Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again
- by Bruce E. McKinney
I grew up in Ulster County on the west side of the Hudson midway between New York and Albany. I moved away in my mid-twenties, almost fifty years ago, although some who know me say I never left, for my interest in the Valley remains as strong today as it was growing up. That interest was recently rewarded with the purchase of a wonderful group of old photographs of New Paltz, zip code 12561.
I’ve since 10 been a book collector but, as has become apparent over the past twenty-years, the internet has exposed the depth, range and availability of material that was always assumed to be impossible to find. That in turn has reoriented collecting to greater specificity creating the possibility of more interesting collections. I went down that rabbit hole years ago and have found such collecting to be beyond rewarding.
Book collecting has long been the category but the increasing availability of paintings and ephemera, manuscripts and broadsides has now transformed the field and photography become perhaps the strongest category.
Interesting photographs randomly appear at auction and on eBay but many lack descriptions. But once in a great while when a group appears, they are all connected and relevant to my collecting of the history of Ulster County. So it was for me a month or so ago when I stopped in to see Sandy Levy of New Paltz, New York who does a very nice business in paintings of the area and the Hudson Valley generally. There was no painting that interested me this time but he took a few minutes to talk and I mentioned I had commissioned the renowned painter Lenny Tantillo, formerly of Ohioville and once my immediate neighbor, to paint the burning of the New Paltz Normal School in 1906. Sandy said he had some old photographs and went off to find them. He returned with some excellent images, all of them at least uncommon and some exceptionally rare. He then offered a price and I immediately agreed.
A week later I brought them to E. M. Ginger of 42-Line to have them scanned and organized so Lenny could access them.
Here’s some background.
My family owned the Hudson Valley Newspapers in southern Ulster County. In New Paltz their competition was the New Paltz Independent, the subject of the first image. The Ralph Lefevre family produced very charming editions using older type and their classified section even into the 1960s was almost a work of art. The next three images show two of their type compositors and their press in 1900.
There’s also two images of a factory or commercial establishment. I think they are in the downtown but the company isn’t yet confirmed.
There are also a half dozen images of the New Paltz Normal School. These images were taken post-fire in 1906 and provide information on the nearby landmarks, the main building and its appearance. Some of these details will find their way into Lenny’s painting.
As well, there’s a yet to be understood image taken in Gardiner, just south of New Paltz, in what appears to be about 1880. There are more than forty men, wearing finery. Some are wearing a common ribbon, a common frill for an occasion that is not yet identified.
There are many ways to know a place but few better than old photographs and I’m grateful to Sanford Levy for selling them to me.
For paintings of the Ulster area and nearby counties he’s an excellent resource.
Route 32 South
New Paltz, New York 12561
Tel: 845.255.4876 or 845.389.5379