GERMANTOWN–The roughly 275-year-old white/gray structure that stands at 51 Maple Avenue at first sight seems unremarkable; little about its façade implies its content. It is tight-lipped, if not for the large granite marker at the edge of the property inscribed with the names of all 63 Germantown founders.
Stepping inside the Parsonage feels as if one has traveled back to the 1740s around the time the main part–left side–of the house was completed; in 1767 the right side was added. The house originally built as home for the clergy. However, when the location of the church moved, the property was sold and the house has been owned by many families in its almost three centuries.
The first occupant was the Rev. Gerhard Daniel Cuck, who remained in the house until his death even after it had been sold. An African-American cobbler also called it home for more than 60 years.
The Eckerts, the previous owners, were convinced that the history of the Parsonage and the history of the town’s Palatine immigrants merited preservation. The Palatines landed in New York in the early 1700s from Rhineland in what is now part of western Germany and were the first European settlers in the town.
The Eckerts donated the property to the Town of Germantown and the town allows the Germantown History Department to call it home.
“All towns have historians, not all towns have History Departments, few have historical structures they are proud to call home” Susan Raab, one of the historians and a special education teacher at Germantown School District for nearly 30 years, said in a recent interview. She uses her experience both as a teacher and historian in a program called “Palatine Heritage Days.” The program allows Germantown students to gain hands-on experience about life here during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Ms. Raab is not the only historian with a passion for Germantown’s history. A man named Alvin–he declined to give his last name– said he has been a historian for more than 30 years. He sees his role as, “a historical revisionist” with a responsibility to correct certain misconceptions in the history of Germantown.
The History Department funding depends on several sources but unlike independent cultural organizations it does not have its own non-profit status. Its projects have been aided by The Hover Trust, Hudson River Bank and Trust, Columbia County Historical Society and some money left in their donation box.
The Germantown Library hosts History Department exhibits, programs and events. One such exhibit is scheduled: 2018 Archaeology Exhibit-Parsonage Germantown on Saturday September 15 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Germantown Library, 31 Palatine Park Road.
Dr. Christopher Lindner, director of the Bard Archaeology Field School, secures his funding for a project in Germantown he began in 2009. His efforts and those of his college and high school students have unearthed hundreds of artifacts, which are on display. To date no other structure in Germantown has yielded more of its history.
Both the Parsonage and the History Department are open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon for tours. To arrange for private tours call (518) 537-3600. The department is on Facebook at Germantown History Department and at www.germantownnyhistory.org. They may also be reached via email: .