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Living History

Local historian brought up in history

January 4, 2009
By ZACH SUBAR, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN-Lansing Lord has been a history buff ever since he was a little boy, when his parents, both founders of the Tryon County Militia historical reenactment group, would take him and his sister to Fort William Henry at Lake George.

"As kids we went over there, and as long as we didn't leave the fort, we were OK, and we played in the fort all day long through the summers," he said. "You kind of live with this all your life, you know the stories, and this was the constant conversation in the house."

So it goes for the town historian, who has long been a fixture of the Fulton County history scene, but has only been in his new position for 18 months. Both of Lord's parents were genealogists and avid collectors of old books. They also kept an assortment of Civil War muskets in their home, and allowed 4-year-old Lansing to participate in pageants recreating 18th century battles.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Zach Subar
Part of Lord’s book collection shows his reference material for his passion for history.

"Unfortunately, I was brought up with this," Lord said, laughing.

After spending his childhood in Fort Plain and attending Fulton-Montgomery Community College for two years, Lord moved to Portales, N.M., where he graduated from Eastern New Mexico University. It was not long before he returned to the area to attend graduate school in Albany. Soon afterward, he took a job at Lee Dye in Johnstown in 1978 and purchased a house in the city with his wife, Meridith.

The two moved to their home in the town five years later. Lord now has a full-time job with the State Department of Labor in Albany.

At his home last week, Lord spoke excitedly about this area's heritage.

"This is a very historical area when you think about it and you look at it in context," he said. "I always liked Johnstown. I don't know why, even living down in the valley I always thought this was a great place to live."

Lord became the president of the Johnstown Historical Society in 1994 and began to actively take a part in educating others about local history. For him, the feminist movement was of particular interest.

"The community up until that time wasn't really paying a lot of attention to that part of history and we focused some attention on it," Lord said. "It got a life of its own."

Under Lord's leadership, the historical society participated in a national campaign to place a statue of Johnstown-born Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an early advocate for women's suffrage, in the main rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.

That dream came to fruition in 1997, and Lord represented the city at the dedication ceremony.

"It's a learning curve," he said. "When I became president of the historical society, I didn't know that much about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the feminist movement and all that, and I learned a great deal about it."

Lord was the president until 1997, and continues to serve on the board at the historical society. A year and a half ago, he added another title to his resume.

The town's historian, Ruth Gros had died, and members of the Town Board approached Lord to ask if he wanted the position. After some thought, he said yes.

"I've always been a student of history," he said. "I'd just never done it for pay for a village or anything."

Lord's job description is, as he said, "to promote the local history." For him, modern technology is a new medium that can be used to raise awareness of old historical documents.

"In the past, a lot of historians have been collectors and they gather a lot of documents and information, but it's all on paper, so it's very difficult to share it," he said. "Now with the Web and the Internet, there is a lot of primary source information out there that the town has that you can make public."

He plans to use a just-launched town Web site, www.townofjohnstown.org, to bring such documents to light.

On the Web site, people will be able to research their family genealogy. Lord cited a list that documents every town resident who served in the Civil War, complete with regiment classifications, as one example of a text that people can look through on their computer screens.

He said he also hopes others will be willing to share old photographs that can be scanned into the computer and copied on to the Web site.

"[You can] put a little more into it than just a name and a date of birth and who their children were," Lord said. "Now you have a little bit more texture to it, and you know a little bit about their personal life."

Most of the calls Lord receives are from people interested in learning more about their own family heritage. Occasionally, though, he is asked to inspect a curious-looking property.

Recently, Lord went with Fulton County Historian Peter Betz to a home on Willie Road, where a woman had reported unusual foundations on her land.

Based on what they saw, the two concluded the foundations probably were left over from the Peck Saw Mill and Tannery there, which likely closed in the late 19th century.

History from that century is of particular interest to Lord, who keeps many Civil War documents on his walls. One of them commemorates his great-great-grandfather, John Lasher, who was injured during Florida's Battle of Olustee in 1864.

Lord also is a professed used book lover.

A large case filled with books sits next to his office.

"I enjoy reading history books," he said. "I'm not a person who will sit down and read a novel."

At home, history surrounds Lord at all times.

But he insists he could learn more about the town's rich history.

"I still don't know enough about it," he said.

It's just another challenge in a life dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge, he said.

Zach Subar can be reached at ruralnews@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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