Monday, September 27, 2010

Hot or Cold?

As the seasons change, it’s hard to decide whether it's hot or cold. One minute, I have the windows open, the weather being just perfect, another I'm turning on the air conditioning, and even within the same day, I can be switching the heat on. I have the same battles with my husband- I up the temperature, he likes it lower, he's opening the windows to enjoy the breeze, I'm closing them to block out the cold flow. If I can't decide myself, or the two of us can't agree on what's comfortable, how could we expect a couple of apartments to be equally comfortable?

With that in mind, we installed tankless water heaters, which control both the heating of the apartment and the hot water for that individual apartment. Quietside makes on-demand water heaters, which means the hot water is heated as it is needed, and there is no bulky water tank sitting in a far off corner or basement, taking up space you could be using for something else. Another plus with an on-demand system is that you don’t run out of hot water, as opposed to a water tank that holds only so many gallons of water at a time. Ever end up with a cold shower because someone else spent a little too much time in their hot shower? With these heaters, it’s not an issue- hot water can flow all day and night without worry.

Although these turn out to be more energy efficient in the sense that you aren’t paying to keep water hot all the time, whether you use it or not, that wasn't the biggest selling point for us. What we liked the most is that this controls the heat as well. Each unit was set up with one of these boilers, and a thermostat was placed in each apartment. One person could keep their thermostat at a temperature equivalent to those in the tropics, while another could enjoy the brisk winter temperatures if they wanted. Also, by splitting the heating systems by apartment, we could have each apartment responsible for their heating costs. If you drive around the city in the winter, you can always tell who pays for heat and who doesn’t. I’ve seen windows open as far as they can in the dead of winter, so someone somewhere is paying to heat the outdoors. With our set-up, if someone chooses to do so, it’s at their own expense, and you’d be surprised at how much more they are aware of those expenses.

After several years of having these units installed, I’ve found them to be low maintenance, but these units like to be worked. We left one apartment empty for about two years, so the heat was set to a “vacation mode”, which turns off the heat, but triggers a safeguard setting to prevent the pipes from freezing if the outside temperature suddenly drops, and when we went to start it up, it was a little temperamental, but after a few minor adjustments and just letting it run, it works great.

Another drawback is that some of the controls on the thermostat are too advanced for people who are not used to controlling the heat, with different setting for the summer months, options to turn the system off altogether, and economy modes where you can automatically lower the heat at a set time and have it warmer at a later time (for example, when you leave for work, you’d have the temperature lowered slightly, and then have it programmed to raise the temperature around the time you usually come home, this way you aren’t paying to heat an empty place all day). When we get a new tenant we tend to get a call at some point about the heat not working, but that’s easily fixed with the turn of a switch.

Regardless of what each person decides their ideal temperature is, I’m not caught in the middle. I’m still trying to figure out if I want the heat on or off myself…

Friday, September 24, 2010

Touring Hudson Valley Ruins Without Ever Leaving The Newburgh Free Library

Robert J. Yasinsac, a graduate of SUNY-Oswego, is the Site Manager at the Union Church in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., and a Museum Associate at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, NY, both properties of Historic Hudson Valley. He serves as a Trustee on the Board of the Irvington Historical Society.

All from a chair at the Newburgh Free Library, a number of people got to explore "Hudson Valley Ruins". Through both current and vintage pictures, we were taken to places like Wyndclyffe (in Rhinebeck), the Briarcliff Lodge (Briarcliff Manor), West Point Foundry (Cold Spring). We toured brickyards and cement factories, saw long lost pictures of the Edward J. Cornish Estate (Cold Spring). We were provided with examples of possible modern day uses of structures like the Yonkers Power Station (Yonkers) and looks inside Bannerman’s Island Arsenal/Pollepel Island. Of course, Newburgh's very own Dutch Reformed Church and West Shore Railroad Station were part of the evening.


Robert J. Yasinsac, preservationist and co-author (Thomas Rinaldi, the other half of this team, was unable to attend) of  Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape, provided us with a free lecture, answered questions people had, and signed copies of his book. Mr. Yasinsac also authored a book titled "Images of America - Briarcliff Lodge" (Arcadia Publishing), spotlighting what was once considered America's premier resort hotel.


 As a bonus, I had an unplanned meeting with a new Facebook friend and exchanged information with another lady, who I plan to call to find out more about this great city!


