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County updates its history

December 7, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

A "perfect storm" of historic signage has hit Fulton County and, in particular, Johnstown.

A combination of new historic signs, rehabbing former historic signs and an updated book of historic signs have coordinated to make the area more user friendly to those who would like to know about the history of the area.

Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Regional Programs Manager Rachel Blivens said she applied for a grant from the Heritage New York fund created by then Gov. George Pataki. She said NBT Bank donated $9,000 towards mapping the Mohawk Valley during the American Revolution and the Heritage grant provided $52,700. A total of $70,000 is going into the signs, maps to be given away and coordinated efforts to map from Schenectady to Rome the important sites of the Revolutionary War.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Johnstown Department of Public Works employee Mike Muzzi tightens a bolt on the Drumm House historical marker in Johnstown Thursday.

The grant was received in 2003 and the completed signs are now being placed in their historically significant sites.

"In all, 31 signs were made," Blivens said. "They serve as orientation signs at sites where there are guides, such as at Johnson Hall, but at places where there are rarely interpreters, they serve as a 24/7 guide to visitors, such as at the Drumm House in Johnstown."

There are many blue and yellow historic roadside markers throughout Fulton County which give brief descriptions of significant places in history.

In 1997 former County Historian Lewis G. Decker was granted funds by the supervisors to produce a booklet titled, Roadside History in Fulton County. This included a list of then city, village and town historians, addresses of local museums.

The main section included one page picturing and describing each of the blue and yellow historic markers extant in the cities, villages, and towns of Fulton County. But when Peter Betz became county historian, he said he discovered hardly any copies could be located because they had all been given out to people requesting them.

"This, of course, was what they were printed for," Betz said. "During the ten years since Mr. Decker's original book was issued, approximately fourteen additional markers have been placed, all of which are included in this revised edition."

Two hundred copies of this booklet were printed by the Fulton County Printer Debbie Suits, Betz said. Copies will be given to all supervisors, all county town historians, the historical societies, museums and libraries. The remaining copies will gradually be disseminated to tourists and local citizens interested in touring the county and visiting the various sites described by the markers.

Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland said she has asked the Johnstown Department of Public Works to assist in the effort by repainting and refurbishing historic markers in the city. At each main entrance to the city, a Welcome to Historic Johnstown sign has been placed, including a new one at the western entrance on Route 29 near Johnson Hall.

"A local resident near that sign, Bob Landrio, has been volunteering to keep flowers in the box where the sign was placed," Slingerland said.

Johnson Hall site director Wanda Burch said a sign path through Johnson Park will be created as part of the heritage trail as well.

Adding to the various ways of accessing local history is a set of DVDs made to benefit the Johnstown Historical Society by Lee Langlois.

"The Johnstown Historical Society is trying to obtain funding for the Johnstown Historical Society through the sale of two compact discs," Langlois said. "Our organization wants the people of Johnstown to be aware of the beginnings of the area."

Not only has the Johnstown DPW gotten involved in rehabilitating historic signs. The county highway department has helped with other historic signs in the county.

"A byproduct of re-photographing each marker is that I was able to personally inspect the condition of each and identify those in serious need or repainting or repair," Betz said. "I have reported those in need of restoration to Mr. Mark Yost, County Highway Superintendent, who volunteered to oversee several repainted each winter."

As Betz said in the introduction to his revised booklet, "Our local history is all around you. Various historical entities such as Johnson Hall and the Johnstown Historical Society in Johnstown, the Rice Homestead in Mayfield, the Fulton County Museum in Gloversville and others all provide both activities and information to bring history directly to [residents]. The Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce provides maps & pamphlets on historic site activities. The Office of Fulton County Historian, Johnstown and Gloversville libraries, and the K.R. Dorn Regional History Collection at FMCC are available to offer sources and guidance in local historic research. To quote former Historian Lewis G. Decker, "make a Sunday drive out of it and get to know our county's heritage and past history. You will enjoy it."

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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