Local History

Copake Celebrates Its 200th Birthday With a Bang

By Published On: May 31st, 2024

The Town of Copake is celebrating its bicentennial with a jam-packed schedule of events throughout the remainder of the summer. In February 2023, Copake formed an all-volunteer committee that has been working hard to create a line-up of events to celebrate Copake’s 200th birthday. 

The planning process

The bicentennial committee, led by Kellie Nardin, wanted to play to Copake’s strengths, as well as to the strengths of the committee members. From the beginning, the committee was determined to highlight the unique history and culture of Copake and the ways in which it has evolved over the past 200 years. 

In addition to all of the temporary special events planned to celebrate Copake’s bicentennial, Copake Town Hall has mounted a permanent exhibit that tells the town’s story in 24 illustrated panels written by Howard Blue and designed by Peter N. Fritsch. The exhibit is open weekdays, except Friday, from 8am to 4pm, and on Saturdays from 9am to noon. The town’s historic preservation committee has designed and purchased plaques that will be awarded to buildings 100 years old or older, identifying them as historic sites. In addition, the two is selling a variety of bicentennial merchandise, including T-shirts and hats.

The lineup of events

The Kickoff: The bicentennial celebration commenced with a special town board meeting in the Copake Town Hall on April 4. The meeting marked the 200th anniversary of the first town meeting. Afterwards, town supervisor Richard Wolf called the meeting to order with the Pledge of Allegiance, and he read a land acknowledgement recognizing that the land on which Copake stands is the unceded land of the Stockbridge Munsee Band of the Mohican People. The meeting, which was filled to capacity, ended with the cutting of the 200th birthday cake. 

Your Town: Local playwright Carl Ritchie wrote an original play, titled Your Town, which featured local talent as well as professional actors. The play was loosely based on Our Town by Thornton Wilder, as well as the minutes from the first town meeting in April 1824. Five performances of Your Town were held at the Copake Grange Theater and were directed by Mr. Ritchie. The play featured music by Wayne Moore and Chuck Petellier, accompaniment by Joe Rose, and period costumes designed and donated by J. Kevin Draves. 

The Roeliff Jansen Historical Society: 2024 also marks the 50th anniversary of Roeliff Jansen Historical Society! Throughout the spring, the RJHS held three presentations covering significant aspects of Copake’s past: “Mohican Heritage: Past, Present and Future,” “The Rent Wars: Crusaders or Criminals,” and “The History and Mystique of the Bash Bish Inn: Captured in the 1912 Autochromes of Pioneer Photographer Paul Guillumette.” On July 6, the historical society at 8 Miles Road in Copake Falls, will open a bicentennial exhibit titled, “Mementos, Maps, and Milestones: Copake at 200,” showcasing documents, maps, photographs, and objects related to the large and small history of Copake’s five hamlets; Copake, Copake Falls, Copake Lake, Craryville, and West Copake. 

The Rail Trail Art Project: Also happening on July 6 will be the Rail Trail Art Project, designed especially for children and families by Copake Grange President Roberta Roll. This project will include art activities based on nature and the area’s history. The event will be held at the pavilion in Taconic State Park in Copake Falls at 10am, and the children’s art will be displayed along the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. The event is sponsored by Sheldon Glass and Herrington’s and pre-registration is required. 

Four Panel Discussions of Copake History: Howard Blue has organized a series of historic panel discussions that will take place throughout the summer. Assembled by long-time local residents, each panel will cover a different aspect of life and work in Copake and will be held at the historic Copake Grange, which has recently celebrated its 120th anniversary. The schedule is as follows:

“Looking Back: Life on a Copake Farm” will be held on Friday, June 14, from 7-8:30pm and will feature moderator Howard Blue and panel members Stosh Gansowski, Dean Pells, Wayne Miller, and Judy Ackley Whitbeck.

“The Copake Pharmacy: Growing Up in Copake,” will be held on Saturday, June 29, from 1-2:30pm and will feature Steve Kaufman and Nancy Fuller. 

