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The moving nature of New Paltz, explained

These houses on South Chestnut arrived at their present location in 1963 from Excelsior Avenue.
These houses on South Chestnut arrived at their present location in 1963 from Excelsior Avenue.
Terence P Ward

New Paltz has long been a community known for its transient populations: college students, migrant farm workers, rock climbers, artists in residence, and traveling musicians all lend to the local color on a seasonal basis. A population which has shown a much greater mobility than one might expect, given its reputation for stability, is that of the houses themselves.

Mr. Joshua Simons, Research Associate at the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach on the State University campus, has been coordinating an historic mapping project for the area, and says that houses have been changing addresses for a hundred years or more. "Good Lord," he remarked, "the houses move around here so much!"

Mr. Simons has a database to affirm the reason for his excitement, and certainly the moving of houses is more common than reason would suggest. Houses have been moved for a variety of reasons and a great assortment of distances, from several blocks (in the case of some South Chestnut homes built where the campus now stands) to as little as a few paces from the original location. That last, 33 North Chestnut, was moved some 20 feet west and 18 to the south in 1892 for reasons unknown, but it was by no means the earliest example. 149 Plains Road was moved back on its own property in 1819, and likely there are other examples still further back in the historical records.

Although the motivations for some house moves are lost to antiquity, others are quite plain. Three particularly large public works projects and any number of smaller developments in New Paltz led to some relocations. Generally a homeowner, after selling or being given cash on the nail by reason of eminent domain, had from time to time the option to buy more land and consider the cost of relocating the homestead there (land being more plentiful earlier in New Paltz' history). The cost of moving a house rises quickly as distance increases, so some homes were left by their owners to be demolished. "You can't Fed Ex 'em," Mr. Simons succinctly remarked.

The State acquired properties in abundance for three projects in particular, according the Mr. Simons, those being the construction of the aqueduct supplying water to the City of New York (and to the Village and parts of the surrounding town for much of the time since) in the latter days of the nineteenth century, the building of the Thruway in the middle of the twentieth, and the subsequent expansion of the Normal School into a proper college.  That most recent project resulted in the loss of quite a number of streets from the community in their entirety.

Mr. Simons explained to the very curious New Paltz Examiner that the houses were moved upon rollers of some sort, even stretching back through the centuries.

The surprisingly mobile residences, while interesting, have posed some problems for the mapping project. Most of the houses thus relocated have recorded in the official records a construction date which is truthfully only the date of the building's arrival at its new home; this makes the determination of historic significance difficult in some cases.


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