Thank you to Chuck Thomas (Outreach Services) of the Newburgh Free Library for being our gracious host.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Color Me Happy Too

My little experiment went a little further than I expected. The next time I was in Newburgh, the girl that was on the stoop asked if I had any more of the engraving kits, which I did, and again, she went right to work. Also, someone I assume is her father says "hello" whenever he's outside and I pull up.

The trio of kids approached me one day, too. The seemed a little apprehensive at first, but they came to ask if I had the photos I had taken that day. Unfortunately, I didn't have them that day, but promised them I'd bring them up on my next visit. The next time I was there, I didn't see them, but someone else told me exactly which apartment to find them in. I went inside, and the older boy opened the door. I gave him the pictures, and also asked him if he wanted something else to do. He said yes, and we went to my car, which always seems to be stocked with something (I refer to as mobile storage; others have referred to it as such things like a garage sale on wheels). I gave him a kit for making multiple key chains out of pony beads, and asked him to share it with the others. I'm curious to see if they completed them or how they turned out, but regardless, I'll be sure to keep my car stocked with various items. Little things seem to go a long way!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Following an Unknown Stream Through Time

The hallway is the part of the building I see the most of, so I wanted to look at something more than just plain walls. Some time ago, I had started picking up old postcards of the area and had them framed in clusters. Every now and then I still look to see if I can find anything different and I just came across one of a place I hadn't heard of before: the Vale of Avoca, Newburgh, N.Y. I bought the postcard, and as soon as I got home, I started looking for where this place was.

The first reference I found dated back to 1883, in a publication named  The Newburgh Centennial.The passage that applied to this picturesque place was an account about an attempt that was made to capture George Washington along "the river to the south for some distance, for right in front of the headquarters the bank was a hundred feet high, and went sheer down to the water. This, with little variation, continued for a mile, or almost down to Lafayette's headquarters. Half way down the Quassaiek creek bursts from a gorge into the Hudson. This chasm ran back into the interior nearly a mile before it sunk away so that it could be spanned by a bridge. As it approached the river the south bank swept off in a wide semi-circle but again crowded against the creek, just before it plunged into the Hudson. The semi circle enclosed a beautiful little valley, known afterward as the "Vale of Avoca.""

In 1891, John J Nutt briefly described the stream in Newburgh; Her Institutions, Industries and Leading Citizens: "Southward from Newburgh extend several other broad highways which split into feeders every few miles. One of these, after passing through a manufacturing district, crosses Quassaick Creek at its mouth. This creek is the southern boundary of the city, and has a dozen mills and factories on its banks from Orange Lake to the river. Near its mouth it flows through a deep valley called the Vale of Avoca. From a small glen a mile west of the river the chasm widens and deepens as you follow the course of the stream. The south bank sweeps off into a semi-circle, but again crowds against the creek just before its union with the Hudson. The banks on either side are over a hundred feet high and precipitous. To one passing the mouth of the stream in a boat the sides of the chasm once presented a gloomy pass, just wide enough for the water. Now railroad tracks run along its sides and cross the creek; but even these changes cannot wholly deface its olden charms."

Any references to this part of the creek seemed to disappear for the next hundred or so years, until George Lankevich explains why, in River of dreams: the Hudson Valley in Historic Postcards. A portion of this 2006 publication tells us how the entire Hudson was in crisis, and uses the Vale of Avoca as an example to demonstrate this."One typical tale of decay of the Quassaick Creek in Newburgh, a stream called the "Vale of Avoca" in the 1830s and so lovely that it drew visitors from abroad to the town. By 1842 the creek also hosted grist and woolen mills, plaster and candle makers, rug and furniture factories, a brickyard, a foundry and a carriage maker; by 1850 it was an open sewer." He then goes on to mention current conservation efforts for the Hudson being undertaken in the 21st Century, although any present day references are in regard to the Quassaick Creek.

In 2007, Marcy Denker (SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY; Faculty of Landscape Architecture) came up with a proposal titled Deep History Wide Connections: Creating a Vision For a Small Urban Park To Spark a Broad New Conception Of a Hudson River Estuary. The general idea was to turn the former industrial site along the Quassaick Creek into a neighborhood park. She also uses the Vale of Avoca as a way to demonstrate "(t)he history of the appreciation and abuse of this part of the waterway creates a key piece in framing the interpretation and reassessment of the proposed park. For example, Irish immigrants called it the Vale of Avoca because it reminded them of a beautiful valley in Ireland. But readers of The Riverkeepers by Robert Kennedy Jr. may recall that as late at the 1980’s the Quassaick was a soup of industrial chemicals so volatile you could set it on fire."

