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Historic site reopens doors

August 12, 2012
By ARTHUR CLEVELAND , The Leader Herald

FORT JOHNSON - A long line of blue tape wraps around the outside of Old Fort Johnson and its visitor center, a testament to the height of the floodwater that threatened to destroy the building last year.

The Montgomery County Historical Society, which maintains the site, has repaired much of the damage, however, and the group celebrated the success of the recovery effort with a "Re-Open house" on Saturday.

After almost a year since flooding caused by Hurricane Irene damaged the basement and first floor, the fort is open for guests. Re-enactors sat in the upper garden Saturday, demonstrating how beer, bread and desserts were made long ago, all while handing out samples of their wares.

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Alessa Wylie, director of the Montgomery County Historical Society, speaks Saturday about the repairs made at Old Fort Johnson. The blue tape on the building behind shows how high the flood water rose late last summer after Tropical Storm Irene hit the region. (The Leader-Herald/Arthur Cleveland)

Smoke from the wood fires filled the air. Music poured out from the second floor, supplied by musicians Olof Jansson, Marille Urbanczyk and Ron Burch.

Last August, Hurricane Irene came through, causing the banks of the Mohawk River to pour over its banks at overrun railroad tracks and roads and to rise up so high that the historic Old Fort Johnson was flooded six feet deep.

Photos on display at the event showed the site during and after the flooding.

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Alessa Wylie, director of the Montgomery County Historical Society, said volunteers had to go around the fort in a row boat to survey the damage. The floods severely damaged the first floor of the visitor center and the main house, which was the home of Sir William Johnson before he built his baronial manor in Johnstown.

"It was over the gun ports," said Lori Rulison, a member of the historical society's Board of Trustees, pointing to small holes in the stone wall. "... approximately five to six feet high."

While the two feet of water damage in the Visitor Center was repaired by replacing the sections damaged, Wylie said, they did not want to rip out any walls in the fort, wanting to preserve the plaster. So, to preserve as much as possible, holes were drilled into the baseboards and hot air was pumped into the walls to dry them out. It cost $84,000 to dry and repair the walls, according to Wylie.

"The largest single expense was drying out the fort," she said.

Rulison said the repairs so far have cost $150,000. Wylie has said the repairs were paid for thanks to an endowment to the society. The group is accepting donations to help pay back the money that was spent from the endowment. Wylie said they have recouped one-third of the endowment funds spent, totalling $50,000 or more.

More than 70 volunteers have helped repair the building, Wylie said,

There are still some repairs to be done, including to the privy - which was almost washed away in the flood - a new bulkhead for the basement, and the garden.

"We can't thank Santos Construction enough," Wylie said. "They donated their time and services. They donated a crane to help move the privy back."

Wylie was there the night of the flooding in late August. She and several volunteers moved items from the basement up to the first floor. In the 15 minutes it took to do that, the entire front yard was flooded. More volunteers were called to help move everything from the first floor to the second. Thanks to their quick action, no artifacts were lost.

Arthur Cleveland can be reached at



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