An hour and a half north of Manhattan, in the shadows of the Shawangunk mountains, lies what is considered America's oldest continuously inhabited street. It's called Huguenot Street, now designated a National Historic Landmark District. In 1678, a group of 12 French-speaking Huguenot families established a settlement in a wooded area along Wallkill River in the Hudson Valley after buying 39,000 acres of land from native Esophus Indians. This group of refugees from what is today's Northern France/Southern Belgium came to the New World in the hope of practicing their Protestant beliefs without fear of persecution. They called their new settlement die Pfalz (now New Paltz) after the region along the Rhine River in Germany where they first took refuge before crossing the Atlantic.
The Huguenot's story is certainly one of the oldest immigrant odysseys that I know. Theirs is a story about seeking freedom. To start living free in what is at the time a remote location in the East Coast must have entailed a lot of sacrifices for the men, women and children who comprised this group. They erected temporary wooden homes until they started building one-room stone houses in the early 1700s reflecting Dutch architecture and furnishings. Of the original stone structures, only seven houses stand to this day. Descendants continued to live in these houses for many more years, incorporating changes in them as their families grew. Thus, what we see today are houses showcasing a time period from 17th to early 20th century.
As we took a stroll along this now asphalted street, we can only imagine the richness of the history that lies here. Certain areas of the neighborhood are roped-off for more archaeological diggings. Underneath these manicured lawns are the remains of Indian communities that lived long before the Huguenots arrived. Which, come to think of it, even makes Huguenot Street truly ancient and historic than it already is.
Huguenot Street in New Paltz can be reached from Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal via daily bus service with Trailways New York. Roundtrip fare is currently $36.50. Guided tours from the Dubois Fort Visitor Center start at $9 for an hour per adult.