Schenectady County

Bill Massoth, noted local historian, dies at 80

The past fascinated Bill Massoth, and while his favorite subject was probably the Erie Canal and the

The past fascinated Bill Massoth, and while his favorite subject was probably the Erie Canal and the early 19th century, his knowledge of history was vast and varied.

A lifelong Schenectady County resident and 1947 graduate of the old Draper High School, Massoth died early Monday morning at Sunnyview Hospital after a short illness. He was 80.

A resident of Mariaville, Massoth worked as a machinist at the General Electric Company most of his life before retiring nearly 20 years ago. While never professionally trained as a historian, Massoth was a walking encyclopedia of local history and often gave slide presentations and lectures at various historical sites throughout the Mohawk Valley. He was involved in a number of history-related organizations and was also a former trustee of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

“He was a consummate gentleman,” said Schenectady County Historical Society president Edwin D. Reilly. “When he was a trustee, he would frequently give presentations here, and he was always very well prepared and very well received. I’m stunned. He was a real good guy.”

“Bill was a great historian and very knowledgeable about Schenectady County history,” said Schenectady County historian Don Rittner. “He was very generous with his knowledge, and he will be thoroughly missed by the historical community. We have lost a great human being and a wealth of knowledge.”

Massoth’s interest in the Erie Canal made him a regular visitor and volunteer at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, where education coordinator Tricia Shaw said his contributions were limitless.

“We could go walking or driving down a street anywhere in this area and he would be able to tell you a story about a house or a cemetery, or some other little wonderful tidbit of history,” said Shaw. “He gave multiple presentations at our site on a number of different topics, and he knew a lot of folklore. He would be able to tell you the background stories that you didn’t get out of the history books.”

When Shaw first came to the Schoharie Crossing site 14 years ago, Massoth was the first person to welcome her.

“He was the first non-employee I met there, and we became good friends,” said Shaw. “He was my buddy. He made things really fun.”

Shaw remembered that Massoth, also an avid hiker, would often take her on expeditions he called “ridge running.”

“He loved it, and for him it meant getting away from the river, the Thruway and 5S,” said Shaw. “He’d want to take you up in the hills in Duanesburg or Esperance and Burtonville, or he could go in the other direction, up into the Glenville hills, or up near Ephratah and Palatine Bridge. He had so much knowledge. His brain was full of history, and he had all these wonderful stories to go along with that history.”

Irma Mastrean, the town of Princetown historian, knew Massoth since before the pair graduated from Draper High School together in 1947.

“We called him the historian-at-large,” said Mastrean. “He was never an official historian, but when we all needed some information we went to him. He was so friendly and so well-liked, and he was always the kind of guy who was happy to share a funny story or a joke. He was the kind of person who had an awful lot of friends.”

“He was a wonderful, comodious kind of guy who had a very large appetite for history and all of its facets,” said town of Duanesburg historian Art Willis. “Bill was very witty and very gentlemanly. He was a marvelous fellow and we’re going to miss him an awful lot.”

Massoth was predeceased by his wife Geneieve in 2000. A daughter, Paula, lives in Suffield, Conn., and her twin brother Paul lives in Allegan, Mich. Massoth had five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Calling hours will be next Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at the White-Van Buren Funeral Home in Delanson, followed by a memorial service . The burial will be private.

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