Helen Reynolds


Helen Wilkinson Reynolds

Helen Wilkinson Reynolds
by J. Wilson Poucher and James F. Baldwin
Dutchess County Historical Society Yearbook, Volume 28, 1943, p.19

The untimely death of Miss Reynolds brings a season of mourning to the Dutchess County Historical Society, in which she was long a movving spirit. For was she not, in the words of the President of our society, "really, the head, heart and soul" of the organization? Admired and beloved by a wide circle of friends, she was herself equally devoted to the community, which from girlhood days it was her delight to serve and which ever continued to be the centre of her life work. Alas that such, rare mental endowments were cast in a frail physical frame!

Becoming a member of the society soon after its formation, she entered at once wholeheartedly into its work, being at an early date elected a trustee and serving in turn on all the most important committees. Among these many activities, it will generally be agreed that by far her most valuable service was that rendered in the editorship of the Year Book, to which she was appointed in 1921, and which has been carried on uninterruptedly and efficiently, with enhancing reputation, until it may favorably be compared with any similar publication in the country. The constant stream of scholarly mongraphs appearing throughout the copies of this series, taken together with other notable writings, secures for ht eeditor and author a preeminent place among local historians.

In estimating Miss Reynolds' intellectual background and achievements, it will first be noticed that these were not the result of academic routine so much as the unfolding of native talen affected by human contacts combined with active experience. Her first incentives toward historical study apparently began at home, within the circle of a distinguished family and ancestry, among family and neighbors. Expressive of such native loyalty, there appeared in 1911 the first volume of The Records of Christ Church (followed in 1916 by the second volume) which contains beyond the suggestion of its bare title a substantial history of this important parish, that has ever since been accepted as a model of its kind. Again, in 19191, at the time of the anniversary of the commercial firm bearing the same inherited name, the daughter of the house with admirable fidelity prepared a pamphlet entitled Annals of a Century-old Business. In the wider field of civic history her first major production, set forth as Volume I in the Collections of the Dutchess County Historical Society, 1924, bears the title Poughkeepsie, The Origins and Meaning of the Word. In the opinion of the present reviewers, no subsequent works shows to better effect the author's sound methods of research and keen critical powers. For it results in a complete reversal of all previous conceptions as to the location and character of the original settlement. According to the ebvidence, now gathered and sifted as never before, the Indian camp and village, the predessor of our country-seat, was indisputably planted upon the upland trail or high road instead of ont he river front as had formerly been supposed. Altogether the book affords a fine example of the superior value of research and scholarship against loose tradition. As though one first-class work were not enough at a time, the same year saw the publication of a volume in collaboration with Dr. Poughcher, containing 19,000 inscriptions from old gravestones of the vicinity, thus preserving to posterity names and dates that are otherwise fast disappearing. Probably the most widely known and acclaimed of all the writing by the same tireless pen appears in an extensive survey and portrayal of historic homes such as are universally admired as the crowning glory of the region. It had long been a plan of Miss Reynolds, expanding as it matured, which was enthusiastically taken up by Mr. Roosevelt and other influential friends and laid before the Holland Society of New York, under whose auspices was published in 1931, Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776. Abounding in pictorial illustrations, supported by a wealth of architectural description and genealogical notation, this voluminous work has been hailed at home and abroad as nothing less than a classic in the historical literature of the state. To this masterpiece a sequel, involving even more attention to architectural detail while contenting itself with material onthe usual home ground, appeared in Dutchess County Doorways: 1730-1830, which contains some two hundred plates of door frames and other workwork, besides three hundred pages on the social and cultural life of resident families. With reasonable local pride competent authorities have pointed to this volume as the most valuable study and exposition that has ever been attempted within the bounds of our county. Always generous in the acknowledgment of aid tjat was gladly rendered by others, Miss Reynolds explains in her preface,

In order to make a thorough field survey for this book I am indebted to the unwearied kindness of Mrs Frank H. Van Houten of Loveridge, Beacon. In storm and sunshine, cold and heat, Mrs. Van Houten has taken me in her car the length and breadth of Dutchess. For accurate records of those who from time to time owned these houses, a search was made in the office of the Clerk of Dutchess and for long and friendly hospitality in that office, I am indebted to Mr. Joseph A. Daughton and the members of his staff.

Further contributions of note, especially editorial work usually illuminated with an appropriate introduction, are added to the Collection of the society, such as Notices of Marriages and Deaths ... Published in Newspapers Printed at Poughkeepsie, New York, 1778-1725, 1930; Eighteenth Century Records ... in Rumbout Precinct, in 1938, in collaboration with W. Willis Reese. In 1938 in the field of ecology, a less familiar subject to most readers, under a joint authorship shared with Edith A. Roberts, appeared The Role of Plant Life in the History of Dutchess County, which may lead to a better understanding of our botanical resources. Of occasional articles, pamphlets, addresses, composed as they usually were with reference to passing events, no enumeration hs been made. Quite apart from any manner or writing or speaking, there remained an indefinable influence, however quiet and unassuming, that was sure to be received and felt whenever the welfare of the community was at stake, as, for instance, in the salvage of the Glebe House when it was on the verge of demolition; and again in the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the founding of the city of Poughkeepsie, when wise counsel was sought and found in the furtherance of its education program. A prophet without honor in her own country? That, most assuredly, she was not. As evidence of how her radiant personality was appreciated at a distance, we need in conclusion only to cite a fine testimonial coming from the State Historian, which was recently printed inthe pages of New York History:

Profoundly mourned and deeply missed at the Poughkeepsie meeting [in May] was Miss Helen W. Reynolds, the modest and charming woman who had been for so many years editor of the excellent Dutchess County Year Book and author of other beautiful works on Dutchess cunty history and architecture. In a deeply spiritual sense, Miss Reynolds had been the soul of the Dutchess County Historical Society for the greater part of her effective lifetime. On many occasions your State Historian experienced her delightful hospitality and drew comfort from her gentle, understanding mind. To win her commendation was a high honor, for her critical abilities were keen; but even the novice could be sure of a kindly hearing. To me this dear lady and gifted historian is a precious memory. May her name never be forgotten in the country of her delight.


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