Perched on a small hill on South Broadway in the shadow of an unexpected benefactor is another historical Red Hook landmark patiently waiting for the well-deserved renovation that will return it to active use by the community.
The lovely two-story Italianate structure known as St. Margaret’s Home opened in the 1850s as St. Margaret’s Orphan Asylum, a result of Margaret Armstrong Astor’s dedication to the social reforms of the day. Daughter of Alida Livingston and General John Armstrong and wife of William Astor, a son of John Jacob Astor, Margaret had an idea and the resources to offer a home to young girls who were either homeless or from families too poor to provide for them, and train them in the “domestic arts” until they were 16.
After her death in 1872, Margaret’s descendants kept St. Margaret’s operating until the 1930s, after which the building was used as a welfare home, a private residence, and finally a transitional living center, which was closed in the 1990s.
The site became the property of the Hannaford supermarket chain in 1998, and in 2006, the company donated approximately two acres of land and the building to the Town of Red Hook. Today, St. Margaret’s Home is listed on both the state and the national registers of historic places.
Since 2009, members of the St. Margaret’s Committee, working in conjunction with the Red Hook Town Board, have been meeting monthly in an effort to complete the building’s renovation by conceptualizing St. Margaret’s place in the community, publicizing its importance, and – of course – fundraising.
In addition to brush clearing and tree planting, the renovations so far include the porch, installation of lightning rods, some painting and interior structural refortification, and roof repair.
Because the membership does not benefit from strength in numbers, the persistence of a few has helped raise some of the funds while they apply for grants to get the work done, seek out individual and business donations, and offer memberships. Tables also regularly appear at such local events as Arbor Day and Hardscrabble Day, because raising awareness of this treasured piece of local history is as important as raising money.
Paul Fredricks, who chairs the committee, said, “Many people wanted to tear the building down, but a committed group of people wanted to save it and use it for community purposes. Thankfully, Hannaford bought the property and was in agreement with our goals.”
The goals are many but will not be defined clearly until the committee gets feedback from the community. In an effort to make the best decisions they can, they will conduct a telephone survey in spring or early summer to ask 2,000 Red Hook residents for their input and ideas.
Rosemarie Zengen, the committee secretary, explained, “We are community-minded enough to know that a telephone survey is significant because we need to know what Red Hook residents want to see at St. Margaret’s. With County Executive Marc Molinaro’s assistance and Dr. James Ross as Town Board liaison, we know our survey will be honest, informative, brief, and not at all misleading.”
The committee also hopes that, by asking for community input, more residents may want to get involved or be willing to invest as a student, senior, friend, benefactor, or patron and receive a membership card.
Molinaro told the Observer, “I have lived in this area — now in Red Hook and previously in Tivoli – since 1988, and I feel St. Margaret’s is a valuable historic asset. Its adaptive re-use is important, and the committee and the town are working well together to determine its best use for the future. I look forward to assisting Paul Fredricks and the committee to solicit public opinion via the upcoming telephone survey.”
One unusual donation to the restoration of St. Margaret’s is the offer of a free “cleansing” of the building by the Poughkeepsie Paranormal Investigators, an organization that uses a technical, science-based ethic to research and explore sites where “unusual” occurrences may have been recorded. The home at one point housed convicted criminals.
Applications for membership to St. Margaret’s Home are available at www.redhook.org/stmargarets.