New York State Power Authority recently announced a $36 million multi-year reconstruction project aimed at creating a Guy Park Manor that is safe for the public.
The Manor is the oldest house in Amsterdam, New York, a limestone structure built in 1766 for Irish immigrant Guy Johnson, son-in-law and nephew of Sir William Johnson, Britain’s Superintendent for Indian Affairs in colonial New York.
Guy Park Manor is adjacent to Mohawk River/Barge Canal Lock 11 and has been vacant for about 10 years.
Guy Johnson came to America in 1756, sought out his uncle and married William’s daughter Polly. Family patriarch Sir William died in 1774.
Guy and Polly did not have much time to enjoy their new home, fleeing for Canada in 1775 as anti-British sentiment grew during the buildup to the Revolutionary War.
After the Johnsons left, the winning side turned the building into a tavern.
“Visitors began seeing a mysterious woman in white in an upstairs room,” city historian Rob von Hasseln wrote, “Some suspected Polly had returned to her home, others thought it was a maidservant dispatched by Guy Johnson to retrieve papers and valuables secreted in the house. A German hexmeister who travelled the Valley offered to stay overnight in the room and rid it of its ghost; thereafter, the visitations ceased.”
There were various private occupants of Guy Park Manor over the years including stonecutter James Stewart. He helped build canal locks, aqueducts and railroad bridges in the area.
Stewart was struck and killed by a train as he crossed the railroad tracks in front of the Manor in 1860.
The state took over the Manor in 1907 for canal maintenance when the Mohawk River was made into the Barge Canal. A movable dam was built at the canal lock adjacent to the Manor.
Tourism grew when a custodian was hired. A limiting factor has been the railroad tracks which must be crossed to reach the historic site by auto or foot.
For some years the building housed state Assemblyman Paul Tonko’s office and the Chamber of Commerce. In the 2000s the Walter Elwood Museum, looking for a home, moved in.
Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 left the Manor in a ruined condition. The Elwood Museum moved up the hill to former Amsterdam mill buildings.
State government stabilized and rebuilt Guy Park Manor over time but it has remained unused.
Both of the original Amsterdam area Johnson family colonial homes (Old Fort Johnson and Guy Park Manor) continue to attract travel attention. And among visitors each year are descendants of Loyalists who come from Canada or the British Isles.
Amsterdam historian Hugh Donlon added in his book “Annals of a Mill Town” that, “The old stone houses provide opportunity for reflection on what might have been had the American Revolution failed.”
Additional Manor renovations will include installation of a wheelchair lift. As for interiors, upgrades will be made to the mechanical systems and a fire and security system will be installed along with repairs to fireplaces, staircases, flooring, and trim work. The spaces will be reimagined for new exhibitions and to house multipurpose spaces.
Other improvements include a staircase leading to the moveable dam over the waterway, which will create a pedestrian pathway connecting the Manor to the Empire State Trail, canal, and river.
Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “Communities are increasingly having to plan for and respond to risks — and the rehabilitation of Guy Park Manor is an admirable example of incorporating protective measures designed to withstand future storms while also maintaining the historic integrity of a locally significant site.”