The mission of the Neversink Valley Museum of History and Innovation is to preserve and document the history of the peoples and industry of the D&H Canal, Neversink River Valley, Shawangunk Valleys of New York’s Catskill region and to interpret that history as it relates to the world at large. The Museum has a special focus on The Delaware and Hudson Canal and it’s affect on the commerce and technologies of the area and their effect on the transformation of our society from an agrarian to an industrial one, predominantly in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Board of Trustees
- Stephen Skye – President and Historian
- Frank Giraldi – Treasurer
- Jane Lord
- Warren Cuddeback
- Dan Witt
- Ron Flieger
- Seth Goldman
- David H. Lawrence, Museum Director
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- Gina Barbone, Education Program Director
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How the museum came to be founded in 1967
The Neversink Valley Area Museum was founded in 1967 by a group of concerned citizens, along with the overwhelming support of many local organizations. For some time they had been concerned with rapid development that was encroaching upon and threatening to destroy important historic sites within the valley. Working with representatives from the New York State Council on the Arts, local residents began the formation of a museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of the Neversink Valley. They decided that the emphasis would be on the Delaware and Hudson Canal, which transported coal from Honesdale, Pennsylvania to Kingston, New York (over 108 miles) from 1828-1898, and was a major influence in the development of our area during the 19th century.
Homeless for 10 years
For the first 10 years, the museum did not have a permanent home and operated out of various donated office spaces, becoming known as “The Museum Without Walls”. Through numerous traveling exhibitions, slide shows, programs and fund raising events (all done solely through volunteer effort), the museum continuously educated the community on local history, the history of the D&H Canal, and the importance of historical preservation.
In 1979, the newly formed Orange County Citizens Foundation raised over $100,000 to purchase land to be preserved as a historic site. This land included over one mile of the Delaware & Hudson Canal, with important canal features such as the remains of the Neversink River Aqueduct built by John Roebling, (builder of the Brooklyn Bridge) two locks, a freight basin, one mile section of water-filled canal (the only existing section with a controlled source of water) and one mile of working feeder canal. It also included many canal-era structures (all on site), including a lock-tenders’ house, canal grocery store (also known as the “Pie Shop”), blacksmith’s house and carpenter’s house.
On the National Register of Historic Places, this historic site, located in Cuddebackville, Orange County, New York, was given to the County of Orange, to be maintained by the Orange County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. It became the 300-acre D&H Canal Park.
At home in D&H Canal Park
In 1980, the Neversink Valley Area Museum moved into a 1799 saltbox structure now known as the Blacksmith’s House (lived in by several blacksmiths during the time of the canal), in the D&H Canal Park. The museum also became the official advisory to the County of Orange for the restoration of the D&H Canal Park. Over the next ten years, we developed exhibitions relating to the canal and other aspects of local history, started an elementary school program, sponsored tours along the canal, initiated professional archaeological excavations in the park and did an in-depth historical survey of a section of the canal.
A growing restoration project
Since the late 1980’s the Museum has restored the 1890’s barn located behind the blacksmith’s house, utilizing it for expanded Museum programs for children and adults, as well as an area for an interpretive exhibition, “Early Farming in America”, restored the Carpenter’s House (Leura Murray Center), which became the main Museum building and is used for expanded exhibition, museum store and office space. We opened a joint exhibition with the Orange County Chapter of the NYS Archaeology Society, “Orange County Archaeology”. We created and installed a permanent exhibition on the D&H Canal, “Black Diamonds and the D&H Canal”, which included videos, a wall-size map of the canal and a working canal lock model.
Publishing and new exhibitions
Also in 1994 we republished “Canal Boat To Freedom”, an award winning children’s historical novel on the D&H Canal and created a video children’s video, “Explore the D&H Canal”. We also researched, created and installed a major exhibition on silent films made in the area called “Movies Before Hollywood: A Legacy of Film Making in the Tri-State Area”. In 1996 and 1997, we opened a 275 sq. ft. full-size canal boat replica with hands on canal activities for children, created and implemented a new school field trip program on the Lenape Native Americans, and researched, created and installed a new exhibition, “The Artistry of the Blacksmith” in our working blacksmith shop.
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