Irene: Amsterdam’s 238-year-old Guy Park Manor ravaged by flooding

If she stares at it too long, Ann Peconie can see the rising waters of the Mohawk River creep toward

If she stares at it too long, Ann Peconie can see the rising waters of the Mohawk River creep toward Guy Park Manor all over again.

She was at the state historic site until about 9 p.m. Sunday as Hurricane Irene pummeled the region. The Georgian house built in 1773 for Guy Johnson sat along the Mohawk River safe and sound until about 10:30 that night, when the lockmaster called Peconie to tell her the news: “It’s headed this way.”

“He called and said, ‘Ann, the water went over the wall and flooded the lawn. It’s headed toward the manor,’ ” recalled the executive director of the Walter Elwood Museum, which has been housed in the manor since 2009.

“What can I do?” she asked.

She couldn’t do anything, of course. Everyone had to leave. They had to wait.

Five days later she is still waiting. Waiting to hear when engineers will be able to come in and shore up the manor’s first floor. Waiting to see how much farther the cracks in the Amsterdam’s oldest building will widen. Waiting to see if the limestone facade, which is falling off the sides of the building, can be salvaged and used for restoration.

“I’m very hopeful,” she said. “It’s the most historical gem in the city of Amsterdam by far.”

State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation officials were on site today assessing the damage left by the floodwaters.

For the first time in 238 years, the manor is not structurally sound.

Chunks are missing from the familiar riverside landmark.

Standing by the nearby railway, you can look right into the pink Victorian room at a gold-framed oil painting. It hangs perfectly straight in a room that looks otherwise ravaged.

Around the corner, facing the now-brown river, is the kids’ room. Or at least half of it. Limestone cracked around a second-floor window, leaving one side of the manor looking like something out of a Salvador Dali painting.

“But life goes on,” Peconie said Friday, as she cast a painful glance toward the manor. “You pick yourself up by the bootstraps. You say, ‘What do I do next?’ ”

State officials put out an emergency contract for a registered contractor to come in and put supports under the first floor of the 19th century addition.

It washed away Sunday night, along with bits and pieces of the region’s history.

The state Canal Corporation has been filling in holes along the site, most notably the giant moat now surrounding Guy Park Manor. And utility companies are rewiring and reconnecting power lines, for the manor as well as the canal.

Police cars now sit at the entrance to the railroad crossing to ward off trespassers, who in the last week seemed entranced by seeing the damage up close.

“I think that so many people, including myself, grew up with that building always being there,” said Peconie. “I grew up on Guy Park Avenue and that building was always there. It seems timeless. I was always walking over there as a little girl.”

The building is still there, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how long restoration could take. Peconie hopes she can receive federal or state aid to cover what she believes will be a slew of hefty expenses.

Portions of the museum’s collection of approximately 25,000 artifacts were washed away, damaged, or currently sit inaccessible inside the manor.

“There is so much mud and mildew and moisture,” Peconie said. “And that’s the horribly frustrating part is that we can’t get to those items and get them in a secure place.”

The assortment of multicultural, natural history, Victorian and Mohawk Valley-related items were relocated to the manor in 2009 after 40 years at a building owned by the Greater Amsterdam School District.

Things were finally unpacked and sorted out. The dust had finally settled in the collection’s new home: the historic Revolutionary War-era building known as Guy Park Manor.

On a bright and sunny Monday morning following Hurricane Irene, Peconie stood in the parking lot of Russo’s Grill, just opposite the manor.

“I was just awe-struck,” she said. “I stood there with my camera and watched this beautiful museum building that I worked so hard to set up exhibits in. I threw my hands up in the air. I was in disbelief. I was angry.”

She was mostly angry about all the hard work volunteers from the city put in to make the collection what it was.

“What was all that work for? Why did we do all that? Why did we work so hard? All those volunteers who helped us unpack and set up the exhibits, the rooms. I felt horrible for all of them. It was just heartbreaking.”

Workers may shore up the first floor of the building Sept. 10, the soonest anyone could go in and recover the museum’s collection. But the date is tentative, Peconie said. So she continues to wait.

Another regional historic site is also going to take a lot more work than expected to restore to its original pre-flood conditions, if at all possible. Old Fort Johnson remains without water or electricity, five days after floodwaters drenched the grounds.

The Fort, visitor center, garage and 18th century privy on the property were damaged by flooding. The privy was swept off its foundation Sunday.

Site workers and volunteers will attempt to muck out the Fort’s basement this weekend, hoping to rid the rest of the buildings of moisture as well.

“Our collections are safe,” said Executive Director Alessa Wylie in an email. “But our most precious artifact, the Old Fort, is certainly going to take a lot of tender care to get restored.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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