Fort Edward seeks to buy historic island propoerty

New York has scuttled its plans to purchase part of an island in the upper Hudson River that’s consi

New York has scuttled its plans to purchase part of an island in the upper Hudson River that’s considered the birthplace of the U.S. Army Rangers, although the state could end up helping an upstate village acquire the parcel so it can be preserved as a public park.

The state had intended to buy the wooded, undeveloped property in Fort Edward, then turn over operation and maintenance responsibilities to the local village and town.

The new plan calls for the village to buy the property through a state matching grant program, with the town involved in keeping up the park envisioned for the site 45 miles north of Albany, a spokesman for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation confirmed this week.

“There’s a lot of history there,” said state Sen. Elizabeth Little, whose district includes Fort Edward. The Republican said she has been working for eight years to get the property into the public domain so it could be preserved as a historic site.

Fort Edward was the largest British fort in North America during the late 1750s and a staging area for thousands of troops headed north to the Lake George-Lake Champlain corridor to fight the French and their Indian allies. The island was part of a sprawling military complex, and it served as the base of operations for Rogers Rangers, companies of backwoodsmen who comprised the British army’s main scouting force.

Led by Maj. Robert Rogers of New Hampshire, the Rangers employed guerrilla tactics learned from their Indian foes. While at the island in 1757, Rogers wrote his “Rules of Ranging,” a list of 28 standing orders considered the first written guideline for wilderness combat. As such, the island is considered the birthplace of the Army Rangers, and “Rogers’ Rules” are still used in training today’s Rangers and other American commando units.

State parks officials said in the summer of 2010 that they were putting plans to buy the Fort Edward property on hold because of New York’s ongoing budget problems. The state had been in talks with the property owners for several years, first with Long Island businessman Frank Nastasi, who died in late 2007, and more recently with his son, Anthony.

Anthony Nastasi said Fort Edward officials recently told him that they were seeking a state grant to purchase his property. He said he still plans to honor his father’s wish that the property would be preserved as a historic site open to the public.

“Like we’ve been doing for the past three years, we’re sitting and waiting patiently,” Nastasi said in a telephone interview this week from Long Island. “It won’t be going to private hands.”

The village applied this week for a $400,000 grant from the state’s historic preservation program to cover part of the purchase price. Under the program’s terms, the village would have to match the $400,000 grant if it’s approved. To do so, the village plans to use the value of artifacts uncovered during archaeological digs on the property. The plan calls for Nastasi to donate the artifacts to the village, along with monuments placed at the site several years ago.

Matthew Fuller, the village attorney, said today a decision on the grant application is expected by mid-December.

Archaeologist David Starbuck, who led the excavations on Rogers Island in the 1990s, said he appraised the value of the artifacts at more than $700,000. Starbuck said some 200 boxes filled with musket balls, canteens, knives and thousands of other 18th century artifacts are in Nastasi’s possession.

“We’re eager to see them go on display in Fort Edward,” said Starbuck, a professor at New Hampshire’s Plymouth State University. “They really should not be anyplace else.”

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