Dozens of colorful, historically accurate signs will soon pop up along exits of major state highways, including the Thruway, to direct tourists to significant sites in the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley.
The signs are part of a $1 million effort by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, titled “Path Through History,” to promote more than 200 of the state’s sites and historic milestones.
The money will be funneled through the 10 regional economic development councils for their heritage tourism marketing plans. The Capital Region Economic Development Council and the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council will each receive $100,000 for this effort.
Wally Hart, a member of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council, said he believes the signs may take 12 to 24 months to install, based on past experiences in trying to install signage in the area to promote local attractions. “It took us seven years to get signage approved at Johnson Hall when I was with the chamber,” he said. He is the former president of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce of Business and Industry.
Hart added the process could go quicker should the governor waive some of the guidelines that need to be followed to install signage along major thoroughfares.
In the end, he said, the regional councils will determine how best to market their areas. “We will be looking at whether these are just on the Thruway and/or also on state highways and local highways,” he said. He said state highways 5, 29 and 30 in the area are ideal places to install signs.
The destination signs are just one step, Hart said. People will also need to know how to get to a site once they exit a thoroughfare, and that means installation of directional signs, he said. “We need to give people ways to get to these locations,” he said.
A total of 61 signs are allocated for the Capital Region and 50 for the Mohawk Valley out of 200 signs statewide. The sites in the Capital Region include the Mabee Farm, the state Capitol, the Schuyler Mansion, the Albany Institute of Arts, the State Museum, the Saratoga National Historical Park, GE’s birthplace in Schenectady, the American Locomotive Co. Museum and Union College.
Ryan Mahoney, curator and director of collections and historic sites for the Mabee Farm in Schenectady County, said the Mabee sign “is huge for us. It will help drive traffic to us. That is a big part of it. It is nice to let people know we are around and we are open.”
Mahoney said the Schenectady County Historical Society, which owns the Mabee Farm, submitted the farm and GE’s birthplace as suggestions for the initiative. “We submitted two sites and they selected both,” he said.
Mahoney said historic tourism is important to the area. “Schenectady does have a rich history spanning hundreds of years and being recognized by the state is fantastic,” he said.
In the Mohawk Valley, new signs will promote Fort Johnson, the Schoharie Crossing, Johnson Hall State Historic Site, the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine, Fort Klock and the Arkell Museum, among others.
Diane Forsberg, Arkell Museum curator, said she was excited to learn about the new signs. “We love signs. We are a hidden treasure here. There are people all over Europe who know about us, but some local people are unaware of us,” she said. “The sign will help us with promotion.”
The new signs will have a distinctive design that differs from the thousands of other state historical markers dotting New York. Leading historians in the state helped select the sites for the signs and helped ensure the signs are accurate, according to state officials.
The Mabee Farm sign cites 1705 as the date Jan Pieterse Mabee built “what will later become the oldest standing farm in Mohawk Valley.” Mahoney said the date is accurate, based on an analysis of tree rings in logs used to build the homestead.
In a news release, Cuomo said, “The Path Through History will highlight the rich history that exists in New York State by showcasing more than two hundred of our most significant sites and historic milestones. From Mark Twain writing Huckleberry Finn in Elmira to John Coltrane’s one of a kind jazz being played on Long Island, we have done and see it all in New York and now we are putting our state’s heritage on display for the world to enjoy. The regional tourism plans highlight the best our state has to offer and will give us a deeper appreciation of our past.”