“Copake Falls and Copake Lake: A Retrospective Look,” will take place on Sunday, June 30, from 1-2:30pm with moderator Steve Kaufman and panel members Edgar Masters, Fran Miller, Jane Peck, and Jed Luchow. 

Finally, “Copake Businesses,” will be held on Saturday, July 20, from 1-2:30pm featuring moderator Howard Blue and panel members Heather Thomson, Vana Stang Hotaling, Richard Barton, Steve Kaufman, and Mike Fallon.

The “Come Home to Copake” Picnic: This special day-long event will be held on July 13, from 11am to 8pm, at Copake Memorial Park. Current residents and anyone who has ever lived in Copake are invited to attend. The event will feature live music, an art exhibit, a car show, and attractions to amuse children, including a hot-dog-eating contest and sack races. A dessert-baking contest will be judged by Nancy Fuller of Copake and the Food Network show Farmhouse Rules. 

Families are invited to bring a picnic lunch and/or dinner, but food will also be available for sale. The Copake Fire Company will be doing a chicken BBQ with pre-sale tickets only. Tickets can be purchased by contacting the Copake Fire Company or calling (518) 755-8833. The day’s music will start off with longtime resident Dick Stabler at noon, followed by The Ghent Band, who will play at 2pm, and Night Train at 6pm. The picnic will be an opportunity to share memories, renew old friendships, and make new friends.

“We’re sending out invitations to people who used to live in Copake to re-meet and greet neighbors,” Kellie explained. “During the day, we’re going to have an audio recorder where people can tell their story about what Copake means to them, and the recording will be edited and preserved in the historical society for years to come.”

Bicentennial Parade & Picnic: The finale of the bicentennial celebration will be the parade and picnicon August 17. The parade will take place in the Hamlet of Copake, followed by a celebration at Catamount Mountain Resort. The parade will line up at 2:30pm by the Copake Fire Department on Center Hill Road and will step off at 3pm. All local organizations and businesses are invited to participate. 

The grounds at Catamount will open at 5pm. Attendees are welcome to bring picnic dinners or may purchase food and drink at Catamount. There will be live music and chairlift rides, and the evening will conclude with fireworks.

The committee behind the event

Kellie’s extensive experience in business and events management has been invaluable, while vice chairs Liana Gaston, chair of Copake’s Park and Recreation Commission, and Lesley Doyel, president of the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society in Copake Falls, provided insight into the possibilities presented by Copake’s rich parkland and the diverse history of Copake’s five hamlets. The committee has been further enriched by honorary chairs former Copake supervisor Angelo Valentino, Flora Bergquist, and Edgar Masters. 

Throughout the planning process, both former Copake town supervisor Jeanne Mettler and current town supervisor Rich Wolf have acted as liaisons between the Copake Town Board and the bicentennial committee, providing institutional support as well as their knowledge of the vast range of resources throughout the township. They are joined by chairpersons Jeffrey Judd, Stosh Gansowski, Robert Haight, Will Morningstar, and retired town board member, Terry Sullivan.

The committee is composed of 12 enthusiastic residents who have brought a myriad of skill sets, ideas, and talents to the table. Committee members are Robert Callahan, former Town Clerk Vana Hotaling, Maryanne Fallon, Lindsay Lebrecht, Cyd McDowell, Roberta Roll, Winette Herrington, Heather Thomson, and Gina White. Copake’s town historian Howard Blue has been a valuable source of knowledge and help throughout the process.

Celebrating and engaging community

Kellie reflected that the bicentennial celebration is “a great opportunity for younger people to get involved in their communities.” She hopes that the bicentennial events will have a domino effect and encourage more people to come out and engage more.

“There’s something here for everyone. It’s been amazing to learn about the incredible and unique history that we have here in Copake,” Kellie said. “The entire bicentennial committee hopes that this celebration will be fun and that people will see it as a chance to learn about where you live, what makes your community special, and what you can do as an individual going forward.” •

To learn more about Copake’s bicentennial celebrations, visit its website townofcopake.org/bicentennial-committee.