Irene, one month later: Libraries, cultural sites receiving post-flood grants

The New York Council for the Humanities made 30 grants available to tax-exempt organizations through
Volunteers try to recover an old water well at Old Fort Johnson in Amsterdam on Saturday, September 3, 2011.
Volunteers try to recover an old water well at Old Fort Johnson in Amsterdam on Saturday, September 3, 2011.

The building that houses the Schoharie Free Library was built in 1860. It was renovated six years ago and an addition was built.

But now the library is closed as a result of water damage caused by flooding. The entire cellar filled with water, and the first floor was covered with more than two feet of water. Every collection suffered water damage, with the exception of adult non-fiction, which is on the second floor. The library lost computers and CDs and will need to replace its furnace and duct work.

Library director Cathy Caiazzo still reports to work, but her days are spent emptying dehumidifiers and cleaning out muck. “I keep finding pockets of mud,” she said.

Last week Caiazzo learned that the library will receive a $1,000 grant from the New York Council for the Humanities to defray salary and overtime costs for staff members working on storm related clean-up. Middleburgh Library also received a $1,000 grant for the same purpose.

The New York Council for the Humanities made 30 grants available to tax-exempt organizations throughout the state, with the goal of helping cultural institutions such as libraries, museums and historic sites recover from flood damage. The organization is awarding $30,000 total, using emergency funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In the Capital Region, a number of cultural institutions were badly damaged by the flooding last month, most of them located along the Mohawk River. Among the severely damaged:

• Amsterdam’s Guy Park Manor, a Revolutionary War-era residence that housed the Walter Elwood Museum

• The Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter

• The historic Blenheim Covered Bridge, which was considered the longest single-span wooden bridge in the world

• Schenectady’s historic Stockade neighborhoods

• The Old Fort Johnson Historic Site in Fort Johnson.

Of the damage to Old Fort Johnson and Guy Park Manor, Montgomery County historian Kelly Farquhar said, “Those are tremendous losses.”

In the Stockade, “a number of houses may be damaged beyond repair,” said Don Rittner, Schenectady County historian.

One particularly sad development involves Rotterdam town historian Dick Whalen, whose stockpile of photographs and historical archives was badly damaged when flood waters inundated the basement and first floor of his Main Street home.

“He had been collecting that stuff for 50 years,” Rittner said. “It’s irreplaceable. It’s 50 years of research down the drain.”

Peter Feinman, the founder and president of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Education in Purchase, wrote an essay titled “Irene and New York State History” that was posted on the New York State History blog, which compiles links and information about New York history. In July, Feinman took a group of educators on a tour of the Mohawk Valley, stopping at the Stockade, the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, Guy Park Manor and the Old Fort Johnson Historic Site.

“With Irene we have witnessed another chapter in the story of New York state history,” Feinman wrote. “It flooded areas already bloodied and needing help. The response to Irene will become part of the story that New York tells for generations to come. What story do we want that to be?”

The flood will eventually become part of the county’s history, Farquhar said.

“I definitely think people will remember this,” she said.

All our photos

From the farms of Schoharie County to the streets of the Stockade, our photographers captured the flooding in dozens of photos you can see by clicking HERE

Rittner said that “in the big picture, this is just another flood. The Mohawk has been flooding for 5,000 years. It’s a meandering river with a floodplain.”

What’s different, he said, is that today’s floods are more damaging than the floods of yesteryear, even if they aren’t necessarily any bigger. He attributed this to development and faster runoff caused by having more pavement and less ground to absorb storm water.

“Some of these buildings have existed for probably 50 floods,” Rittner said. “The only fact that’s changed is land use.”

The deadline for the New York Council for the Humanities’ Hurricane Irene Recovery Grants is Dec. 31. They are being awarded on a rolling basis.

“The need seems to be pretty big,” said Sara Ogger, executive director of the New York Council for the Humanities.

Categories: Schenectady County

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