Germantown looks to recapture its past

Town prepares to celebrate tri-centennial of Palatine settlers

GERMANTOWN–History is the cornerstone of the two-weekend celebration planned for the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Germantown, October 1 to 3 and 8 to 10.

Eighteen hundred settlers from the Palatine region of southwest Germany landed in Germantown, originally called East Camp, in the fall of 1710. The new arrivals were among an initial 3,200 who set out from England aboard 12 ships. It took them 10 months to get here, and at the time they were the largest single group of immigrants to come to America at once.

Many descendants of those original settlers with the names–Hover, Lasher, Sheffer, Potts, Kline, Craig, Moore, Rifenburgh, Clum, Fingar and Coons–to list a few, still live in town and will lend their energies and memories to make the celebration a success, according to event press liaison Nan Eliot, the former director of tourism marketing for the state’s I Love New York campaign, and a Germantown resident.

Nadine Rumke, 82, a ninth generation descendant of the Palatines, co-chairs the anniversary committee along with Germantown Councilman Jeremy Smith.

A Germantown High School graduate and former music teacher in the Germantown School District, Ms. Rumke has always been interested in genealogy and is particularly involved with the planning of the first weekend’s events, which focus on Palatine history.

Helen Coons Henderson, 98, another local Palatine descendant, is working with the committee and actively keeps Palatine history alive in her research work with Columbia County Historian Mary Howell. Ms. Henderson often heard tales of her ancestors’ struggles to survive. “They scrabbled and starved half the time. There are stories of them eating grass in 1712,” she said in an article written by Ms. Eliot for the Columbia County History & Heritage publication last spring.

Peter Fingar, 80, also a ninth generation Palatine descendent, the retired president of Fingar Insurance and a former town councilman, is also featured in Ms. Eliot’s piece. “Everyone wanted to have plenty of children in those days because they were needed to help with the work,” he said.

All three are “high energy, amazing people, who embody the whole Palatine spirit,” Ms. Eliot said in a recent phone interview.

Historians and genealogists from around the country will take part in Palatine history seminars and discussion groups. One such expert is the Reverend David Jay Webber, a Germantown graduate and a Palatine descendant, who will speak at a seminar.

Helen Clark, a specialist in tracing family roots through DNA testing, will be there, and Germantown senior citizens will share their memories and the stories they heard while growing up to create an oral town history.

Also during the first weekend, Germantown Central School students will present an original play about the Palatines on October 1, and an ecumenical service will take place at the Christ Lutheran Church October 3.

Another October 3 event is a Palatine concert, which will feature the premiere of a new Palatine composition, a cantata, by composer/conductor Harold Farberman, who lives in Germantown. Other musicians will also perform, including the Germantown Choir singing early 18th century music led by Donna Diehl.

Local artists and Palatine descendants Dea Archbold and Kurt Holsapple are creating a sculpture, the Germantown Analemma, an astrological sundial, to be dedicated during the anniversary celebration. Replicating the march of the sun as it passed over the Palatine settlers during their first year in the New World, according to a press release, it is in the form of an extended figure 8 and will be made of local area stone and constructed by town residents.

The second weekend of the anniversary celebration will be the Palatine Oktoberfest opening with a parade of wagons down Main Street to Palatine Park.

There will be farm and craft displays; free tractor and horse-drawn wagon rides; food and drink; musical entertainment, including an Oompah band; games and activities; a petting zoo; a teen dance; community bonfire; and a fireworks display concludes the event. Former town supervisor George Sharpe coordinates the Palatine Oktoberfest.

For more event information visit www.germantownnyhistory.org or call (518) 537-6687 X 308.

Events are funded by sponsors, underwriters and the sale of a line of commemorative merchandise, including hats, magnets, tote bags and T-shirts, which, according to Ms. Eliot, are “going like hotcakes.”

To contact Diane Valden email

 

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