Amsterdam historian Robert von Hasseln has been paying a lot of attention to the city’s past since he took the historian job in 2009.
He’ll be focusing on the city’s future a bit more following his appointment this week as the city’s new director of community and economic development.
A retired lieutenant colonel who has served as a military historian at the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs and director of the state Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, von Hasseln, 58, has already sparked new interest in the historic city in three years as its historian.
Mayor Ann Thane said he has demonstrated his ability to bring people together and spark interest in Amsterdam.
She cited work he’s already done including creating the Historic Amsterdam League, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the city’s heritage that now has a Facebook page in addition to its own website.
In his three years in the historian’s office, von Hasseln coordinated the delivery to Amsterdam of a piece of the World Trade Center that’s planned for a memorial, and he spearheaded the creation of the city’s new Amsterdam Veterans Service Medal, now presented each year to veterans.
Von Hasseln has also drawn hundreds of visitors to the city for tours, one at the city’s Historic architectural sites last year and another this summer that focused on historic aspects of the city’s South Side.
Drumming up interest in Amsterdam, both from its residents and from those outside the city, is one of the primary purposes of the new position, Thane said.
“He’s already doing these things,” she said.
The mayor said von Hasseln’s contacts with state agencies, combined with his ability to write and speak “beautifully,” brought him to the top of the list of candidates for the position.
Among von Hasseln’s prior accomplishments is working to create the New York National Guard’s first-ever tuition waiver, approved by the state in the late 1990s.
Recruitment efforts that followed brought the New York National Guard’s recruitment and retention from last to first place within a year.
Though he’s not officially in the position yet, von Hasseln joined Thane on Thursday to escort a dozen representatives of firms interested in the development potential at the former Chalmers Knitting Mill site on the shore of the Mohawk River.
Von Hasseln — who said he isn’t the type to retire — is formulating an outline on how he’ll approach the community and economic development job with the slogan “all things are possible” in mind.
“I can sell people on Amsterdam,” he said, mentioning that roughly 250 people came by to tour the city’s South Side in June despite driving rainfall that day.
The Long Island native moved into Amsterdam 10 years ago.
He said he became enamored with the city during his military days leading convoys of soldiers from New York City north to Fort Drum.
The city always appeared on a hill on the horizon while driving north, he said, and served as a mid-trip rest stop.
“I saw Amsterdam rise in the distance. It represented an upcoming break,” he said.
Von Hasseln said he’ll have to give up his $5,000 salary as historian — a position he intends to keep — to start earning the $45,000 salary allotted for his new job.
Those who have met von Hasseln already know he’s a walking encyclopedia with a breadth of historical knowledge, but he hasn’t always been a historian.
He served about five years as an investigator for Pinkerton Security in New York City and, after starting as a bookseller, rose to manage a Barnes & Noble bookstore within two years.
He said he intends to bring some more optimism to the city.
“You have to start with a positive attitude,” von Hasseln said.
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