Historic Huguenot Street is poised to launch a new walking-tour app titled “Jacob Wynkoop: Building a Free Black Neighborhood” by the end of the month. The tour will be narrated by Chaundre Hall-Broomfield, a Newburgh native and a performer known for his dual roles as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in the national tour of the Broadway musical phenomenon Hamilton with the Angelica company.
Both the upcoming walking tour and the current online exhibit, “Never Was a Slave,” highlight the homes built by Jacob Wynkoop (1829-1912), who was born in New Paltz two years after slavery was legally abolished in New York State. Wynkoop served in the Union Army during the Civil War, organized politically on behalf of black citizens of the town, and was one of the first African-Americans to purchase land in in New Paltz.
Wynkoop either built or helped to build more than a half-dozen homes in and around the Broadhead/Church/Mulberry neighborhood, all of which still remain with the exception of one on Mulberry Street torn down in the 1990s. Local newspaper clippings and records show that he was either one of the contributing builders or the principal builder for residential houses, many of which were built for African-American women, at 43 and 44 Church Street, 66 Church Street, 11 Mulberry Street, 5 and 9 Broadhead Avenue, as well as 127 Huguenot Street.
Throughout his life, most records, including census and military records, refer to Wynkoop as a “carpenter” – a position elevated above “laborer,” which was assigned to most African-American men at the time, regardless of their skill level. “This distinction was certainly due to the quality work he performed for his customers and employers over the years,” writes Josephine Bloodgood, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS)’s director of curatorial and presentation affairs, who put together this exhibit.
Bloodgood explained that there was a population and building boom in the Village of New Paltz in the 1880s, when many of the existing homes in and around Broadhead Avenue, Church and Mulberry Streets were built. In 1887, the New Paltz Independent reported the demand for new houses continued “as great as ever.” The paper’s editor, Ralph LeFevre, was confident that the “briskness” of building operations would continue in the years ahead.
In June 1888, LeFevre attributed the continued growth in population to the popularity of the Minnewaska and Mohonk mountain houses, as well as to “the orchard production in the region, and new enterprises in the village like a brickyard and creamery.” The most consistent ingredient to the population increase was the Normal School, the teachers’ college that would eventually evolve into SUNY New Paltz.
“What’s fascinating is that there was this entire black neighborhood right in the heart of the Village, and most of the houses that Jacob built are still here,” said Carol Johnson, director of the Haviland-Heidgerd Historic Collection (HHHC) at Elting Memorial Library, who helped Bloodgood with her research for this exhibition and walking tour. “Back then, the local papers recorded everything: when someone put a roof on a home, or built a porch, or if they had visitors from out-of-town. Thank goodness they did, because we have records of the homes that Jacob built or helped build, sometimes with his brother John Wynkoop.”
Jane Deyo Wynkoop, Jacob’s mother, was born into slavery, but post-Emancipation and worked as a domestic for a white family in Gardiner/ She was the first African-American, man or woman known to have purchased land in New Paltz. “We found a deed that shows Jane Wynkoop having purchased a quarter-acre in 1840 at 66 Church Street,” said Johnson.
Originally, Jane Wynkoop had a small house built on that property, but later her sons, Jacob and John, moved that house to 11 Mulberry Street so that they could build a larger home at 66 Church Street for the family. Portions of Jane’s original home are still preserved inside the since-renovated and enlarged 11 Mulberry Street home.
According to Bloodgood, there appear to be at least two homes (43 and 44 Church Street) that Jacob and his brother John built for investment purposes, to help them live off in their older years. Several of his homes were built for African-American women – including the circa-1885 house at 5 Broadhead, which the subject of some recent preservation interests by the Village Board and Historic Preservation Commission. “Jacob was one of the builders of the Ann Oliver home,” said Bloodgood, noting that Oliver had been widowed by her husband Richard, who died of malaria after returning home from fighting for the Union in the Civil War.
Wynkoop, according to Bloodgood, was in charge of building at least five new houses in the 1890s, and possibly more that either no longer exist or were moved. In 1892-93, “Jacob built a dwelling for Margaret Hasbrouck Clow and her siblings, the adult children of John Hasbrouck at 127 Huguenot Street.” John Hasbrouck was the first documented African-American man to have voted in New Paltz in 1849, as appeared on the voting list. In 1897, Wynkoop was in charge of putting up a house for Anna Banks, another African-American woman, at 6 Broadhead Avenue. “A white builder, Daniel Kniffen, raised the walls on the house.” The Banks house, which still stands at 6 Broadhead Avenue, is owned and cared for by HHS.
The house in the greatest jeopardy right now is the Ann Oliver house at 5 Broadhead Avenue. According to New Paltz mayor Tim Rogers, the Village is “in contract with Stewart’s” to acquire the home so that it can be preserved. The Village has put together a Request for Proposals that asks anyone interested in purchasing the home to do so in a historically sensitive manner, to agree to have it landmarked, and to have interpretive signage placed on the property. Special consideration will be given to any proposal that would include an affordable housing component, as well as an eco-friendly building plan, and that ultimately pays due homage to the cultural significance of the home, which is in severe disrepair and purchased next to a current construction zone in the hamlet.
According to Bloodgood, there are many tales within the larger tale of Jacob Wynkoop. “We have an exhibit online that is dedicated to his mother, Jane Deyo Wynkoop, as well as an online exhibit dedicated to what we know about his rich and varied life. But the walking tour will have much more about each family that lived in the homes he either built or helped to build. While we want to highlight many of the successes and achievements of these lives, there were also some unbelievable hardships and sadness.”
The curator said that much of the research materials for the exhibit were provided by the HHHC and “their incredible collection and Carol Johnson’s great organization,” and also that the exhibit and walking tour app owed a great debt to the Historic Preservation Commission, which helped to fund it, and to the actor, Chaundre Hall-Broomfield, who graciously agreed to narrate it.
The anticipated launch date for the walking tour app is October 1. According to Bloodgood, “The walking tour will be available on the Historic Huguenot Street app, available through the Apple App Store and Google Play. A note to app users: If you already have the Historic Huguenot Street Walking Tour App, you must delete it from your device and download the new version.” To access the app, visit www.huguenotstreet.org/app. The online exhibit can be found at www.huguenotstreet.org/exhibits.
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