Austerlitz Talks

Austerlitz Schoolhouse 1925

The Austerlitz Historical Society is pleased to offer an annual series of free “talks” and classes at Old Austerlitz. Talks include a wide variety of fascinating topics, from local and regional historical topics to art, craft and architecture.

Schedule of Talks 2021


Conrad Vispo

Students of the Weather: The 19th century New York Network that Gave Birth to the National Weather Service

Conrad Vispo, from the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program, will discuss the 19th century New York Weather Network on Sunday, October 3, 2021 at 2 pm in the Morey-Devereaux Barn at Old Austerlitz. All are welcome and admission is free.

Then as now, the weather was a crucial ingredient of farming – knowing what crops should be planted when in a given year, when to expect rain, and when to prepare for a storm were all important, if largely unknown factors influencing 18th and 19th century agriculture. When agriculture was the mainstay of the State’s economy, studying the weather was a central pursuit. Key to developing that understanding was having a network of observers across the state who could diligently report the weather in a standardized way. What better set of observers than the scholarly folks who ran the many academies across the State? Recognizing this potential, the Regents sent basic meteorological instruments and instructions to the academies they supervised, and a precursor of the National Weather Service was born. Aside from recording weather statistics, academies were also asked to note down important seasonal events, such as the flowering times of various plants, the appearance of certain animals (including Passenger Pigeons!), and seasonal agricultural milestones such as the harvesting of hay – data which, nearly 200 years after the start of the network, allow us to mark the ecological effects of a changing climate. This talk will survey the history of the network, its relevance to understanding today’s climate, and some of the data collected by Columbia County’s own participants.

Conrad Vispo (pictured above in typical field garb), PhD Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin; MS Wildlife Ecology, Indiana State University; BS Wildlife Ecology, Cornell. Before returning to Columbia County, where he grew up, Conrad conducted ecological research on a variety of organisms, including mammals, birds and fish in a variety of places, including the woods of northern Wisconsin and tropical Venezuela.  Conrad’s recent focus is on agroecology – what habitats can farmland provide for native species and, in turn, what can those native species provide to farming? Conrad’s passion is understanding historical and modern patterns of animal (including human) ecology on the land.

JULY 2021

A Hidden History of Columbia County

Local history author, Allison Guertin Marchese, will reveal some little-known stories of Columbia County and Hudson Valley history on Sunday, July 25 at 2 pm in the Morey-Devereaux Barn at Old Austerlitz. Allison is the author of two books, The Hidden History of Columbia County, NY (Arcadia/History Press 2014), and Hudson Valley Curiosities (Arcadia/History Press 2017). The talk is free and all are welcome.

Among the intriguing subjects of Ms. Marchese’s talk are the sulphur springs of the county and the spiritualist movement that swept through the City of Hudson taking in its wake a prominent lawyer and judge. She will also expose a little-known fact about Eleanor Roosevelt and the secret behind a special revolver Mrs. Roosevelt received as a gift from her bodyguard. Then there is the story of the hamlet of Neversink which was submerged under water to form a reservoir for New York City. Allison will also provide a sneak preview of her forthcoming book Lost Columbia County to be published in the summer of 2022 by Arcadia/History Press.

Allison Marchese is a graduate of Fordham University with a degree in communications and creative writing. She spent much of her professional career in public relations and fundraising for non-profits. In her work as a writer, Allison has created plays and written short fiction, feature articles, and essays on the people, places and events in her adopted home of Columbia County, NY where she has lived for 30 years. She and her husband live in a former 1740s roadhouse/stagecoach stop in Malden Bridge, NY.

Past talks:

APRIL 2021

The Hidden Secrets of Your House and Buildings: English or Dutch?

Jack Sobon

The Austerlitz Historical Society is proud to host Jack Sobon, an architect and master craftsman, who will deliver three talks on the history and development of timber framing in New York and New England.

