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Ulster County Courthouse

Ulster County Courthouse
Photograph by John E. Reinhardt

  Courthouse entrance, c. 1900
Photograph courtesy of John F. Matthews

Buildings on this site have housed the activities of county and State officials since 1683. The present Ulster County Courthouse, constructed in 1789, has played a key role in both local and New York State history. Although Kingston was founded by Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant in 1658 as a Dutch fort on the Hudson River, the British took over New York in 1666. When the County of Ulster was formed in 1683, the city had a two-story stone building constructed on Wall Street to serve as a jail, courthouse, and related county offices. During the Revolutionary War, this courthouse played a pivotal role in the formation of New York State's first government. After the British captured New York City in 1776, the patriots charged with creating a new State constitution fled New York City and eventually arrived in Kingston in February of 1777. The delegates, led by John Jay, took up residence in the Ulster County Courthouse, and convened a constitutional convention, and approved a new constitution in April of 1777. In September, with the Assembly meeting in a local tavern and the Senate meeting in Abraham VanGaasbeck's old stone house, the New York State Supreme Court opened its first term in the Courthouse. A month later, however, New York's newly elected government once again became "a government on the run," when British General Vaughan and 1600 British regulars arrived and burned Kingston to the ground. The city slowly rebuilt, and in 1789, the city replaced the courthouse with a larger two-story stone structure that is currently the center of the Ulster County court system. Several important events occurred in this courthouse as well; Sojourner Truth, the famous abolitionist and women's rights activist, successfully saved her son from slavery by arguing his case here. In 1997, the county spent $5.5 million renovating the building's interior to improve courtroom facilities, heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical service. Mindful of the Courthouse's historical significance, conservators also carried out exterior upgrading without compromising the building's historic integrity. Ulster County now possesses one of the finest and most historic court facilities in New York.

The Ulster County Courthouse is located in the Stockade Historic District at 285 Wall Street. The building is open to the public with certain access restrictions.


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