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Keeping History Alive

City historical group uses new way to tell old story

August 3, 2009
By MICHAEL ANICH, The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN - The Johnstown Historical Society is all about preserving a bygone era, but the group doesn't have a problem using modern technology to promote the Colonial City's past.

Thanks to steady volunteerism and a $350 donation from the Wal-Mart Corp., the group is showing off Johnstown history in a unique way.

Society Buildings and Grounds Chairman Lee Lanois, who lives on Stanton Terrace, secured the donation in June through the town of Johnstown Wal-Mart store and put it to work creating a display. The display uses digital photo frames to show the city's history in a continuous loop in the front window of A&E Sportswear and Embroidery at 25 W. Main St.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich

Evamarie Mraz, co-owner of A&E Sportswear and Embroidery in downtown Johnstown, looks at a Johnstown Historical Society digital display in her store window.

"I think people stop by all the time to look at it," says A&E co-owner Evamarie Mraz, also a Historical Society member.

The digital display runs two Johnstown Historical Society compact discs on a timer daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., she said.

Mraz said the discs - "Johnstown Through the Ages" and "Johnstown Historic Sites" - are also available for the public to purchase at her downtown sporting goods store. Digital pictures of historic Johnstown greet passersby at the store as well as customers. She said all sales go directly back into the Historical Society.

The $10 DVDs feature historical sites such as Johnstown historical markers and the Drumm House, as well as other information on such subjects as Sir William Johnson, Burke's Inn on South William Street, the former Fort Johnstown Prison, Historical Society Museum, Johnson Hall, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Judge Daniel Cady. In addition to scenes, there is a narrative on historic sites.

"I've been selling the DVDs in the store for two years now," Mraz said. "It's set up in the window to kind of promote Johnstown history."

Lanois said about 100 discs have been sold in the past 18 months. The society uses the proceeds for such things as upkeep of the museum and Drumm House.

In addition to A&E Sportswear and Embroidery, the compact discs are also available at the Historical Society Museum, Johnson Hall and Mysteries on Main Street, all in Johnstown, as well as the Fulton County Museum in Gloversville and the Gateway to the Adirondacks Visitor Center at Routes 29 and 30 in Vail Mills.

Johnstown Mayor Sarah J. Slingerland, a society member, said the organization is guided by excellent volunteers such as Lanois and society President Noel Levee, the city's historian. She said many local people got more interested in local history with last year's 250th anniversary celebration or Johnstown.

She said she is proud of the display at A&E.

"It is one of those things that happen throughout the community that highlight our history," Slingerland said.

The mayor said some have suggested Johnstown is actually "the start of America" because the Battle of Johnstown was the last battle fought during the American Revolution.

The 78-year-old Lanois - a retired program manager and manufacturing engineer for the former IBM in Owego, Tioga County - said he moved to Johnstown with his Johnstown native wife, Pat, about nine years ago.

He said he's always worked around computers and always been a history buff. He said he joined the Historical Society in his retirement to get involved instead of "just sitting around the house."

Lanois said former local computer store owner Dave Gibson about five years ago made the "Johnstown Through the Ages" disc.

"He made bunches of them for us to sell," he said. "I asked if we could duplicate them and he said yes."

Lanois said he personally has taken pictures of several local historical sites and came up with an idea to promote the 560 pictures in the disc by contacting Wal-Mart. He asked for $150 from the retail store as a community donation to purchase the digital picture frames and display them at A&E.

"The objective is to have it display a selection of the images from the two compact discs to be viewed by the sidewalk passerby," Lanois wrote Feb. 4 to Wal-Mart Manager Todd Simonds.

He said Simonds was receptive and Wal-Mart more than doubled the requested donation. Lanois used the funding to buy the frames, obtain lumber for the display he put together, and for lettering done by Copy Cat.

In addition to the digital display, Lanois said he has done other work for the society, including sprucing up and providing a narrative history for four or five bronze plaques on the history of Johnstown. He also has worked with Bill Van Voast to paint the city's seven historical markers.

"We've done very well with history in Johnstown with [tourism] and at the museum on the weekends," Lanois said.

In the past several years, he said the Historical Society has received state funding for various projects such as painting the museum, redoing windows there and maintenance at Drumm House.

"We've gotten some pretty good support," Lanois said. "Johnstown is a very historical place."

Lanois said anyone who wants to donate to the Johnstown Historical Society - located at 17 N. William St. - can do so by calling 762-7076.

He said all efforts are aimed at informing local residents as well as those outside of Johnstown about the rich history of the city.

"We try to keep it alive," Lanois said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at



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