Path to the American Dream

Path to the American Dream
in the Run-up to Civil War

The Big Role of a Small Street
in Rhinebeck, New York

Hosted by the Rhinebeck Historical Society
and Dutchess County Historical Society

Friday, March 31 at 7:00 pm
at Rhinebeck Town Hall Auditorium or a Zoom Option

Produced by Bill Jeffway & Melodye Moore. Presented by Bill Jeffway with contributions from the Rhinebeck 7th Grade Civics Class of Henry Frischknecht

With financial support from the Village and Town of Rhinebeck which allows us to bring this program to the public at no cost.

For a few years after 1817, the United States enjoyed a period of time they called the Era of Good Feelings, given the lack of national rancor. And yet in not much more than a generation, two percent of the US population was dead from Civil War, the equivalent of 7 million people today.

What happened? It depends on who you ask. And that is the point.

Many millions of voices were not being heard, such as those of enslaved men, women and children, or Indigenous Peoples being forced from their land, or even poor White Protestant working class who called themselves “landless slaves.”

Those voices started to be heard, as well as those of new Irish Catholic immigrants.

The end of slavery meant the addition of over four million American citizens who were guaranteed equal protection under the law. The sheer scale of millions of Irish Catholic immigrants, who differed from their predecessor Irish immigrants in their poverty and faith led from Rome, not London, could not be ignored. Likewise, the growing chorus of voices from the millions of White Protestant working class could not be ignored.

Each of these three groups is represented on the one-thousand-foot stretch of road that is Oak Street. The actions of those who owned property there, demonstrate how central property ownership was to securing claims of equality, liberty, and justice. By adding an adjacent one-thousand feet of West Market Street, we gain the benchmark of the White Protestant Establishment class; although two distinct types. Ambrose Wager, who built his very vertical Second Empire style home, was born into relative wealth and family prominence in Columbia County. Nathan Darling, who built the elegant and classic Hudson River Style Bracketed home was born into abject poverty, and consciously worked to ascend the ladder of financial success and political and social status.

The high state of preservation of existing homes on both streets vividly brings to life what life was like during this historic period of transition in our country. Contributions from the Rhinebeck 7th Grade Civics Class of Mr. Frischknecht allow us to hear and see what current residents think about the historic street they call home.

Bill Jeffway is the Executive Director of the Dutchess County Historical Society (DCHS). He serves on the research committee of Celebrating the African Spirit, and publishes independently through HistorySpeaks, which he founded and leads. Melodye Moore is the Chair of Collections at DCHS, a DCHS Board member, and frequent contributor and publisher of DCHS programs.