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North Salem Town Historian Digs Deep

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - New York requires every town have a town historian to oversee the preservation and interpretation of the community’s heritage.

North Salem is very fortunate to have Susie Thompson in the role.

Before taking on the responsibilities of town historian three years ago, Thompson had a fascinating and varied career. She studied "The History of Religion" at Wells College, went on to graduate school at Columbia and then to Union Theological Seminary, where she added archeology to the mix. She ended up in magazine publishing, editing for "The Ladies Home Journal," among other publications.

She also worked as an editor at "Readers Digest," where she met her husband, Ed. He was editor-in-chief, so “it was obvious who was going to have to leave,” she said.

“The hardest job of all, though, was my five years as dean of students at Wells,” she continued. “In a small school, you don’t have the resources. Ninety percent of my job was dealing with student pathologies. In the 1970s everything was going on at once, the war, gay rights, black power.”

Although she is not a trained historian, and only receives a small salary, Thompson considers herself lucky to have her town appointment.

“It’s very challenging," she said. "I meet so many people I would not otherwise meet. Every day there’s something new that you didn’t know about or a connection you didn’t know existed. What I also found is that there are many mistakes that get passed along over the years.”

What is her favorite site in town? "The Balanced Rock - It's so enigmatic," she said.

What sort of requests does she get? “A local fisherman wanted to know where the old stone walls were in Purdys before the area was flooded for the reservoir around 1890. He thought he could find the most fish there."

“A 13-year-old wrote from Indiana asking for more information about the Leatherman. Her mother grew up in this area. A man writing a book about what to do in Putnam wanted to know what was left of the Friends Meeting House. We found the foundation still is here. Sometimes people find an old postcard and want to know where it is.

“The most fun is deed research. And the old wills. It’s very specific stuff. Still, there are lots of blanks to be filled in.”

The office of North Salem's Town Historian is in Lobdell House, opposite Delancey Hall.

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