Red Hook’s bicentennial celebrations last year spurred the Egbert Benson Historical Society and The Friends of Elmendorph to rethink their separate ways.
The organizations are planning to consolidate by the end of this year and become a single society called Historic Red Hook.
“It became very clear during the course of the planning for the bicentennial that these two organizations would be more efficient if they were working together,” Claudine Klose, president of the historical society, told The Observer. “It just didn’t make sense for these two organizations to be competing for resources and volunteers.”
The Friends of Elmendorph was created in 1975 to preserve the Elmendorph Inn, which was built in the 1760s as a stage stop from New York City to Albany. By the 1970s, however, the building was in such disrepair that it ” was slated for demolition to build a parking lot,” according to Beth Jones, president of the group.
The Friends purchased the site in 1977. “It didn’t look so pretty then,” Jones told The Observer, “but still, it is a well-constructed building. It’s had quite a history.”
The Egbert Benson Historical Society of Red Hook was created later in 1978 and named after a prominent New York statesmen who is considered to be one of the most influential people associated with Red Hook’s history. Its mission is to preserve and disseminate all things historic in the town of Red Hook.
Robert McKeon, who has served on the board of The Friends of Elmendorph since 2012, said that the idea of consolidation may have started “way back in the 1980’s, when it was thought The Friends of the Elmendorph would someday complete their primary mission of preserving and restoring the Inn and the two organizations would someday merge.”
According to Jones, several long-time members of both organizations have said that the two groups were created because the historical society, although supportive of The Friends of Elmendorph, did not want to own or preserve property within their organization.
In recent years, as preservation work on the Inn has been completed, The Friends has encouraged use of the building for private events and meeting space for local non-profits.
“Which is great because that is what it was originally, it was a meeting place,” Klose said, adding that the town board met there starting in 1813, the first kindergarten was held there around 1887 and the first Dutchess County Fair (then Columbia-Dutchess Agricultural Fair) took place there in 1817. The historical society also has its archives on the second floor.
“Our efforts have been to get the building secure, get the work done that needed to be done, and to get the building open to the community,” Jones said. “Being a business person, I was really committed to getting a budget, figuring out how we were going to raise money and then raising money.”
During her six-year tenure as president, the group has created a budget, gift policies, and investment policy statements and also standardized its facility-use policy. In 2006, a barn was built on the property to provide rental income to sustain the inn’s maintenance. WKZE radio station is the current tenant.
For the bicentennial celebration in 2012, a committee formed by the Historical Society planned 20 events within five months, raised $60,000 and hosted about 7,000 attendees. After this success, the two groups began to talk formally about consolidating.
“We really did raise awareness [about our work], but even so, we found that people were confused about what was Friends of Elmendorph and what was the Historical Society,” Klose said.
Avoiding that confusion was one of many reasons to consolidate, according to Jones and Klose. Other reasons included streamlining operations and saving on overhead.
“The new organization that we’re creating will really expand our reach,” Klose said.
When the two groups sat down to hash out combining forces, Jones says that neither group knew “which way it would go,” whether the historical society would absorb the Friends or vice versa. Legal counsel advised them that keeping the historical society’s charter would allow operations to continue most smoothly since the original historical society charter was written to allow the society to “both advocate for and maintain historic properties.”
Consolidation will allow the new group to maintain the historical society’s current 501(c)(3) status and tax ID number, while merging the groups’ assets.
“This is what makes the most sense with the least amount of work. And cost,” Jones said.
Both groups have presented the plan to their memberships and received unanimous endorsement of it. A committee of five people, two from each group and the town historian Wint Aldrich, has been working on the consolidation plan, which requires a formal application to the state and paperwork for the IRS..
They hope to start 2014 with their new organization, Historic Red Hook.
“It’s very descriptive,” Klose said, “more so than either of the original names.”
“It’s fun to create a new organization,” Klose added. Jones agreed, saying, “We’re building on the foundation of the things we did. We have a lot of ideas. We’re just really excited.”
“We wouldn’t have this opportunity if it weren’t for the foresight of all those individuals who came together decades ago to save and restore the Inn and to promote the heritage of this wonderful community,” McKeon said.