FOCUS ON HISTORY: Documentary filmmakers scouting Mohawk Valley

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FOCUS ON HISTORY A three-person Florentine Films video crew spent time in the Mohawk Valley in early September scouting locations and shooting video for possible use in a historical documentary film series on the American Revolution.

Florentine, based in New Hampshire, is the production company affiliated with Ken Burns that has created PBS documentary series including the Civil War, Country Music and the Roosevelts, among many others.

Norm Bollen, chairman of the board of directors of Fort Plain Museum, met with a Florentine producer and showed her some Revolutionary War sights in the Mohawk Valley.

“And they came back with a film crew,” Bollen said. “We went out at 6 a.m. They like to do a lot of sunrise and sunset shots. It was pretty foggy the morning we were shooting. They were taking some nice shots of the Palatine Church. They really liked that.”

Built by Palatine German Lutherans in 1770, the church, between Nelliston and St. Johnsville, was spared from destruction in a 1780 Revolutionary War raid led by British Loyalist leader Sir John Johnson.

Bollen said the filmmakers, “were actually kind of excited about this stuff.”

“They texted me they are coming back,” Bollen continued. “Some things I can’t talk about, but they are interested in the area.”

Bollen said he hasn’t seen the script, but he wonders where the Mohawk Valley will end up in the documentary series.

“It’s a quality company and they do great documentaries,” he said. “So we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’re going to get some good honorable mentions in there.”

Bollen has sent Florentine Films information on how the American Revolution was a civil war in the Mohawk Valley. British loyalists who had escaped to Canada joined Native Americans and British soldiers in conducting devastating raids on settlements in the valley. Fighting continued here for a year-and-a-half after the 1781 Battle of Yorktown in Virginia.

And Bollen said the Mohawk Valley was important during the Revolution because it was the pathway to the Great Lakes and the West.

The Fort Plain Museum and Historical Park, located on a hilltop off Route 5S just west of the village, was founded in 1961. Several of the key players in the museum organization include Bollen, Brian Mack and Wayne Lenig, who all began working on archeological digs at the site of the fort when they were in their teens.

The village of Fort Plain was originally named after the fort, an important military outpost in the Revolutionary War. Archaeological investigation excavated the site of the original fort’s stockade. The exploration uncovered barracks buildings, a dining hall, officer’s quarters, a small blockhouse and sentry posts.

In recent years, the museum has held American Revolution conferences at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and other venues which have attracted hundreds of people to hear talks from authors and other experts. The museum has an online bookstore and has placed a dozen historic markers in the surrounding area, which Bollen calls Mohawk Country.

Bollen said, “It’s all been a big success and given us a national outreach. We are now working on an expansion of the museum.”

The museum has hired Saratoga Associates, a well-known regional planning firm, to put the expansion plan together. Fundraising will then begin in earnest for what will probably be an $8 million project.

The renovation will feature construction of walking trails and picnic grounds on the hilltop. The project also will include expansion of the museum’s space and construction of the museum’s own conference center.

“We see visitors from all over the country all the time,” Bollen said. “We just want to see a lot more of them.”

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