Historian

Roots of a Collector

Much of my work as a historian focuses on researching, collecting, and sharing local history. The three did not all happen at once; rather, as one passion grew, it opened the door to another. I began as a collector or, better said, an eclectic preservationist of our region’s past. All things vintage fascinated me, from old transistor radios to model trains, typewriters, mementos of the New York Worlds Fairs, and even bricks manufactured at the once prominent brickyards of the Hudson Valley. I still collect most of these artifacts, but over time, I took a keen interest in more specific topics—primarily those related to regional railroads, the famed Borscht Belt Hotels, and milk bottles from Orange County, New York. It would be through this focus that my more critical work evolved.

As a young collector, I was fascinated by the objects themselves but often neglected to look deeper into their past. My first glimpse at this crucial link between a tangible object and its lucid history came in 2012 when I, along with the Woodbury Historical Society, helped to coordinate an event called “50 Items That Tell the Story of Woodbury.” Inspired by an article in The New York Times titled “50 Items That Tell the Story of New York,” the exhibition included fifty different items from the collection of the historical society that described the town’s past and welcomed the community to crowdsource artifacts from outside participants who wished to share different stories from our local history. Some of these “antiques” were collectible, like bottles, while others were somewhat pedestrian such as old receipts and pens with advertisements. One that I remember quite well was a detailed history of a local dairy farm complete with pictures and even included one embossed milk bottle. Each, however, told a different part of Woodbury’s history by establishing this vital link between the object itself and its past.

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A look at some of what I collect, ranging from O-Gauge Lionel model trains from the postwar era to materials from real-life, local railroads such as the Erie and New York, Ontario & Western lines.

The Stories Behind Objects

50 Items That Tell the Story of Woodbury” was my first large-scale project and while it was a success for the Woodbury Historical Society, it taught me to look beyond the object and learn more about their stories. This transition from a collector to a historian is best illustrated when in 2016 when I debuted my lecture “Orange County’s Dairies and Their Milk Bottles.” Unlike past lectures, the “visual aid” was (at the time) my entire collection of approximately two hundred local milk bottles. Presented before the Hudson Valley Bottle Club, the lecture was very well received given that the audience largely consisted of bottle collectors. However, as the program grew more popular in the community among those with no intimate background knowledge concerning the bottles themselves, I understood that it was necessary to look beyond the bottles and research the history of Orange County’s dairy farms. That extra reach was well worth the effort; apart from transforming that particular program into one that was far more fascinating and approachable to all, I became hooked on Orange County’s history with milk—a place where the precious cargo was first transported by rail in 1842 and, by 1900, was populated by more than 2,900 dairy farms.

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In 2016, I debuted my lecture “Orange County’s Dairies and Their Milk Bottles” before the Hudson Valley Bottle Club. At the time, I brought my entire collection of approximately 200 milk bottles for the presentation and it was here where I became intrigued to look beyond these glass vessels and study the complicated history of Orange County’s fluid milk trade.

From Collector to Historian

By delving beyond the tangible object, I discovered my voice as an author and lecturer for sharing history that could not be accomplished through collecting alone. Since my first lecture in 2013, I have given more than forty programs on various topics of local history which can be seen in detail on my lectures page. As an author, my knowledge of the local dairy industry was first published in 2020 by Marist College’s peer-reviewed Hudson River Valley Review journal though, over the next two years, I successfully published eight articles in total including a second article on the Ellenville Glass Works in the Hudson River Valley Review and a publication on the Gomez Mill House of Marlboro, NY in the New York Archives Magazine (please read more about my publications on my OFF THE PRESS page). Throughout this transition, I have stayed true to my roots as a collector and, furthermore, welcome sharing the extensive knowledge I have gathered with others. Nearly all of my publications and/or lectures directly involve items that I have preserved over time. Currently, I steward six collections focusing on local history of Orange County and the Hudson Valley:

Richard L. Benjamin Archive of Borscht Belt Tourism History

Walter C. Stanfield Collection of Local History

Marvin H. Cohen Library of American Railroad History

William S. Johnson Collection of Orange County, New York Dairy Farming History

Orange County Milk Bottle Museum

Edward J. Crist Collection of Orange County Railroad History

Each of these collections welcomes those wishing to study our region’s past and it is my hope that they can offer both insight and research-based assistance. In addition to these collections, I maintain a network of relationships with local historical societies around Orange County and the Hudson Valley that began with the Woodbury Historical Society (WHS) in 2012. One year after I joined, I was elected as the youngest trustee of WHS where I still serve today as well as being their collections manager. Other groups where I was once involved include the Ontario & Western Railway Historical Society, where I served as PR Chairman and a trustee, and the Hudson Valley Bottle Club where I served as president from 2018-2020. For more information on my involvement in the field of history, please view My Studies.

Since I started collecting milk bottles over ten years ago, I find myself just as passionate, as with any of my collections, to honor those who have come before me and help those who might not be as advanced as myself. My display of what is now more than 800 milk bottles is discussed in further detail with the Orange County Milk Bottle Museum.

In addition to my experience within local organizations, promoting local history over social media has often functioned simultaneously with my work in the field. To date, I have founded and currently administer three Facebook groups which sit prominently among topics of local history in the Hudson Valley

Railroads of Orange County, NY: 3,000 members

Antique Bottles from Orange County, NY: 800 members

The Borscht Belt: Its Artifacts, Ephemera, and Memorabilia: 800 members:

In addition to these groups, my work can be found on social media through these avenues:

Facebook: @Alex Prizgintas

Instagram: @alexprizgintas

YouTube: @Alex Prizgintas