Schenectady County

Walkabout steps into city’s history

It was the 1819 fire that destroyed businesses and warehouses along the Binne Kill that permanently

It was the 1819 fire that destroyed businesses and warehouses along the Binne Kill that permanently relocated Schenectady’s center of commerce to State Street and created the historic residential Stockade neighborhood, which seemed to interest the most people touring the neighborhood on Saturday, said Mark Bonk.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Bonk drove a Union College shuttle bus from the parking lot behind Schenectady County Community College into the Stockade neighborhood. SCCC’s parking lot was the designated parking area for the 49th annual Stockade Walkabout and Waterfront Faire, and Bonk transported many walkers from their cars to the event.

“They expressed a lack of knowledge of the history of the homes down here. This event maybe encouraged them to read up on it,” Bonk said.

Ryan Mahoney, an intern with the Schenectady County Historical Society and a graduate student at UAlbany, said he helped prepare many of the exhibits at the Schnectady County Historical Society’s museum at 32 Washington Ave., the first stop on the walkabout. Mahoney used a counting device to record each visitor he saw at the museum Saturday and said there were about 200. He said many tourists on the walkabout were interested in some of the more dramatic moments in the history of the Schenectady Stockade, including a painting depicting a romanticized version of the 1690 massacre in which French and Native American fighters attacked the settlement and killed about 60 people, including women and children, destroying most of the original Stockade neighborhood.

“The most prominent painting here is probably that of the Schenectady massacre,” Mahoney said. “Historically the painting is inaccurate [because it was painted many years after the attack and the Native Americans depicted are in garb worn by western Native American tribes], but it’s still probably Schenectady’s most famous painting.”

The walkabout and Waterfront Faire was organized by the Stockade Association and Schenectady County Historical Society.

The event featured guided tours of 20 sites, including St. George’s Church on North Ferry Street, the Jacob Clute House on Green Street and the Artisans Cottage on North Street.

Living in history

Some of the stops on the tour are historically significant homes lived in today by citizens.

“You don’t see this type of event in too many communities where people actually open up their homes and share the history of their houses. People were really excited about doing that,” Mahoney said.

Jane Hendrick, a resident of Schenectady, said she was impressed by the Blockhouse, the home of Sharon Cole and Dan Partington, which was featured on the PBS program “History Detectives” because of mysterious stone walls inside the house that suggest that it was built much earlier than the owners had realized.

Hendrick said she was impressed by many of the historic homes and the choices the current owners have made regarding furniture and modernization within the context of maintaining the home’s historic look.

“It was interesting to see how they renovated,” she said.

Saturday’s event generated interest from tourists. Randi Ludwig and Mary Dirolf said they both traveled from Fayetteville, Onondaga County, to participate in the walkabout.

Ludwig said she was most impressed with Frank Taormina, a former history teacher, who dressed up as Joseph Christopher Yates, the only governor of New York to come from Schenectady County.

“He stays in character; it was unbelievable. You feel like you’re back in history. He’s totally in character. You can’t get him out of it,” she said.

Mahoney, who plans to pursue a career working in public museums, said he hopes one of the memories event attendees take away from the walkabout is the full range of historical artifacts located at the Schenectady County Historical Society’s Museum, including items from the history of the American Locomotive Co., known as Alco, and Schenectady’s history involving the Erie Canal.

“We try not to interrupt from 1661 on through,” he said.

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