Located at 5 Broadhead Avenue, there is a light pink, almost decrepit, two-story house that is one of the few remaining built by Jacob Wynkoop in the late 19th century. Wynkoop was one of the first African Americans to buy land in the rural New Paltz community. He served in the Union Army and organized politically for Black and minority citizens.
The building was once home to a Civil War veteran Richard Oliver, his wife Ann, and his two children. Born in 1832, Oliver signed for his military duty in New Paltz during the Civil War, fighting for the North. In 1863, Oliver enlisted in Kingston and was quickly recruited in the 20th Colored Infantry which was sent to the Gulf war zone.
Unfortunately, on his return home from war, Oliver contracted malaria and could not see his family before his death, leaving his wife widowed and his children fatherless. His wife, Ann, battled through a lot of legal trouble to obtain the pension for his death in order to support her and her children financially.
This story and many other historical African-American families in the Mid-Hudson Valley area have been hidden from our history. This family legacy would be lost to another Stewart’s location if it weren’t for “The Missing Chapter Exhibit” and the efforts made by the New Paltz Town Council.
After its significance was recognized, that portion of the property was given to the Village as a part of the approval process, and trustees named a committee to review the proposals for the building’s salvation and repurposing.
The committee consists of historian Susan Stessin-Cohn, who is renowned for her research with the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council, local history teacher Albert Cook, local pastor Limina Grace Harmon and Steven Cook, who serves on the Village’s Historic Preservation Commission.
“We are in the process of establishing a historic landmark status for the property,” says Thomas Olsen, a chair member of the HPC.
According to Hudson Valley One, the house that was sentenced to be demolished will now be preserved and converted into a Black History research and cultural center under the supervision of attorney Esi Lewis, daughter of late-professor Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis and former Town Council member David Lewis.
Lewis was born in New Paltz, left after high school, became a lawyer and worked in criminal justice in New York City. She returned home because she appreciates this town’s beauty and its strong local activism.
Lewis joined the council back in January and will be provided office space at SUNY New Paltz campus in order to do work for this project. At the town meeting held on March 23, Mayor Tim Rogers announced that the Village trustees are supporting this project by applying for a grant that will allow Lewis to be paid a salary anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000.
In her interview with Susan Slotnick of Hudson Valley One, she retells the significance of the property.
“This historic house was built in the First Free Black Neighborhood by Jacob Wynkoop, a free Black man. His mother Jane Wynkoop was the first Black landowner who bought the property from Mrs. Hasbrouck,” said Slotnick. “ Jane purchased the property because the vote was only granted to landowners. She wanted her two sons to be able to vote. The Village worked hard to preserve the home and I am passionate about seeing the Cultural Center to fruition.”