The series will be of especial interest to owners of historic houses built before the late 1800s and will examine the two predominant techniques used to erect houses and buildings at the time: English and Dutch. The choice of technique can reveal much about the ethnicity of the builder and the house’s original owner.

Talks are free of charge and will be presented via Zoom (see schedule below). Each of the three talks requires a separate registration. Registration is simple, you will be asked for your name and email address only and will then be sent an email with the link to the talk.

Hand Hewn, The Traditions, Tools, and Enduring Beauty of Timber Framing. Wednesday, April 14th, 7-8 pm (8-8:30 pm questions) An examination of the history of this enduring craft, the beauty and proportion of preindustrial craftsmanship, the appeal of vernacular architecture, and the relevance of timber framing today. Registration Closed

New Netherlands Timber Joinery, A Carpenter’s View. Wednesday, April 21st, 7-8 pm (8-8:30 pm questions). An exploration of the timber joinery unique to areas settled by the Dutch in New York as well as culturally-transitional areas such as eastern Columbia County and western Massachusetts. Due to the abundance of timber found in these areas, Dutch carpentry reached its zenith by the early 19th century.

The English Barn. Wednesday, April 28th, 7-8 pm (8-8:30 pm questions). A close look at the barns that predominated in much of the English-speaking Northeastern U.S. (including the Morey-Devereaux barn located at Old Austerlitz). The barn’s function, layout, history and the tools, carpentry, and measurement systems (scribe and square rules) used will be examined.

Jack Sobon is one of the leading experts on traditional timber framing in the United States. Sobon has published four books (among them: Historic American Timber Joinery, A Graphic Guide and Hand Hewn: The Traditions Tools, and Enduring Beauty of Timber Framing) and numerous articles on the subject and has lectured extensively.

A founding director of the Timber Framer’s Guild of North America and the Traditional Timber Frame Research and Advisory Group, Sobon has devoted his 41-year career to understanding the craft of timber framing. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Sobon teaches and consults internationally on traditional building structures and timber-framing techniques. He is currently restoring a Dutch house recently discovered in Hillsdale, NY.

MAY 2021

Discovering the History of Your House

On May 26 the Austerlitz Historical Society will present a Zoom program on how to research the history of your house property. The speaker, Austerlitz Town Historian Tom Moreland, will demonstrate how to use the deed and mortgage records in the County Clerk’s office, and other materials to trace the ownership of your property back as early as records exist.

The program, which is free of charge to the public, will be given via Zoom on Wednesday, May 26, at 7 pm. Registration Closed.

Tom Moreland is the author of The Old Houses of Austerlitz, The history and early architecture of a rural New York town, published by the Society in 2018. Based on Moreland’s research over some six years, the book details the history of each of the 168 existing buildings in Austerlitz — 158 of them houses — which appeared on the 1888 town atlas. It is Moreland’s practical experience in compiling those histories that forms the basis for his talk

New to Zoom?

Anyone can join a Zoom meeting, even if you do not have a Zoom account. You can join the meeting via your web browser or by downloading the app (the download is quick and easy and free) We suggest that you download the app, it will make joining future Zoom meetings easier.

Step 1: Open your browser and log into your email account.

Step 2: Find and open the email we sent to you that contains the talk link.

Step 3: Click on the invite link and Zoom will redirect you to a webpage. This webpage will ask you to download the Zoom app on your device whether you are using a desktop or a mobile device.

Step 4: Once the application is downloaded on your desktop or device, install and open it. Zoom should automatically open the meeting of concern. If it does not open, head back over to your email and click on the invite link again. You will now see a prompt to open the link in the Zoom app.

Step 5: Grant the necessary permissions (which will appear in pop-up boxes) to the Zoom app to use your camera and microphone in order to get started and join the meeting. (If you decide that you do not want to be seen during the meeting, simply click on the video button on the lower left bottom of your screen – a slanted red line will appear on the video button indicating that your video has been muted and only your name will appear. You can also mute your microphone (next to video button) in the same manner. You can reverse the process by clicking on the button again.)