Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter already gets more year-round visitors than its Capital Region counterparts, and education director David Brooks is looking to increase that number.
"Our visitor center is closed throughout the winter except for our special programs, so to keep ourselves in everyone's consciousness this time of year we decided to have a series of Museum Monday programs," said Brooks, a Mayfield native who has been at Schoharie Crossing for six years. "If you're looking for something to do for a couple of hours on the first Monday of the month, come to our site."
The series begins Jan. 6, with the museum opening between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Schoharie Crossing site is located in the town of Florida in Montgomery County on the south bank of the Mohawk River, near where the Schoharie Creek ends its 93-mile trek northward from the Catskills. Brooks will give a short presentation at noon that will include a traditional Scottish treat, shortbread.
"The visitor center will be open for four hours and people will have the opportunity to check out our current exhibit about the Erie Canal, 'Pathways to Empire,' " said Brooks. "Then at noon, I'll talk a little about Sir William Johnson and his connection to Fort Hunter and the Mohawk village that was here next to the fort. It's also National Shortbread Day and I have some 18th-century recipes at home, so I will make some shortbread and bring it in for people to taste."
On Feb. 3, the program will be "Abolition and Slavery in Montgomery County," presented by Montgomery County Historian Kelly Farquhar. On March 3, the site will host "Happy Birthday DeWitt Clinton." The series comes to a close on April 6 with "SorryCharlieDay," a general program about the history of the Erie Canal. All the programs are free and open to the public.
"The museum will be open for four hours those days, and if people want to just come in a check out the museum that's fine," said Brooks, who along with site director Janice Fontanelli is the only full-time employee on the Schoharie Crossing historical staff. "If they also want to listen to a short presentation about topics, then that will be at noon. For the final program in April, I'll talk about DeWitt Clinton and the canal, and how New York state never got any direct federal funding to build the canal."
Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site was created in 1966 to help interpret the history of the Erie Canal as well as the native American and colonial history in that area prior to the canal. Included in the exhibit is a large portrait of Clinton, the sixth governor of New York, a U.S. senator and mayor of New York City. Brooks finds Clinton a mostly sympathetic character, and possibly even a good subject for the next Broadway musical focused on history.
"His birthday just happens to be that Monday, March 3, and I think It'd be great if someone could write a musical about Clinton that would do for us what 'Hamilton' did for the Schuyler Mansion," said Brooks, only half kidding. "I view Clinton favorably. He was in the second generation of founders. He built the canal, and if you read his journals you see that he was very interested in science and the natural aspects of New York state. He also was a philanthropist, developing the library system down in New York. I'm sure there are some negative things about him that you could dig up, but I think he'd be a great subject for a Broadway show."
Schuyler Mansion, Crailo events
The Schuyler Mansion, meanwhile, a historic site in downtown Albany, and its sister site, Fort Crailo across the Hudson River in Rensselaer, will both hold their annual Twelfth Night events this Saturday, Jan. 4. Reenactors, music and refreshments will be available to the public between 4 and 7:30 p.m.
While the excitement around the Broadway musical "Hamilton" has helped increase visitation to Schuyler Mansion over the past two years, Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site is the most popular in the Saratoga/Capital Region according to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Brooks concedes, however, that Schoharie Crossing's No. 1 ranking is because of its year-round attractions. Except for special events, state historic sites are typically closed during winter months.
"We have people who come here to picnic in the summertime, and they can also use our grounds in the winter to cross-country ski and snowshoe," he said. "We get a lot of cyclists because of the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, and we get people here bass fishing. We get help from the Canal Corporation and we have a great group of volunteers in our Friends group. So there's a lot to see and do here."
WHERE: Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, 129 Schoharie St., Fort Hunter
WHEN: First Monday of the month, January through April, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: (518) 829-7516 or www.parks.ny.gov
'12th Night Celebrations'
WHERE: Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, 32 Catherine St., Albany, and Crailo State Historic Site, 9 1/2 Riverside Ave., Rensselaer
WHEN: 4-7:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $8 ticket includes both sites; $7 for seniors and students; $2 for children under 12
By the numbers
A look at 2018 visitation numbers at state historic sites in the Saratoga/Capital District Region:
Schoharie Crossing: 68,3821
Johnson Hall: 58,884
Bennington Battlefield: 25,590
Schuyler Mansion: 10,889
Grant Cottage: 7,585