Ghent throws 200th birthday party

GHENT–The Town will begin to celebrate its 200th birthday Tuesday, April 3 with a series of events scheduled through the year. It starts at the Ghent Post Office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.–there will be a special postmark–with the new Town Historian Gregg Berninger.

Mr. Berninger, a Ghent native who came on board as historian in January, also serves as the historian and president of the Ghent Band, and has experience working in the history field. He has spent the last two months putting together the Bicentennial Journal, filled with stories of the history of Ghent and old photos of the town over the years.

The Journal contains rare pictures submitted by town residents of life in the early 20th century that show local landmarks still visible today. Stories inside speak of what life was like here before the Great Fire of 1923 and how the town changed when the railroad first came through in 1838.

“This middle section that people think of as Ghent was almost nothing, maybe a house or two,” Mr. Berninger said of what is now the hamlet of Ghent. “But then it was where the train lines converged, and it grew from there.”

Two railroads ran through the present-day hamlet, one from Chatham to New York City and the other from Chatham to Hudson.

Both photos here were taken from approximately the same place at the south end of Main Street–now state Route 66–in the hamlet of Ghent looking northeast toward the Village of Chatham. The photo at the top is a detail from a postcard and was probably taken around the turn of the 19th to 20th century. One of the striking differences between that image and the photo below, taken this week, is the disappearance of the railroad station and outbuilding at left. That line went between Chatham and Hudson. The railroad tracks closer to The Bartlett House ran between Chatham and New York City. Bottom photo by Parry Teasdale

A huge part of Ghent life from the very beginning was the presence of the County Home, or the Almshouse, from 1829 until its closing in 1955. This “Home” was spread throughout a series of buildings, and was a working farm with about 200 residents, men and women alike. Its main office is where the post office stands today, and the whole County Home had a number of buildings including a slaughterhouse, pig sty, ice house, smoke shop, hospital, and wagon barn, to name a few.

Mr. Berninger will be present at the April 3 event to answer any questions people may have about Ghent’s history, and he has already been able to lay to rest a myth about Ghent—especially in relation to its origins as “Squampamock.” This name comes from a 1976 United States Bicentennial publication, and at the time that source claimed that it was the original name of the town. But Mr. Berninger said he has found no proof that it was ever called by that name.

Over the course of the summer a series of scheduled walking tours will take place in the town for those interested in learning more about the history and buildings of Ghent. A Community Day is planned for October 13, with a parade, historical displays, food and fireworks.

Ghent has a rich history, but Mr. Berninger said it’s the everyday occurrences and people that make Ghent the special place it is today.

“To me, that’s not what it’s all about—celebrities and one-off curiosities,” he said. “That tends to be what people remember, but that’s not how my family was.”

For more information on the Great Fire, the railroad, the County Home, and slavery, Bicentennial Journals will be available for purchase at the Post Office. All are welcome and encouraged to stop in for the day’s festivities, to view historic photos, and to reminisce.

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