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Austerlitz To Celebrate Bicentennial This Weekend

Old Methodist Church, New Austerlitz Town Hall
WikiMedia Commons

A Columbia County town is celebrating its bicentennial this weekend.

Established in 1818, the town of Austerlitz, which includes the hamlet of Spencertown, will be celebrating its 200th birthday with a gala weekend.  Events include a community picnic, live music, an antique car show and tours of historic houses.

Town Bicentennial Chair Jeremy Wrightsman.

“This town has a lot of what’s called newcomers or second-home owners and then it has also a lot of people who have been here for generations and they all worked together on this project,” says Wrightsman.

The celebration begins with the unveiling of the new town hall in the community of roughly 1,600. Austerlitz Town Supervisor Rob Lagonia says although the building is not complete, he looks forward to the new space.

“We added an addition on it.  We ended up taking the foundation out from under it, raising the building putting a brand new foundation under it.  We’ve restored everything that was of historical value.  All new office space in the lower level – town clerk’s office, planning board office, supervisor’s office, there’s a common area downstairs for meetings, and then the upstairs room encompasses what will be the meeting room, the court offices,” says Lagonia.

Lagonia largely credits the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation for funding the renovation project.

Town Historian Tom Moreland, author of “The Old Houses of Austerlitz,” has planned an illustrated talk on Saturday at 4 p.m.

“The history of this area starting from 1756, when the Mohegan Indians sold land to 75 settlers from Connecticut, and it will carry right through the history to present day. I say it’s like 256 years in 45 minutes, so I have about 10.3 seconds per year the way I figure,” says Moreland.

The hamlets of Austerlitz and Specencertown are also celebrating their listing on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Austerlitz Historical Society worked with the Preservation League of New York State to fund the endeavor. Erin Tobin is the League’s Vice President for Policy and Preservation.

“Really [it’s] about celebrating the historic significance of the place, but it also can open up some funding sources.  There’s several different grant programs that are available for buildings that are listed in a national registered historical district.  Programs like out of New York City, the Sacred Sites Program for Historic Churches, I believe one of the churches in Spencertown is taking advantage of this grant program,” says Tobin.

The weekend also features the introduction of five new historical markers celebrating sites throughout the town, funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.  Again, Moreland.

“The house of Dr. Mary Clark who was a pioneering lady physician. David Pratt’s house, he was a Revolutionary War veteran and an important civic leader.  The corner store on Route 203 and Elm Street – that was a store back to at least 1800, probably a little earlier," says Moreland.

The markers also recognize the Harvey Hotel/Columbia Inn and a vacant site where the house of Peter Wheeler, an escaped slave who settled in Spencertown around 1825, once stood. All of the sites and more will be open for tours throughout the weekend.

The celebration is set to kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday.

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