Irene: Volunteers try to rescue history

Memories from the Mohawk Valley’s past were carried out Saturday from Guy Park Manor, along with art

Memories from the Mohawk Valley’s past were carried out Saturday from Guy Park Manor, along with artifacts from the Walter Elwood Museum housed there.

The effort came in response to damage done by powerful tropical storms Irene and Lee, which flooded the Revolutionary War-era home with water and debris. The manor was built in 1773 as part of an extensive land development project by the family of Guy Johnson.

The museum, which moved into the manor in 2009, was founded about 60 years ago and had more than 25,000 artifacts — before Irene swamped it with the Mohawk River.

More than 20 volunteers came to the historic site to help carry out pictures of the mills, a mannequin wearing a baseball jersey, an early fire suppression oxygen mask and a slew of other items documenting the history of the region.

How to help

There are many ways to help the people, schools and organizations hurt by the floods. Here are some links and ideas:

Items that were beyond repair were thrown away, but items that could be salvaged or were spared damage will be relocated to the former Fuccillo’s Auto Plaza at 328 Division St. for storage.

The sheer volume of the pieces being pulled out amazed Jeff Snyder, vice president of the Historic Amsterdam League. By 9:30 a.m., he had already carried out three loads in his pickup truck and anticipated at least 15 more trips. This was in addition to large trailers that had been donated for transport and a Dumpster for garbage.

“Makes me sick to see it like this,” Snyder said of the historic building. “It’s been here for so long. It’s been such a part of Amsterdam, [and] we’ve lost so much of our history over the years by intentional things in Amsterdam [like] urban renewal … and the arterial project.”

He was encouraged by the turnout, though, which he said demonstrated the interest in the history of the area. “Some things you can’t change, so you just got to make the best of it and keep moving ahead,” Snyder said, adding that the support proves Amsterdam’s slogan, “Small city, big heart.”

For Ness Stark of Amsterdam, this was the first time she had been to the museum since it had moved to Guy Park Manor.

“I really love the museum,” she said, as she carried empty buckets to the site. “Everybody who lives here has been here.”

That included her dad, Jeff Stark, president of the Greater Capital Region Building Trades Council.

He and other local union workers were getting their hands dirty and removing items out the back of the building into a tractor-trailer they brought.

“I’m from Amsterdam, and a lot of the guys are from Amsterdam. We just wanted to do our part to save the collection,” he said.

As Crystal Ricciuti of the Montgomery County Business Development Center took a breather from emptying the building, she could see right into it where a side wall was now missing. “That was my old office where I had my first job,” she said. “It’s pretty sad. It’s been here forever.”

There was some good news Saturday, with Amsterdam City Historian Robert von Hasseln remarking that he was pleasantly surprised with how many pieces from the museum remained on the walls.

“A lot of the things are in better shape than I thought,” von Hasseln said. “I was worried that some of the priceless illustrations, maps and paintings had vibrated off.”

He described their actions as triage, with the goal of saving their heritage. “If we don’t save them now, they’re gone forever,” he said.

“This is the beginning of a very long process,” von Hasseln said. “The museum is going to need a lot of help, and the best thing people can do, besides volunteering, is to send money.”

This hope was echoed by Jerry Snyder, an engineer who predicted the state-owned building will need a serious investment. “I hope that we can get the support to get things rebuilt,” he said. “It’s important that it gets fixed.”

A museum flood fund has been set up, with donations accepted at any First Niagara branch or by sending a check, made out to the Walter Elwood Museum, to First Niagara at 11 Division St., Amsterdam, NY 12010.

Categories: Schenectady County

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