April 18, 1906
In New Paltz the morning brought not defeat but rather the spirit of recovery. Even on the very day of the fire Dr. Myron T. Scudder, principal of the Normal School, was making plans to accommodate returning students in temporary quarters while the town set about the business of rebuilding its jewel. One day later a delegation set out for Albany to make the community's case for a state appropriation for this purpose. In 1909 the school would be dedicated on a new campus further uptown on what was then called Harcourt Heights. Over time, in successive stages, the university would grow to be SUNY New Paltz, where today 8,400 full and part-time students study.
In San Francisco, where the disaster was much greater, the recovery was even more spectacular. To the south Los Angeles was already overtaking San Francisco as the largest city on America's west coast. The earthquake seems only to have hastened the shift. The city by the bay would rebuild and in time learn to manage its earthquake risks. In the short term some population moved. For those who stayed and those who have come since rising building standards, increasing knowledge and new approaches have made San Francisco a very safe place to live.
As to how I came to know of these simultaneous events, I grew up in New Paltz and have lived in San Francisco the past ten years. My personal interests are history and the printed word in all its forms. In New Paltz I learned to appreciate history and in San Francisco I have the rare privilege to work with my wife Jenny and our partner Michael Stillman to unravel the mysteries of the internet and develop strategies for convergence of the world of books in all its many forms on line.
Of course to see the future you have to know the present. Thus I'm always reading, comparing and considering. Recently on eBay I bought a postcard that contained a reference to the 1906 New Paltz fire on April 18th and was posted on the 23rd. I thought that must be quite early and then realized the April 18th of the fire was THE April 18th.
As to whether there was a cosmic relationship between these two places that shared disaster one hundred years ago I leave this to the preferences of the reader. I will note that just two years ago New Paltz and San Francisco again made headlines in the same papers on the same days. This time it was the Mayor of New Paltz following the lead of San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom in marrying gay couples. Then, as was the case in 1906, for a few moments the earth shook, and then life proceeded apace.
Resources. I received help, information and assistance from the Haviland Historical Collection at the Elting Memorial Library, New Paltz, New York; Newburgh Free Library, Newburgh, New York; Adriance Memorial Library, Poughkeepsie, and Dennis O'Keefe of the Sojourner Truth Library, SUNY, New Paltz. Each of these institutions has a website and of course encourages visits. The Elting Library is undergoing renovation and is operating in temporary quarters.
Dr. Alfred Marks, New Paltz town historian, now retired as professor at SUNY, New Paltz from whom I took a local history course more than thirty years ago was kind enough to look over this piece but not to grade it. My thanks to the Kingston Freeman, Kingston, New York for their help. History lives in the archives of newspapers.