There's a reason that America was once called 'the new world.' The colonial history of the U.S. doesn't hold a candle to the centuries upon centuries of history some countries have. Regardless, the earliest days of America still hold their own in regard to today's history textbooks, especially when it comes to significant locations.

Throughout places such as Boston, the sheer number of historic Revolutionary War sites is overwhelming. New England, as a whole, is practically one history region in itself. And this is all without factoring in the Southeastern Coast and the expansion to the West, both of which left their own marks on the country's timeline.

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However, there's one location, in particular, that's a must for early American history buffs. In New Paltz, New York, one can find the oldest continuously inhabited street in the country - and it's worth visiting.

The History Of Huguenot Street

Considering how much America, as a whole, has changed over the last 300 or so years, it's amazing that one of its oldest streets still exists. Luckily, Huguenot Street is part of a historic settlement that has been protected since 1964. This is when the land itself became a National Historic Landmark and today, in its place, exists a perfect reconstruction of 17th-century life in America. In order to appreciate the street and reconstructed village itself, though, it's important to understand how it came to be.

As some astute history buffs may have guessed already, the street's name - Huguenot - refers to that of the group of French protestors who fled 17th century France. They followed John Calvin and came to America to escape religious persecution, where they settled in the town known as New Paltz, today. Back then, however, it was known as die Pfalz. The area was known as a refuge for Protestants, which is how this region of upstate New York came to be a well-known Dutch colony. As the colony grew, another 40,000 acres of land was purchased from the native Esopus Munsee tribe, just south of their original settlement location. This is what eventually became modern-day New Paltz, named after Paltz, Germany, a known place of Protestant refuge.

The Preservation Of America's Oldest Street

Interestingly enough, the preservation of this land began in 1894. The original settlers maintained control of their settlements by purchasing what was known as the Jean Hasbrouck House, which is what led to the eventual historic reconstruction that exists today. After purchasing this house to display the artifacts that were left from their 17th-century ancestors, more historic homes were purchased and added to the mix. This continued until 1964 when the street - and its homes and service buildings - received national historic recognition. The attempts to secure, display, and preserve their family's histories were successful and today, visitors to Huguenot Street can see it all for themselves.

Historic Huguenot Street consists of many historic sites, including:

  • A circa 1717 reconstructed French Church
  • The original burial ground for the Huguenot Street community
  • A replica of the Esopus Munsee wigwam
  • Seven stone-house museums
  • Replicas of period-accurate 17th-century rooms

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Visiting Historic Huguenot Street

With so many living history museums and historic sites, in general, in the U.S., it's only natural for one to ask, 'why this one?' The answer lies in the determination, hard work, and efforts on the part of the Huguenot Patriotic, Historical, and Monumental Society, which came to fruition more than a century prior. It's one of the rare historic sites where buildings and artifacts were preserved during a time when we would still consider them to be 'historic' today.

Additionally, Historic Huguenot Street honors the land of the Munsee Lenape people, who are the indigenous people of the region. The preserved settlement pays tribute to all who lived on the land, with a plethora of ways that visitors can learn about both the Munsee Lenape people as well as the Huguenots. In the words of Historic Huguenot Street, their mission is to:

"To preserve a unique Hudson Valley Huguenot settlement and engage diverse audiences in the exploration of America’s multicultural past in order to understand the historical forces that have shaped America."

The earliest-known people in New Paltz still continue to have an impact on the country as it stands today, a theory that's proven through various exhibits found at Historic Huguenot Street.

At the time of writing, tours are reopening for May of 2022. While touring 10 acres of historic land, visitors will encounter up to 300 years of history that date all the way back to the fleeing of the Huguenots from France. Even further back, visitors will learn about the pre-colonial history of the land's indigenous people, with tours of reconstructed, period-accurate wigwams.

  • Guided Tour Cost: $12 for general admission, $10 for members, free for children six years and younger

Those interested in taking a tour can also download the walking tour app for additional photos and information about the sites they'll see on the property.

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