[Graphic Header] National Register of Historic Places Preservation Month May 2005, Restore America: Communities at a Crossroads
[Graphic] Liberty, New York

Historic Postcard of downtown Liberty, circa 1890
Courtesy of Allan Berube

The scene is the downtown business district along Main Street in Liberty, New York, in the heart of the Catskills resort region. The involvement of the New York State Historic Preservation Office was triggered by a Department of Transportation intersection improvement project that was to impact the potentially eligible Main Street historic district and the Town and Country Building, which was identified as a contributing property in the district. At the heart of the business district, there had sat the Town and Country building vacant, deteriorated and underappreciated for about a decade.

[photo] Town & Country Building during Cornell Work Weekend 2004.
Photograph by Allan Berube, Liberty Village Trustee

When a small band of local citizens began thinking twice about the overlooked edifice and investigating its history it was discovered to be one of the oldest surviving buildings on Main Street. Research revealed it had undergone several layers of alterations, the latest transformation was wrought by entrepreneur Edward Kay [a.k.a. “Eddie Kaye, the Man with the Beret”] when he commissioned a Modern façade redesign in 1953 for his Town & Country Men's and Boy's Shop. Led by the efforts of a group calling itself “Liberty Alive,” the community slowly began to embrace Liberty's mid-century history as a focus of downtown revitalization and the trend began to gain steam. Merchants and local elected officials began to join in the efforts to promote historic preservation as a viable economic development tool for the downtown as momentum continued to build.

A pivotal event was the Cornell Historic Preservation Program's choice of this building for its annual work weekend (2004), when students learn the hands-on work of preservation. The “invasion” of students, teachers and alumni for a three-day restoration marathon generated much positive publicity and proved a turning point for the community and the building. As one article noted, “For Liberty residents, the project is the latest sign of hope and renewed community in a downtown once given up for defunct and at a building once seen as fit only for the wrecking ball.” The Town & Country Building is once again functioning as a commercial building in Liberty 's downtown: it has been individually listed in the National Register for its exuberant Modern façade and for housing an important, long-standing local business.

Shelburne Playhouse Cornell Work Weekend 2005.
Photograph by owner Allan Berube

The downtown historic district nomination is underway with the assistance of Preserve New York and the Cornell students have just completed another productive preservation work weekend (2005) at the Shelburne Playhouse just outside of Liberty. Liberty Village Trustee Allan Berube, owner of the Shelburne Playhouse, summed it all up when he was quoted in this year's newspaper article, “I love history….and this is one way to bring it into the present.”

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