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The Color of History

New historic markers bring area’s past to life

May 31, 2009
By SHAWN M. TOMLINSON, The Leader-Herald

Most people in this area are familiar with the standard roadside historical markers.

They're usually blue with yellow around the border and an icon of New York state on them. They have a few sentences on them marking the events that took place nearby.

Welcome to the new world of historical markers: full color.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Shawn M. Tomlinson
Fulton County Historian Peter Betz shows one of the new historic markers created by the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission with a grant from NBT Bank. This marker is in front of the Colonial Courthouse in Johnstown on the corner of West Main and William streets.

"The Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission is putting [about] 30 of these new markers along the corridor from Schenectady to Rome," said Peter Betz, Fulton County historian, Thursday. "They got a grant from NBT Bank."

All four of those planned for Fulton County will be in Johnstown. Two of them - one at the original Colonial Courthouse in Sir William Johnson's time and the other in front of Fort Johnstown, the former county jail - already have been installed.

The new makers, about 3 feet wide, have color images along with details of the historic site they highlight.

Fact Box

Markers in Fulton County

(all in Johnstown)

Colonial Courthouse

Fort Johnstown

Drumm House

Battle of Johnstown battlefield

Markers in Montgomery County

Margaret Reaney Memorial Library, St. Johnsville

Fort Klock, St. Johnsville

Nellis Tavern, St. Johnsville

Fort Plain museum, Fort Plain

Old Courthouse, Fonda

Old Fort Johnson, Fort Johnson

Guy Park Manor, Amsterdam

Palatine Church, Stone Arabia

Battle of Stone Arabia battlefield

For example, the Fulton County Courthouse marker gives a little background about Johnson and the creation of the building, but also has intriguing bits such as the fact William Butler was brought to trial in the Courthouse by Gen. Benedict Arnold. Arnold, still on the side of the patriots, brought Butler to trial for trying to recruit local people for the British cause.

Betz said he and Johnstown City Historian Noel Levee both were consulted about what should be printed on the markers.

"We wanted to get them right," Betz said. "For example, George Washington never came to Johnstown."

Several markers previously have contained this erroneous information, he said.

"Rachel Bliven of the Heritage group was the real mover behind this," Betz said.

Bliven, manager of regional heritage interpretation for the commission, said a total of 26 markers will be placed between Schenectady and Rome. The project was funded by NBT Bank with Heritage New York, Bliven said.

The idea was to create a Revolutionary War corridor throughout the state.

"About a third of Revolutionary War battles took place in New York state," Bliven said. "Of those, about a third took place in the Mohawk Valley area. And here, it really was a civil war with families and neighbors divided between siding with the Loyalists or the Patriots."

Kelly A. Farquhar, historian and records management officer for the Montgomery County Archives, also was consulted for the marker that will appear in front of the Old Courthouse in Fonda.

"They gave me a layout," Farquhar said Friday. "They asked for my opinion. We tweaked it a little bit."

The marker for Fonda is awaiting installation, Farquhar said, at Johnson Hall in Johnstown.

She said she only was consulted about the marker for the Old Courthouse, which houses the archives for Montgomery County back to when it still encompassed Fulton County and before that to when it was called Tryon County.

Fonda's Old Courthouse was built in 1936 when the county seat was changed from Johnstown to Fonda, Farquhar said.

This irked Judge Daniel Cady, a well-known lawyer and judge in Johnstown and at the state level - also the father of women's sufferage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton - who led the charge to split Fulton from Montgomery County in order to get the county seat back in Johnstown.

The counties split in 1938 and the Courthouse built in Johnstown is, according to the historical marker, the only Colonial Courthouse still in use in the state.

The process to get the markers has taken several years, Farquhar said.

"I'm excited to see the marker here," she said.

Betz said the other two new markers in Fulton County will be installed at the Drumm House just down the street from the Colonial Courthouse, and at the Battle of Johnstown battlefield northeast of Johnson Hall on Johnson Avenue. While there are markers at these sites already, the new signs will provide images and more detail about the areas they cover.

In addition, Betz said, double-sized markers will be unveiled at Johnson Hall itself June 9. Johnson Hall is where the area got its start when Sir William had his baronial estate built there in 1763.

Betz said county work crews installed the two that are in place now. He said the city will need to install the other two.

For more information about the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission, go to the Web site.

"We're extremely grateful to our state and local partners," Bliven said.

Shawn M. Tomlinson is The Sunday Leader-Herald editor. He can be reached at



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