During the aftermath of Hurricane Irene this past summer, Alessa Wylie can remember assessing the damage and thinking, “Well, maybe it’s not so bad.”
As it turned out, the 1749 home to Sir William Johnson wasn’t hit as hard as some other historical buildings along the Mohawk River, but the flooding still took quite a toll. Fortunately for Wylie and Old Fort Johnson, the holiday spirit abounding in the community in and around Amsterdam is proving to be quite a formidable force in itself.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support people have shown, and every time we’ve asked someone for help, they’ve been very willing and very enthusiastic,” said Wylie, executive director at Old Fort Johnson, which serves as headquarters for the Montgomery County Historical Society. “People are also being very creative. Along with making wreaths for our silent auction, people are not just decorating them, they’re adding a gift certificate or attaching a gift, something to add to its value. People have been so supportive, it makes you feel so much better about the whole experience.”
The Fort Johnson Christmas experience usually includes some kind of fundraising event, sometimes an open house in which the site is decorated in holiday attire. That won’t be the case this year because of Tropical Storm Irene, but Wylie and the staff at the Montgomery County Historical Society are still going to be putting on fundraisers.
The silent auction is called “Deck the Doors,” and is being held at Amsterdam City Hall through Dec. 10. Before the winners are announced and the wreaths are picked up on Dec. 10 at noon, there will be guided tours of City Hall on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 1 to 5 p.m. The building was built in 1869 to serve as the home of carpet manufacturer Stephen Sanford.
“I talked to [Amsterdam city Historian] Robert Von Hasseln, and he checked it out with the mayor, and they said they would be happy to host us,” said Wylie. “Actually, Stephen Sanford was a founding member of the historical society, so it’s great to have them involved. It’s a beautiful building.”
Along with “Deck the Doors,” Old Fort Johnson is having a “holiday tea” on Dec. 3 at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, located at 37 Division St. in Amsterdam. There will be two seatings, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 2 to 4 p.m. The cost of the event is $20, and reservations are encouraged.
“One of our volunteers is a member at St. Ann’s, so when she approached them about hosting our tea, they said they would be more than happy to open up their friendship hall to us,” said Wylie. “It’s great to get their help, and all of this money we raise will go to help our flood relief fund.”
First floor under water
Tropical Storm Irene hit the Mohawk Valley the last weekend in August. While Wylie, her staff and a host of volunteers worked hard to move many of the home’s items out of harm’s way to the second floor, much of the first floor was under water.
“The fort itself at this point is dried out, and all things considered, it’s pretty amazing we didn’t have more structural damage than we did,” said Wylie. “There are a few places where the plaster is damaged, and we have some major repair work to do with the floor. It was covered in water and then mud. We need a new furnace and a new electrical system, and one of our biggest challenges right now is finding people to do the work.”
Typically, Old Fort Johnson closes for the season in October and reopens in May.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of grant writing and planning for exhibits, but we’re going to be doing that and a whole lot more,” said Wylie. “We’re going to be pretty busy this off-season getting the place ready to open next year.”
William Johnson was a prominent landowner in the Mohawk Valley, the founder of Johnstown and a military hero during the French and Indian War. He was named British Superintendant of Indian Affairs for the North American Colonies prior to the American Revolution and most likely would have remained loyal to the crown had he not died on the eve of the American Revolution in July 1774.