Errors in a recently completed online interactive map of historic properties throughout New Paltz have caused outrage among some community members.
After its public launch on Wednesday, Feb. 16, the interactive map developed by representatives of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz with the New Paltz Town and Village Historic Preservation Commissions has come under scrutiny for its inclusion of private residential properties and inaccurate data.
According to Joshua Simons, research associate at CRREO and manager of the project, the map was funded by a $19,673 grant from the New York State Historic Preservation Office and was created to display property information in a readily-accessible Google Maps format.
Carol Johnson, who serves as coordinator of the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at Elting Memorial Library and assisted in providing data for the project in its early stages, said there are currently hundreds of errors on the map.
“It’s horrible and I’m disgusted with it,” said Johnson. “I thought it would enhance our knowledge of the buildings in New Paltz. But instead, it’s a complete waste of taxpayer money.”
The map features inconsistencies on building construction dates, property ownership and historical data, according to Johnson.
One such factual error occurs on a stone building located on 420 N. Ohioville Road. The map states George DuBois acquired the property sometime between 1860 and 1865 from Peter A. Deyo and an Italian cheese factory was operated within its borders for several years after. However, according to 1910 U.S. Federal Census data, the property was still owned by Deyo and not purchased by DuBois. It was also not host to the factory.
“These poor people living in that house will say, ‘There was a cheese factory here?’ But there wasn’t,” said Johnson. “It was actually further down on North Ohioville Road.”
Simons said the map was created from a compilation of data retrieved from a reconnaissance-level survey done in 2004 by Neil Larson and Associates. Data was also collected from further studies of potential historic districts.
From the earliest stages of the project, Simons said many efforts were taken to correct inaccuracies in the data. In order to inform visitors of any potential errors, a disclaimer message is provided prior to viewing the map. The mapping application also has a feedback system, where anyone can submit corrections and additional information.
“I’m aware of the fact that it’s not perfect,” Simons said. “[Feedback] gets directly e-mailed to the Town of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission and the Village of New Paltz Historic Preservation Commission – both of which have the ability to log onto the site to make any changes.”
Former SUNY New Paltz professor Susan Stessin, who helped create surveys as a past member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said she believes errors occurred because of the large volume of work required to compile information on each location.
After hearing that a grant was obtained to create an online map using the survey data, she said she recommended all errors be fixed first.
“You don’t put this kind of information online if it’s not accurate,” she said. “Carol told everyone there were mistakes all over the place. I felt horrible because I was part of it, but I didn’t know.”
Johnson said she asked that residential properties with no historic value be excluded from the project in order to keep information private for those not wanting to share details about their homes. Currently the map provides data on all properties built after 1600 and before 1929. Any homes built after do not include detailed information.
While the grant was ascertained strictly for the purposes of funding the map, Johnson said she wished the money could have been spent elsewhere.
“We’re in a recession,” she said. “Look at what’s happening to the college with all of the cuts, but something like this doesn’t get cut? I’d rather have them go and fix up one of the walls coming down on one of the houses on Huguenot Street.”
Simons said the map was partly created as a teaching tool for elementary or high school students and to promote the historical significance of New Paltz. He said it could also potentially be used to study the development of architecture in the Hudson Valley.
“[The map] is by no means complete,” he said. “It’s only as accurate as the data that we were given and the amount that we were able to correct in the time that we did.”
Simons will be presenting the mapping application in April at a workshop for the New York State Association of Public Historians in Elmira, N.Y.
The interactive map is available at the official website of the New Paltz Historic Preservation Commissions at hpc.townofnewpaltz.com.