Plattekill honors its Latin heritage

By Susanna Granieri
Posted 10/14/20

The Plattekill Historical Preservation Society recently unveiled a Historic Marker Sign in remembrance of “Las Villas,” a group of Spanish, Puerto Rican and other Latin summer resorts …

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Plattekill honors its Latin heritage

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The Plattekill Historical Preservation Society recently unveiled a Historic Marker Sign in remembrance of “Las Villas,” a group of Spanish, Puerto Rican and other Latin summer resorts that provided culture and heightened the economy in Plattekill.

“This is currently the only starred marker sign of its type in the town of Plattekill and may well be one of the few, if any, in the Hudson Valley that recognizes the contributions of Hispanics, to our history,” author of “Las Villas of Plattekill and Ulster County” Ismael “Ish” Martinez Jr. said. “And so to me, and I hope to you, this is a big deal.”

The sign dedication took place on Oct. 4 at the Thomas Felton Community Park, where community members and loved ones of Las Villas owners came together to commemorate their predecessors during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

This project has been in the works for over a year, and was made possible by a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. Martinez explained he was grateful for all of their assistance, especially with the conformity of what would be written on the sign.

While writing the sign, Martinez was only allowed around 27 words.

“You have to try to make it as concise, as inclusive and as accurate as possible,” he said.

Martinez went on to commemorate the Las Villas families who were notable in Plattekill and the surrounding areas: Casa Lydia, Casa Peréz, Casa Roxanne, Casita Connie, El Contínental and many others.

“They all deserve to be mentioned, because they were all a part of this industry that had a significant impact on the economy, and are now an important part of our history,” Martinez said.

The families who owned these Villas were recognized by their last name: Blanco, Calderón, Correa, Figueroa, Florés, Garcia, Martinez, Ortiz, Romero, Rosa, to name a few.

“This sign also honors the marrying of all Villa owners and their families that work so hard to make Las Villas a place that people return to visit time and time again, over a span of over 80 years,” Martinez said. “Some of them may have been immigrants, some may have been new to the town, but to a person, I can tell you that they all took pride in being residents of this town and did their best, the best they could to be good neighbors, and to be productive members of the community.”

The nights at the Villas were ones of serenity, with warm summer breezes on hot summer nights and the intense vibrato of trumpets, guitars and pianos.

“Gone is the ever present aroma of Latin delicacies and pork roasting on a spit. Gone is the chatter and bustle of an irrepressible people enjoying the niceties of life and their flamboyant culture,” Martinez added. “...Gone, but not forgotten.”

Martinez opened the floor for members of the community to say a few words regarding the sign dedication.

“It’s important that you all understand, not only for us, but for you,” Las Villas descendent Norma Guardarramas said. “Thank you and your loved ones, we’re all together in this.”

Willy Castillo, right-hand man to Martinez, spoke briefly and explained that his father was one of the first chief of police in Plattekill who was Puerto Rican, comparing his past to the present as Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa is the first in the Ulster Sheriff’s Department.

“I like to believe that we made Plattekill a little more cultural,” said Gladys Figueroa, the daughter of Andrés Figueroa, the owner of the Villa Campo Alegre located on Unionville Road.

Maggie Vivi, resident of Modena, explained that the culture in Plattekill made her feel accepted. In Modena, her name was pronounced “Vi-Vi,” whereas in Plattekill she was known as “Maggie Ve-ve.”

“This is your culture. This is your blood. This is the excitement of being Puerto Rican, being Latino, and we felt it. We love it and I still feel it. I still love it and the memories you brought to us, they will never be forgotten,” Vivi said.

After the unveiling, the sign was placed at the corner of Huckleberry Turnpike and Plattekill/Ardonia Road in the village of Plattekill.

“I am honored to dedicate this sign today,” Martinez said. “It commemorates an era in our history perhaps never to be seen or experienced again.”

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