Legislator Kelsey works to give Dutchess County its due
HARLEM VALLEY — The history of Dutchess County will soon be formally reorganized by the county Legislature.Michael Kelsey is the county legislator for District 25, which includes the towns of Amenia, Washington, Stanford and Pleasant Valley, as well as the village of Millbrook. He recently introduced a resolution passed by the Legislature declaring the 10 days between Oct. 23 and Nov. 1 as Dutchess County Heritage Days and announcing the county’s intention to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Oct. 23, 1713, decision to elect the county’s first officers.A little history lesson: Dutchess County was formed as one of New York’s 12 original counties in 1683, but it wasn’t until 1713 that the state agreed county population had grown to the point that it was necessary to hold elections for the positions of supervisor, treasurer and a variety of assessors and collectors. However, it wasn’t until 1720, after the county was split into three wards, that the first elections were held.The county celebrated the 300th anniversary of its designation as Dutchess County in 1983, but Kelsey said he felt the Oct. 23, 1713, date was important on its own, signifying the establishment of basic democratic principals in the county.Kelsey’s resolution affords the chairman of the Legislature, Robert Rolison, the authority to appoint an ad-hoc committee to plan the celebration. The committee would be comprised of the Dutchess County historian (if one is appointed; the position is currently empty), local town historians and “a fair representation of interested citizens” from around the county.“I was inspired by the opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson,” Kelsey said in an interview. “All of the towns came together for that, which doesn’t happen often. Individual towns have events to celebrate their history, like Stanford’s History Day, but it seemed like we as a county really didn’t do that.”In addition to the one-time celebration that would occur in 2013, Kelsey’s resolution goes a step further in an effort to bring more awareness to Duchess County’s history.“We have so much history here, but a lot of time it just passes us by,” he said. The resolution states that the week in October “each year shall be forever known as ‘Dutchess County Heritage Days’ with the hopeful expectation that schools, historians and community groups will actively promote and encourage appreciation for the many aspects of Dutchess County’s past.”At the April 14 Amenia Town Board meeting, Kelsey pointed out that not many people are aware that Dutchess County produced a president (Franklin Roosevelt) and that local businesses have played important roles on a national level: Cough drops were made popular by the Smith brothers, based out of Poughkeepsie, and during the Civil War the Borden Milk Factory in Wassaic was a primary producer of condensed milk for the Union Army. Gail Borden was the product’s inventor.Kelsey, who teaches philosophy at Marist College, said he has been interested in the county’s history since high school and actually wrote his history thesis in college on the role of the Hudson River in the country’s military history. An avid hiker, he also guides tours of the Hudson Highlands through the Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), highlighting the history of the highlands as they relate to the American Revolutionary War.“The history we have around here is fascinating,” he said.The county Legislature voted yes in all but three instances to Kelsey’s resolution. Kelsey said the three who voted it down had concerns relating to the fact that the county historian’s position is currently vacant. More than half of the Legislature signed on as sponsors, he added.The committee, when it is filled, will begin preparations for the 300th anniversary. Kelsey said anyone looking to join the committee can send a letter of interest to Robert Rolison, in care of Dutchess County Legislature, 22 Market St., Poughkeepsie, NY, 12601.