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Old at Heart

Fultonville has youngest local historian

August 10, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

FULTONVILLE - For Village Historian Ryan B. Weitz, 16, the unpaid position has other compensations, and living 500-feet from the village cemetery also helps.

"I've been interested in history ever since the third- or fourth-grade," Weitz said. "My teacher, Bonnie Oare Valachovic got me interested."

Weitz said he started his duties November 2007 and was officially appointed by the mayor Dec. 1.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Ryan Weitz describes the restoration work he does at the Fultonville Cemetery July 29.

"I get e-mails from people researching their history from around the country," Weitz said.

Weitz said he attends the monthly Fulton County Historical Society meetings as well as the Montgomery County Heritage and Genealogy meetings. He has also been to the Association of Public Historian regional meetings.

Montgomery County Historian and Records Management Officer Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar said Weitz's enthusiasm was contagious.

"I love his enthusiasm," she said. "It gets me enthused all over again."

Yacobucci Farquhar said Weitz was a great example for other youth to emulate.

"I'm sure there are other youth out there doing positive things like this," Yacobucci Farquhar said. "We love to see young people get involved."

She said in spite of Weitz's age, he was very good as a historian. She also acknowledged his willingness to admit when he didn't know the answer and do the research to find the correct information.

"He's a smart guy," she said. "I think it's fantastic he's so interested in history at such an early age."

Curator Tracie Shaw at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Park agreed with Yacobucci Farquhar.

"[Weitz] has his head screwed on right," Shaw said. "He's not like what a lot of people think of as typical youth today."

On July 29 Weitz was clearing away some fallen branches at the Fultonville Cemetery and working on restoring fallen head stones. Fultonville Department of Public Works worker Rob Headwell, the mayor's son, was helping him in between lawn mowing.

"I start at the top of the hill and work my way down," Headwell said of the mowing operation at the cemetery. "By the time I get to the bottom, it's time to start over again."

Headwell said besides being mayor, his father was a technology teacher at Fonda-Fultonville Central School and a contractor.

"I've been told if my dad ever retires there will be a labor shortage in Fultonville," Headwell said with a laugh.

Headwell is going into his senior year at Alfred University in ceramic engineering. He and Weitz discussed proper ways of resetting stones that had fallen so that the stones wouldn't be damaged.

"Some of the stones had fallen and were reset with cement," Weitz said. "That held too well, so if they fell or were hit by falling branches, the headstone would break."

He said it was better to reset them in sand or a weaker mortar mix that would break away if struck leaving the headstone intact.

"The granite and metal head stones weather much better with time," Weitz said. "Marble and limestone don't hold up as well."

In tending to the cemetery, Weitz noted that two U.S. congressmen were buried there as well as veterans marked by a circle of head stones from the Grand Old Army from the Civil War.

Weitz's former teacher, Bonnie Valachovic said she remembered him well and wasn't surprised the youth took on so much responsibility.

"When his father bought an old home in Johnstown, [Weitz] took the doorknobs and other hardware and refinished them so they were historically correct instead of getting new ones so they would be authentic," she said.

Valachovic said Weitz always went above and beyond what the students were expected to do.

"You don't forget students like that," she said.

Weitz said the last burial in the cemetery was in 2002, but with proper upkeep and restoration he believed there was room for other plots. He noted there had been a "huge" mausoleum for the Starin Family, on whose estate the cemetery was built. John Henry Starin had been a U.S. Republican congressman from 1877 to 1881. That mausoleum was taken down in disrepair in 1975 in spite of money left for its upkeep by the family. Only a more modest granite slab with a bronze face marks his and his family's graves today.

Weitz said he is trying to make sure such a fate doesn't extend to other graves in the cemetery.

"A lot of people are willing to help," Weitz said. "I loved growing up here. It's a nice village where you don't have to worry about locking your doors at night."

Weitz said the mostly elderly village population - 880 residents - are people who want to stay in the community.

He said the population was about the same as it was when it was founded in 1848 and that it peaked in 1878 at about 1,200. He said the village was cut in half by the New York State Thruway and a row of houses on either side of the Thruway was taken down.

Former village historian Karen Chaplin is involved in the 20-year, museum quality restoration of the Starin Mansion and said the village was named by Starin's father Mindert Starin, who was postmaster for the village.

"Postmasters of the era were often called upon to give a name to their town," Chaplin said Tuesday. "He thought Robert Fulton was a genius of his time and Starin went on to make millions in steam boats."

Chaplin said she was happy to see young people like Weitz so interested in history and preservation.

"He is in distinguished company," she said. "We are also so blessed to have [Yacobucci Farquhar] and the archives here in the county as well. It's a real gold mine."

Chaplin said the Starin estate had left money for upkeep of the cemetery as well as donating 20 acres for the cemetery's use.

In his preservation work on head stones, Weitz said clean water with no ammonia and "409 Stone Cleaner" worked best on lichen and debris from head stones without damaging the stone.

"There's a lot of open space here yet for burials," Weitz said.

He said first preservation and rehabilitation of stones needed to be done and suggested volunteers or even prisoners from the Montgomery County jail might be put to work at the cemetery.

"Without volunteer labor, it could cost $1,000 per stone to have them done properly," he said. "Some people are willing to work, but don't have the skills needed."

He plans to go into engineering when he goes to college, possibly civil engineering. He thinks his work with history and the cemetery will look good on his college application, but said that isn't why he does it.

"I just love history," he said.

He said he has contacted the U. S. Veterans Administration about replacing damaged veterans' markers, but that the former marker must be destroyed in the process, and he'd like to preserve those markers as well.

"I'm also thinking of starting an adopt-a-grave program," he said. "Those with relatives in the cemetery could make a donation to help preserve those headstones and any extra donations could go for cemetery upkeep."

For more information call 265-3136 or e-mail fultonvillehistory@gmail.com.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at ga@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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