More than a dozen historic sites participated in the 2015 Taste of History, a Columbus Day Weekend “food history” trail organized by the Mid-Hudson Historic Destinations. The main idea, which was to develop an event that incorporated a food experience, was loose and welcomed at the Crawford House. Newburgh was once a thriving nineteenth-century port along the Hudson River and freight forwarders like the original owner of the historic house, Captain David Crawford, found success at building a business and a small fortune.
Freight forwarders shipped a variety of goods to the New York City markets, which made their way from the west along the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike.
Author J. Stephen Casscles gave a talk exploring the variety of grapes and hybridizers that lived in and around Newburgh in the nineteenth-century. His new book, “Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada,” is described as a field reference guide that explores 175 varieties of grapes. It also explores a history that includes growers, grape growing and wine making in the Hudson Valley.
What was interesting about his talk and the wine tasting that took place after, was how Casscles referred to his wines. In his book, Casscles examines grapes from the perspectives of both history and science. He utilizes maps, charts, and icons to illustrate his points. During the talk, however, Casscles added the reference of historic neighborhoods where these hybridizers once lived or cultivated grapes.
According to Casscles, his favorite was James H. Ricketts who was a bookbinder and grape culturalist and lived on City Terrace, near Third Street. Ricketts was born in Middlesex County, Massachusetts in 1830 and as a young boy he learned the trade of bookbinding. In 1857, Ricketts established his bookbinding business in Newburgh, eventually taking on commissions to include Washington’s Headquarters and the Military Academy at West Point. In the 1860s, Ricketts became interested and devoted as much time as he could spare to raising fruit. Experimenting in his Newburgh vineyards, he introduced more than seventy new grape varieties.
Following the talk, visitors found an opportunity to taste wines made from some of the Newburgh grapes varieties mentioned in Casscles’s talk. A crowd favorite was a red wine made from the Bacchus grape, which could once be found on the Ricketts vineyard. According to Casscles’s book, Bacchus grapes is “one of the few important red wine grapes developed in the Hudson Valley in the third quarter of the nineteenth-century.”
Although Ricketts grape varieties received positive reviews on looks and size, growers maintained that his selections did not grow well due to their susceptibility to fungus and “winter injury.” However, on his own vineyards, Casscles has been growing the Ricketts grape varieties of Bacchus, Downing, Empire State, and Jefferson, reporting in his book that they “are much more favorable.”
Judging from the comments expressed during the event, many of our visitors would agree with Casscles’s “favorable” observations.
The Crawford House, a historic house museum and Society’s headquarters, located at 189 Montgomery Street within the City of Newburgh’s Historic District is open for tours on Sundays between 1:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. or by appointment. View the “Growing Up In Newburgh” exhibit, a community exhibit featuring the photographs and memories of Newburgh from the 19th century through the 20th century. For more information about admission, tours, or programming please call (845) 561-2585.