This all being only a small part of the Hudson River Estuary, and the numerous programs relating to it, I'm not sure where this all stands, but I see positive things happening. A couple of examples would be the Volunteer River Herring Monitoring Program, where the Quassaick Creek was one of eight streams that would monitor river herring, which play an important role in the Hudson River ecosystem, and  the Barrier Mitigation in the Hudson River Project, where the Quassaick Creek Dam was one of two dams in focus, and remnants of the dam were to be removed to restore natural riverine function and flow for the benefit of river herring and American eel.

Now this seems a somewhat lengthy way to answer "Where is this place?", but this stream has managed to simultaneously lead me through history, and lead me to positive efforts being undertaken today. I may still not know where the exact location of the stream, or even if it still exists today, but through a simple postcard, I was able to travel back through a beautiful period in time and see how it is all leading up to the great future awaiting our area.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The End Of Summer

I am convinced that as kids we really get to enjoy the summer. As adults we just have glimpses of what it used to be. I hope everyone is enjoying the summer. I find summers are a time where all I want to do is be outside and just soak in the sun, so I've taken a sort of internet break.

As we go into fall, this is an ideal time to get things done outside, without the overbearing sun beating down on you or freezing from the winter chills. Around this time, we were buttoning up the building, protecting it from addition weather damage. The top of the list was putting a top on the place- replacing the non-existent roof. There wasn't a whole lot to work with, so in reality, we were putting an entirely new roof on.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t brave enough to venture up the stairs and wander around before the roofing started, so I have very little recollection and no pictures of the starting point, like what remained of the original roof. Eventually I made it up there, and I’m glad I did. It was one of the greatest feelings being up there, being that much closer to the sky, in the crisp air, looking around with a bird’s eye view of what surrounds. One window even had a view when you stood at just the right angle. Being that I try to make the most of everything, that window was another place where my stubbornness won out. That window opening had to stay, and be used for something more than storage space.

Looking up from the street, I wondered how they’d get all the materials four flights up. My exposure to roofing prior to this was small roof repairs, where all you needed was a few bundles of shingles and a several 2x4s, quantities you could get yourself with a single trip pickup truck or van. Delivery of these roofing materials came along with a boom truck, where pallets could be raised directly to the fourth floor, provided the patches of floor could hold the weight, which it was able to do. One thing that helped is how much more solid structures were built way back when.

The roof itself was a gable style roof (where the side walls come to a triangular point) as opposed to a flat roof often seen on buildings. I think a gable roof adds a little more to the aesthetics of the building, but I find the thought of a flat roof where I could place a rooftop garden and enjoy the feeling of being up there on a regular basis very tempting. Our framework of the roof (the truss) consists of approximately 16 rafters (the beams that actually hold the roof up) and was topped off with asphalt shingles. This type of shingle is relatively common and doesn’t provide too much visual interest to the roof, but the roof line was high enough were the material really wouldn’t be noticed. If the roofing were more visible from a distance, I might have wanted a more original option.

The fingerprints meant someone had to paint again
We played up other aspects of the roof, things you might not even notice, They were visible, or invisible by design, if you ever decided to look up: the overhanging part of the roof. One thing we did was have Yankee gutters installed, rather than the exposed metal gutters you usually see today. Yankee gutters are gutters that are incorporated into the cornice, along the roofline and are not easily visible from the outside.

Choices were limited due to the style of the building (remember, this is in the historic district, and choices have to stay true to the original style of the structure) and the plain fact that there really isn’t a lot you can do to the roofline. The decisions that were to be made came in the form of the paint colors and the design of cornice (the part that sticks out past the walls). It was kept very simple. Everything was painted a white, providing a very clean look, except for the edge of the cornices. The cornice has a simple scalloped edge, and we painted that edge with a burgundy, just to provide some contrast to the white and help highlight the scalloped edge of the cornice.

The transition into the autumn season gave us the motivation to get the roof done, and with the roofing being completed, we were ready to take on colder days.