.
Huguenot: It’s fun to say, hard to spell, and mysterious in origin. According to the National Huguenot Society, the word may be a combination of Flemish and German, and describes Protestants who met to study the Bible in secret; they were called Huis Genooten, meaning “house fellows”
In 1678, 12 members of the Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, DuBois, Freer, Hasbrouck, and LeFevre families — who collectively became known as the Duzine — settled the 40,000 acres. They named their settlement “die Pfalz” (New Paltz) in honor of Pfalz-am-Rhein, the German state where they had temporarily found refuge on their way to the New World. Their village was set up like a commune: the Duzine owned some land in common, and shared their products and labor; the rest of the property was eventually divided among their descendants up until 1803. The Duzine held power over the community in various governmental forms until 1826.
At first, the Huguenots built simple woodhouses; in the 1700s, these were replaced with the stone dwellings along what is now known as Huguenot Street. Seven of these houses, built between 1705 and 1799, still survive. They are all built of local fieldstone, laid in clay and straw, and jointed with lime and sand, with chimneys constructed of locally made “thin bricks.” The 1722 Jean Hasbrouck House features its original jamb-less fireplace, one of only three still in existence in America. The 1799 Ezekiel Elting House mimicked the Jean Hasbrouck House but added a brick façade and symmetrical window pattern in the then-popular Federal Style. The Bevier-Elting House represents pure Dutch rural architecture, with its original gable end and side-porch passageway. Other houses were similarly designed, though their orientations changed in later years. The Deyo House, for example, originally followed the same Dutch plan, but was extensively modernized in 1894 — the same year that the Huguenot Historical Society was founded by the Duzine’s descendants in order to prevent further changes to their historic buildings.
The Huguenots themselves, however, did change — or at least they quickly assimilated. “They had to,” says McNally. “There just weren’t that many of them, so they started marrying the Dutch who were there. They went from speaking French to Dutch, and then English.” Most of them began attending the Dutch Reformed Church, which in New Paltz eventually evolved into the Reformed Church of New Paltz.
(Continued on next page)