A direct descendant of French Huguenots who settled New Paltz in 1678, Kenneth E. Hasbrouck Sr. had an important influence on Ulster County local history. He served as County Historian, Town of Gardiner Historian and was a founder and president of the Huguenot Historical Society (HHS).
In 1990, Gardiner Town Historian Dr. Carleton Mabee (1914-2014) interviewed Ken Hasbrouck, known by some as “Mr. Huguenot.” During the interview, Hasbrouck discussed his early life and how he came to influence so much of New Paltz local history.
He was born in Guilford (a Town of Gardiner hamlet) in 1916. His parents were Josiah Lefevre Hasbrouck of Guilford (1889-1950) and Agnes Riley, formerly of Brooklyn (1883-1935). The family farm, called Hillsdale, encompassed some 150 acres on Guilford Schoolhouse Road at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains.
Hasbrouck recalled the local huckleberry pickers who periodically set fire to portions of the mountains to provide better conditions for the berry crop. These fires sometimes grew large and difficult to control and more than once came “within a hundred feet of the pig pens and chicken houses” of the Hasbrouck family farm.
He also recalled the stills built during Prohibition, which were sometimes raided by police. He remembered a man named Peter VanLeuven who produced illegal corn and apple liquor near the back of the farm property where there was a stream. Hasbrouck said VanLeuven’s still once exploded, starting a fire that nearly took his life.
In 1927, Ken Hasbrouck’s family left their farm. Molly, a sorrel horse, needed to be left behind. Sixty-three years later, Ken still remembered the sadness over leaving the favorite horse behind. (Molly eventually met her end when a hunter mistook her for a deer.) The reasons they sold the farm was many. Hasbrouck said they sold farm because it was too big for their family, “quite isolated,” and his mother was then in failing health. Before leaving the farm, his mother needed an operation and sought out the services of Dr. James E. Sadlier’s Sanitarium in Poughkeepsie. Young Ken lived with his aunt Eugenias for a time while his mother recovered.
The family relocated to the New Paltz-Newburgh Road (Route 32) in Tuthilltown around October 1927. Ken’s father worked as farm laborer at a local orchard and on the Hoyt farm, once owned by John G. Borden of Borden Milk fame. Within a few years his parents built a new house on Route 208, and a few years later his mother died following her lengthy illness.
Ken graduated from “the Normal School” in 1938 and took a job as a public-school teacher until the Second World War. Drafted into the Army in December, 1942, he was assigned to the headquarters unit of the Fourth Antiaircraft Command in San Francisco, and worked with the Brigade’s Surgeon. (The 4th AA Command manned the antiaircraft guns and facilities at Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.)
When he returned home, Ken Hasbrouck looked on with concern as many of the field stone homes that his ancestors built were in danger of being torn down for more modern homes. Many of the early homes, with the exception of the Jean Hasbrouck house, were in private hands. The Jean Hasbrouck House had been purchased in the late 19th century and dubbed Memorial House. In the 1950s it was in debt and its future uncertain.
Ken Hasbrouck worked to convince the descendants of the original houses of the Huguenot settlers to form family organizations, which he envisioned purchasing and protecting the homes under the umbrella of the Huguenot Historical Society. He died in 1996, leaving an important legacy that is now carried on by Historic Huguenot Street.
Photos, from above: postcard of Ken Hasbrouck’s ancestral home on HHS in New Paltz; and the house where Ken lived for a good part of his life until his death.