At the northern end of 890, where the divided highway dissolves into the rural country road that is Route 5s in the town of Rotterdam, there’s a special place where history, geology and technology all share the landscape.
The spot I’m referring to is along the bike path just east of Kiwanis Park, where the Plotterkill Creek comes running down from the Rotterdam hills and empties into the Mohawk River. A new historic marker telling part of the Erie Canal story is there, courtesy of Rotterdam resident Nancy Papish.
Whether you’re on a bike, on foot, or in your automobile, it’s a great place to stop and soak in the atmosphere, learn more about the history of the area, gain access to the Mohawk River at the park, or visit the Hungry Chicken General Store just across 5s and enjoy some fudge or ice cream.
Papish always liked the spot, and while researching the area to help her mother produce a book on the Erie Canal – one of the engineering wonders of the world in the 19th century – she discovered that the bridge-like structure carrying people over the Plotterkill Creek is one of the 32 aqueducts used to navigate the 1841 canal. The original Erie Canal was completed in 1825.
“We were looking to find all of the 32 aqueducts for the enlarged canal, and I got very excited when I found one that was right in my hometown,” said Papish, an English teacher in the Schoharie school district for 20 years before retiring in 2002. “Well, I thought, ‘this is my own personal one.’ I kind of adopted it. So I wanted to put up a marker but I didn’t know how to go about it.”
With the help and support of town of Rotterdam historian James Schaefer and Schenectady County deputy historian and chairman of the town of Rotterdam bicentennial committee John Woodward, Papish went about her business, finished her research and succeeded in getting a financial grant for the marker from the Pomeroy Foundation.
“They make you do a lot of work,” Papish said of the Pomeroy Foundation. “You have to document every single fact with a primary source, so I made a lot of trips to the state museum and library archives.”
Papish’s marker isn’t the first one in that neighborhood.
“There had been a wonderful kiosk there with beautiful graphics put up by the Canal Corporation, but if you were on your bike coming from the East you might not even see it,” said Papish, a Finger Lakes native who moved to Long Island as a young girl before heading to the University at Albany and getting her teaching degree in 1972. “Then, at some point last year we think somebody backed into it with their car and knocked it to the ground.”
In October of 2020, Papish got a phone call from Schaefer and town of Rotterdam planner Peter Comenzo letting her know her sign was in.
“It’s not the kind of thing you want delivered to your home,” she said,. “Peter was a big help and there were a lot of people that helped me. I had to apply for the grant through the town because the Pomeroy Foundation isn’t going to send that money to an individual.”
Now that she’s got her marker up, Papish would like to get some help getting her mother’s book on the Erie Canal published.
“We got archival black and white photos of all of the aqueducts, and then she went and took some of her own photos of the 32 aqueducts in color,” said Papish, whose mother’s name was Dorothy Papish. “She did it the old fashion way; on a typewriter a thousand times before she got it perfect, that was her style, and then she did get it digitized. Then, she died.”
Attempts to get a publisher before Dorothy passed away weren’t very productive, but Nancy Papish is still hopeful of getting the book printed.
“It’s a beautiful coffee-table book, but we needed to write a big check to get it published and we couldn’t do that,” she said. “I’m looking for somebody to go through all the logistics. I don’t want any money for it. I just wanted to see it printed.”