Historical markers to bring ‘public awareness’ to Great Sacandaga Lake’s history

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Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE — While working on her 2017 documentary, “Harnessing Nature: Building the Great Sacandaga,” Saratoga County Historian Lauren Roberts realized there was a lack of signage honoring the man-made Great Sacandaga Lake. That got her thinking.

“[Someone working on the film] felt that there was a lack of public signage and historic markers for such a huge project, like the creation of the Sacandaga,” Roberts said. “And there really wasn’t a lot of a lot of signage or public acknowledgement of what the project had been, not how it happened, why it happened. So that’s kind of stuck with me.”

The film — produced by The Great Sacandaga Lake Advisory Council — brought a lot more attention to the lake’s history, from its floods that affected local communities to the eventual decision to build the dam. That prompted Roberts to look into other ways to commemorate the 90-year-old body of water. That’s when she decided, in 2018, to propose her latest project: giving the lake its own historical markers.

“A lot of the locations, obviously, are now under water,” Roberts said about the lake, which was created by damming the Sacandaga River. “So these are land markers. We did our best to pick locations that would be the most publicly accessible or get the most foot traffic where people could actually stop and see. So a lot of these are going to be at the nearest intersection still on land.”

The 15 historical markers were introduced by the council Thursday at the front lawn of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District field office in Mayfield. They mark several historical locations from the reservoir’s 90-year history, including the Conklingville Dam, the Sacandaga Park amusement park and even an island where locals would play sporting events.

Roberts first proposed the signage to the council two years ago, and chairman Henry Hughes was impressed.

“When she proposed these historical markers, they were pointing to places that used to be [there] and still are essentially. So it’s, in my head, continuing to make history visible. The hope is that people will be able to, maybe in the not-so-distant future, come up with some kind of organized map. And people can drive around and go to the various places.”

Roberts said for the process, all signs were completed around November 2019 and the GSLAC had to wait to debut them until snow cleared up. They hoped to unveil them in early spring, but due to COVID-19 they had to push that date back to this week.

“We didn’t know that this was going to be a year when museums were closed, and indoor events are being canceled, left and right,” Roberts said. “So I feel really happy that these markers are able to be in an outdoor public space where anyone now can get in their car and drive around the lake and read these markers. And, you know, maybe they’ll see something on the marker that will pique their interest and they can read more about, you know, one aspect of the history of the lake.”

Jason Kemper, Saratoga County director of planning and GSLAC treasurer, also has high hopes for the 15l markers.

“My hope is that the historic marker project will continue to foster support for the unique history of the Great Sacandaga Lake and an appreciation for the sacrifices made by families when the valley was flooded 90 years ago,” Kemper said.

Roberts, above anything else, said she hopes the addition of the historical markers offers a vehicle for youngsters  to pay attention to local history.

“I think as we get farther and farther away,” Roberts said. “This is the 90th anniversary this year of the dam [operating]. So we’re 90 years out from when the lake was created. And I think the farther away we get, the more people don’t talk about it. And people don’t realize what happened here, the scope of this project and why it happened. So hopefully having these in public places, more of the younger generation will have an understanding.”

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