Out with the new

Senate House Heritage Weekend fest focuses on making old ways hip again

by Carrie Jones Ross
Rob Sweeney, left, in Sons of Patria mode, discusses fur at last year’s TimeFest. 
Photo by Dan Barton.
The Senate House is rolling out all the adages in touting how what’s old is new again for next Saturday’s Heritage Weekend “Sustainable Living, 17th- and 18th-Century Hudson Valley Style” program.

The Friends of the Senate House will partner with the Kingston Land Trust and Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture (HVVA) in what the group hopes will be an annual “re-purposing” of the historic estate for a day dedicated to environmental and historical education.

Free demonstrations, tours and living history interpreters will educate and inform on the many resourceful methods employed by the region’s ancestors in order to garden, heat the house, build homes, cook, make clothing and generally survive.

“You’re coming to learn about history, but the relevance of history is what you can take from it and put into use in the present or future,” explained Rob Sweeney of the HVVA, who will be conducting tours and speaking on 17th- and 18th-century building and house-holding. “That’s what makes history relevant — is that it’s useful. How we can find sustainable living ideas from the past, and put it to use in the present.”

“The theme is everything old is new again,” said Sweeney on the topic of sustainability. “Thrifty ways of the past can be revitalized. We look to the past to see how we can be more environmentally sound in the future. … The Senate House is made of stone which didn’t really wreak environmental havoc to secure that stone and all the labor was done by hand. And the fact that it still stands. If we are looking to protect the environment, we don’t want to harm it while removing our materials from it, but also use things that are long-lasting.”

Guests will tour the Senate House to learn more about good old-fashioned efficiency and true Dutch economy. “They were not a throw-away society,” explained Sweeney. “Lighting candles. Using daylight savings time — it was not a modern thing. There was the 18th century saying of ‘early to bed and early to rise’; rather than lighting candles but using what’s naturally available.”

Kids will learn how to write “green” — with a natural quill, of course. Park educators will also impart history and uses of a plant, and help the kinder pot a seedling for at-home enjoyment.

Master gardener Allyson Levy of Hortus Conclusus, who specializes in edible and ornamental landscaping, will speak on a colonial woman’s dooryard garden, and present the historic garden she created. Levy said that her business employs the old with the new for the Senate House. “We designed a custom-made cedar bed and planted out the bed with about 20 different specimens that would have been found in a 1770s women’s dooryard garden for the public to learn about and enjoy.”

“I decided on a woman’s dooryard garden since every household would rely on their own self-sufficiency not only for food, but for medicine and household sundries,” explained Levy. “This type of garden would be set off right by the door for easy access for women to get herbs like thyme or rosemary to enhance or even mask the flavor of older game or meat. During their household chores they could easily grab a handful of southernwood to throw on the fire to clear out bad odors or soapwort to cleanse clothes. Even more importantly these herbs served as important medicinal functions, like betony for headaches, herb robert for toothaches or lungwort for coughs.”

Dina Falconi, practicing herbalist and author, will speak about herbal preparations with examples of the herbs and concoctions. Peter Cutul, a history educator with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation at Fort Montgomery, will deliver a presentation on “historic land-use, farming and food preservation practices”, offering samples.

Got a hole in your favorite sock? Darn it! No really … darn it. Dawn Elliott will be offering a not-oft-seen “darning clinic” to which guests are encouraged to bring their troubled textiles for either consultation or possibly a repair.

Even simmering aromas will be authentic, harkening from the cauldron on a hearth. The Scions of Patria, re-enactors of 17th century Dutch life will be cooking traditional foods and offering savory samples.

This event, which will run from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on the Senate House grounds is in conjunction with New York Heritage Weekend. For more information visit heritageweekend.org or nysparks.com or call the Senate House at (845) 338-2786.

© 2011