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August 2012


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Robert Sullivan <[log in to unmask]>
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A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 10 Aug 2012 22:19:14 -0400
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Historic fort set to reopen Saturday

By Heather Nellis, Recorder News Staff

FORT JOHNSON -- Come Saturday, the smell of freshly baked bread will
waft from an 18th century oven at Old Fort Johnson while a colonial
beer brewmaster lectures about his craft.

The historic site's "house band," the Liaisons Plaisantes, will play
live music, the tunes bobbing across carefully-manicured gardens while
patrons enjoy complimentary ice cream sundaes after soaking in the
rich history that hangs inside the walls of Sir William Johnson's
former home.

It's a scene that could act as the setting for many other events at
the old fort, except a brazen blue strip of duct tape will stick
across the limestone structure's brawny exterior, five feet above
ground level.

The tape will serve as an immediate reminder of the water that flashed
onto the site and drowned it during Hurricane Irene late Aug. 28,
2011, leaving filthy mud behind before Tropical Storm Lee prompted a
rerun of inundation in the fort's cellar a week later.

But Saturday will mark a re-opening celebration hard fought for the
past 11 months and 19 days.

Inside the fort, each of the methodically-placed displays will feature
printed posters of what the rooms looked like after the floodwater

For site Board of Directors member Lori Rulison, "they're hard to look at."

"It's hard to believe it's been a year. Looking at the pictures, it's
just surreal," said Museum Coordinator Alessa Wylie.

The difference will be stark, perhaps measurable in the near $150,000
and hundreds upon hundreds of man-hours it took to right the floods'
wrongs, but the fort, the visitor's center and the grounds look
pristine. Back to, if not better than, what the site looked like
before it became awash with the dirty water.

"We're making lemonade," joked Wylie, noting the situation marked an
opportunity to make upgrades to the buildings, including replacement
of electrical and heating systems in the fort before last winter.

But the lemons came first. The visitor's center had to be completely
gutted, the repairs undertaken through the winter, and then
restoration of the old fort started in the spring.

Site Manager Scott Haefner said one of the first hurdles was waiting
for everything to dry, noting that alone took eight weeks.

"When we'd pump water out, the ground's water table was so saturated,
that the water would just seep back in," Wylie added.

Cleansing the original wood floors was the biggest obstacle to date,
Wylie said. They became embedded with mud, because the lacquer was
sanded off about 35 years ago to give the site an authentic look.

"The thought was [the floors] wouldn't have had a finish on them in
Johnson's time," Haefner said of the home of the former superintendent
of Indian Affairs, who lived in the limestone house with his family
throughout the French and Indian War. "But they were also cleaned
three times a week at that time, too."

After a special floor scrubber was used to remove the mud, staff and
volunteers got a taste of the work of Johnson's maids and slaves
undertook three times a week, wiping and dusting the entire building
from the attic to the first floor.

"We had to make sure to get rid of any spores that could have spread
through the building," Haefner said.

"What [the slaves and maids] did three times a week, took us one week
to do once," Wylie said.

All of the artifacts have been cleaned, and exhibits were restored. A
couple of the display cases were lost, but all of the artifacts were
saved before the floodwater rushed into the fort.

Haefner, who is 6-feet, 3-inches tall, said he took the opportunity to
lower the hanging displays for those who might not be as tall as he,
and new and improved lighting will also help the view.

"We took the opportunity to rethink what we have," Wylie said.

The re-opening event will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
and is free to the public, though donations will be gladly accepted.

Old Fort Johnson is located on Route 5 at the intersection of Route 67
in the village of Fort Johnson. For additional information, call
843-0300 or visit www.oldfortjohnson.org

Bob Sullivan
Schenectady Digital History Archive
Schenectady County (NY) Public Library