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Districts define where history lives


ANCRAM—The ability of a town to grow and prosper in the future may rely on its past.

Historic districts have been around for a while, but towns here are now defining and recognizing these places as part of a plan for new economic growth.

According to a historic district is “a specific, definable geographic area with a significant number of historic buildings, features, structures, or objects that are united by historical events or aesthetic associations.”

In and around the Ancram hamlet at the crossroads of State Route 82 and County Route 7, the town has successfully established one historic district, which appears on both the state and national Registers of Historic Places. The town is now preparing to start the process of creating another such district in the Ancramdale hamlet and eventually in Boston Corners.

Since 2010 Hillsdale has had a hamlet historic district, according to Supervisor Peter Cipkowski, who said that state and national historic designations are part of an overall economic growth strategy that has contributed to the hamlet’s continuing resurgence.

Former Ancram Historian Clara Van Tassel told The Columbia Paper this week that the process of establishing the Ancram Hamlet Historic District started three years ago with the town Heritage Resource Committee on which she serves.

Historic Preservation Program Analyst William Krattinger with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s National Register Unit determined the historic district boundaries and assembled applications and Ruth Piwonka, historian and author, conducted a historic survey of properties by taking photographs and documenting architecture.

Property owners were notified, meetings were held to discuss the project and then it was wait and see.

Now, a total 54 properties are in the Ancram Hamlet Historic District, which were listed on the state Register of Historic Places November 18, 2016 and on the National Register of Historic Places January 13, 2017. Prior to that, just St. John’s Lutheran Church and Simons General Store had received historic designations.

Benefits of historic districts are two-fold, said Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin. They “reinforce the historic tradition of the community and also provide for tax credits to property owners for repairs and maintenance. Some could even get state grants without limits on what they can do with the property. It’s all good,” he said.

Formation of historic districts is part of the town’s January 2012 Heritage Resources Plan: A Framework for Town Revitalization, which “provides a framework to promote economic development and town center revitalization by recognizing the Town’s historic hamlets and buildings as unique assets that have value, are attractive for investment and appropriate development, and can contribute to making the town a thriving and sustainable community.”

In Hillsdale, Supervisor Cipkowski said in a phone interview this week, 44 properties along Routes 23, 22 and vicinity were qualified as part of the historic survey, “a significant research endeavor.”

He was serving on the Town Board at the time Historic Hillsdale led the charge for a historic district in the hamlet, where there are diverse styles of late 18th century and 19th century homes, not necessarily the oldest, but different architectural styles and influences and some industry.

Mr. Cipkowski said the historic designations are “absolutely an incentive to buy in the hamlet; a catalyst able to elevate and market the historic value and integrity of the buildings that deserve that designation.”

Historic districts promote economic growth, said the supervisor, and achieving the historic designations are all part of a strategy to help the hamlet thrive.

Owners of historic properties can obtain significant tax credits to improve their homes through the New York State Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program.

Homeowners may qualify for a state historic rehabilitation tax credit equal to 20% of the repair costs if they own and live in the house; the repair costs exceed $5,000 and 5% is spent on exterior work.

The work must be approved by the state Division for Historic Preservation before it begins. For complete tax credit information, applications and assistance visit or call 518 237-8643.

Hillsdale’s hamlet sewer district and sidewalk projects were funded by different sources, said Mr. Cipkowski, but are both part of the network infrastructure that make the whole economic growth plan work.

Research shows that safe well lit businesses and homes along with history and sidewalks have “street calming” affects, said the supervisor. People slow down when passing through towns that have restored historic buildings because they want to see them, “it gives them more reason to slow down and it’s all part of the plan.”

Find out more about the State and National Historic Registers by contacting the Division for Historic Preservation at 518 237-8643 or visiting or see the National Park Service website at

To contact Diane Valden email


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