Wappingers Historical Society History
It all started with one man’s love of history and determination to preserve our local heritage. On April 12, 1967, local resident, John Ferris convened a meeting for persons interested in creating a historical society. They met in the “yellow room” at the Zion Episcopal Church, at 8pm. Those in attendance were Miss Mary Goring, Miss Edith Valente, Mrs. Ira Alsdorf, Mrs. Theresa Fulton, Mrs. Zita MacDowell, Mrs. Anna Clapp, Mrs. Fielding Brown, Mrs. John O’Rourke, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph McCloskey, Mr.& Mrs. Raymond Dolan, Mr. Kenneth Van Voorhis, and Mr. and Mrs. John Ferris. Mr. Ferris was appointed chairman by the assembly. Mrs. Ginny Ferris was appointed corresponding secretary, and Mrs. Dorothy Alsdorf, recording secretary. It was agreed at the close of the meeting that all should spread the word prior to the next meeting, scheduled for May. Over twenty-six people attended the society’s second gathering. Mr. Baltus Van Kleek, Dutchess County Historian, was the guest speaker and offered the group helpful advice in structuring their organization. A committee was formed to draw up a constitution and bylaws. The third meeting was held at the assembly room in the Garner Firehouse at which membership dues were collected. By the December meeting of 1967, fifty people had gathered at the Zion Church parish hall to listen to Bob Strang give a lecture and slide presentation on “The Old Albany Post Road.”
Officers were elected at the January meeting of 1968. The first Board of Trustees included John Ferris, President; Kenneth Van Voorhis, Vice President; Dorothy Alsdorf, Recording Secretary; Virginia Ferris, Corresponding Secretary, and Edith Valente Treasurer.
The primary intent of the historical society was to preserve local artifacts, precious documents, and maps and photos that pertained to our village, town and surrounding areas. In addition to this mission, the restoration and preservation of the Mesier Homestead was of utmost importance. Lastly, the historical society wished to serve as a source of historical information for the community. Almost from the first month, residents began donating antiques, books, valuable papers, and other items of historical significance into the care of the historical society. The Wappingers Savings Bank offered space in their lower rooms to store these items. Mr. Ferris, with assistance from his wife Ginny, worked diligently to catalog and curate the growing collection. Through the generous donations, over the past fifty years, from members, village and town residents, relatives of former residents, and by way of selective acquisitions, the WHS now maintains an archives collection, research library, digital photo gallery, a video and oral histories collection, and a museum of historical artifacts and antiques.
Society meetings were generally held every month except in July and August. Meetings to the conference room in the Community Services Building on Givans Avenue. Several years later, the group began meeting at the senior citizens room in the Wappinger Town Hall on Middlebush Road. About the start of this century, the meeting site changed again to the community room at the Methodist Church. Today most member meetings are conducted in the exhibit room at Mesier Homestead. A short business meeting was always followed by a presentation. Lectures were varied and interesting, and were often accompanied by a slide show. Ice boating, doll collecting, ecclesiastical architecture, historic estates, antique bottles, the horse and carriage, and the history of local churches were just some of the topics presented. Occasionally members were asked to bring an antique or historical article for an evening of “show and tell”. The annual picnic was usually held in June, sometimes at Bowdoin Park. The December meeting was customarily followed by a potluck dinner. Each year, we continue the tradition of our summer picnic and holiday potluck.
Fundraising was and still is an ongoing endeavor for the organization with proceeds going toward the restoration of the Mesier Homestead. The society raised funding by participating in flea markets and organizing garage sales. Other projects included the printing and sale of postcards, printed tiles, holiday ornaments, homestead mugs, magnets, maps, cookbooks, and Edgar Popper’s book, The Birth and Growth of a Small Village, Wappingers Falls 1707-1977. Many of these items are still available at the Mesier Homestead Gift Shop along with a variety of new books featuring local lore and history. More recently the historical society has hosted fund raising events such as harvest festivals, craft fairs, tea parties, book signings, and cocktail parties. Our efforts now are geared toward continued maintenance of the Mesier Homestead and restoration of the original rear structure.
Over the years, the Mesier Homestead has been utilized by various government departments. Recognized as one of the few remaining Dutch Colonial homes in Dutchess County, the historical society’s aim, from the very beginning, has always been to restore the Mesier Homestead and open it to the public as a historic home museum. In 1969 the historical society was given permission to begin restoration on the upstairs rooms. In 1971, through the efforts of many members, one upstairs room was opened to the public during the Village Centennial Picnic in the Park. The historical society appreciates the encouragement and financial support it has received from various village administrations, park commissions and planning boards over the years. The WHS has had the pleasure of collaborating with many civic organizations, local businesses, churches, schools, youth groups, local historical societies, and county and state agencies in advancing our hopes for a historic home museum. Due to the perseverance and volunteer efforts of so many in our village, town, and neighboring communities, the Mesier Homestead & is privileged to be the caretaker of the Mesier Homestead.
The Wappingers Historical Society and community owe a debt of gratitude to our founders and all those who gave of their time and talents throughout the years. It is due to the dedication and generosity of our predecessors that we now celebrate our fiftieth anniversary. If you baked a tray of cookies, built a shelf, painted an upstairs wall, donated an artifact or just one dollar, your labors and generosity have contributed to the preservation of our heritage and we thank you. The list of WHS members and supporters, dating back fifty years, is obviously too long to print. However, we would like to acknowledge our presidents, many of whom served several terms: John Ferris, Ginny Ferris, Zita MacDowell, Joseph McCloskey, Ruth Sutton, Betty Takacs, Kay Lyons, Kenneth Cain, Joseph Guston, Mary Schmalz, Donna Fein, Janice Hilderbrand, Sandra Vacchio, and Beth Devine. Museum is now open for tours. It is the venue for rotating exhibits, book signings, seasonal events, research, and historical programs.
The above article appears in the January 2017 Homestead Chronicle, courtesy of Jackie Hammond