Why Local History is Important


“The Architect and the Artist: FDR, Olin Dows, and the New Deal Post Office Program” (published in the New York History Review, 2013 Annual Issue)

by Jim Blackburn

FDR would be involved in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909, serving as one of the 805 committee members of what could be described as a collection of New York state gentry. New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes would say at a speech in Catskill that the heart of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration was that –

the leading events in our history should be better known; the struggles of the early days better appreciated; and that we may be equipped to meet the exigencies of the present and to solve the problems of the future.

Hughes language was very much in keeping with the New Deal’s philosophical approach to the post office program over thirty years later. It could be interpreted that FDR’s federal policy during the New Deal could have been an extension of what he was exposed to on a local and state level.


Dutch was the predominate language of the Hudson Valley well into the nineteenth century, as the eighth president of the United States Martin Van Buren (1782 – 1862), who was a Hudson Valley native, spoke fluent Dutch and English as a second uncomfortable language. It took generations not years for many to assimilate in America yet history, and local history in particular, was seen as a social cohesive in both the Hudson-Fulton Celebration and the New Deal Treasury programs. Historian Roger Panetta states that the Hudson-Fulton Celebration:

was a great embrace of diversity of class and ethnicity, which he [Governor Hughes] hoped would be deepened. He believed it would reconnect citizens with neglected local history and bind diverse Americans to place and country.