Denise Doring VanBuren, president of the Beacon Historical Society, recently completed a three-year term as president general of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
For people who are not familiar, what is the DAR?
It’s a service organization founded in 1890 that is comprised of members who have documented their lineage from a man or woman who supported the cause of independence during the American Revolution. It operates what is believed to be the most valuable piece of real estate owned exclusively by women in the world: a city block near the White House that contains a genealogical library, domestic arts museum and a 4,000-seat auditorium. We have nearly 3,000 chapters around the world. Despite the pandemic, I managed to visit 56 states and countries during my term, traveling 167,000 miles.
Your goals included improving the group’s image. What is that about?
For more than a decade, the DAR has been working hard to welcome more women of color. We established task forces for lineage research into African American, Latino, Jewish and other specialties to help more women document their descent from a patriot. We have never tracked race or ethnicity on our applications, but I’ve been a member for 40 years and it is working. Too many people have the misconception that we are all well-to-do and/or elderly. I joined when I was 28, and that is a fairly common story. My DAR patriot is Jacob Plattner, a miller from Columbia County who fought in the militia.
Is the DAR active in this area?
There are two chapters, Enoch Crosby in Brewster and Melzingah in Beacon. We placed the Beacon Monument on the top of Mount Beacon in 1900 and have marked many other places of historical significance. In 1954, the DAR saved the Madam Brett Homestead, which is the oldest building in Dutchess County, dating to about 1709. It was going to be razed for an A&P Supermarket. The Melzingah chapter also spearheaded the effort to honor Beacon’s veterans through patriotic banners. In August, we will support a Dutchess County naturalization ceremony where 65 new citizens will be welcomed.
Are you related to President Martin Van Buren, who was a native of the Hudson Valley?
The surname belongs to my ex-husband, who is, I believe, descended from the president’s first cousin. I have never had time to research it thoroughly. I have documented my descent from [Van Buren’s] wife, Hannah Hoes, so it’s kind of neat that our children have lines on both sides that go back to New Netherland.
Why is local history important?
Beacon is changing so fast and all of the wonderful new folks who are attracted to our beautiful Main Street are only the latest generation of people who have discovered this special place. Beacon is much more than its built environment, its industrial accomplishments or attractions like the Mount Beacon Incline Railway or Dia. It’s the sum total of all those parts. The magic didn’t happen overnight. How can you know who you are and where you are going unless you understand the history that brought you to this point?
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