Strike up the band for a piece of Fort Plain’s past

By Linda Kellett, Courier-Standard-Enterprise News Staff

FORT PLAIN — A remnant of Fort Plain’s glory days may once again grace
a public space.

A portable bandstand once used by the Old Fort Plain Band during early
20th-century street fairs was recently donated to the village by its
local owners.

James Mackay and his wife, Pamela, own the property in the town of
Minden on which the historic wooden structure has stood since about
the 1930s. More than a century old, it pre-dates the Depression-era
bandstand that currently commands a prominent place in Haslett Park.

Long under private ownership, the colorful old gazebo still has the
turned spindles, decorative side posts and railings that can be seen
in an image in a locally-published calendar titled “The Historic
Streets of Fort Plain” that’s being sold as a fundraiser for the
Friends of Fort Plain. The vintage postcard from which it’s derived
shows a scene of Canal Street during “Fair Days,” which editor Nelson
Greene (in Chapter 122 of “The History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway
to the West 1614-1925”) said began in the fall of 1898.

The reproduced image appears as the main art for May 2012.

James Mackay noted that another image of the bandstand is in the Fort
Plain Museum collection. Fort Plain band members were photographed
standing in front of the structure in that picture.

He said, “It was used for street fairs. The picture at the museum
shows wheels behind the lattice work. They had steps going up to it,
and it was horse drawn, I believe.”

Minden Town Historian David Manclow believes the owner of the Hufnail
House, which once stood on Center Street in the village, commissioned
the construction of the bandstand.

He said the end of the portable gazebo’s useful life dated after the
1918 closure of the old Erie Canal. He said limestone from the defunct
waterway was re-used for foundations for stores; and after fire
consumed the Fritcher Opera House, Frederick S. Haslett purchased the
land on which it and the Union Hotel stood.

“That’s when Haslett ... gave the village the park,” Manclow said.

With the construction by the Works Progress Administration of a
permanent bandstand there, the old moveable structure was retired.

Pamela Mackay said the first private owner of the gazebo was George
Chriss, who at one time owned the retail property at 47 Main St.
(Diefendorf Hall).

Chriss had the moveable bandstand transported up the hill to his property.

After a time at that location, she said it was “going to fall over,”
so Chriss or the Harmons, who subsequently owned it, “closed it in.”

A third couple owned the property after that, and the Mackays bought
it from them in 1989, Pamela said.

She said, “We heard there was an octangular shed, but it wasn’t until
we were ready to put the lawn mower away the first year that we
discovered what was there. We took the siding off and tied [the
bandstand] up.”

James said, “The original floor was no good, so we jacked it up and
put a pressure-treated floor on it. It’s still standing.”

It was around the time of their discovery that a very elderly Helen
Hufnail Timmerman told the couple that her father, Frank E. Hufnail
Sr., had commissioned the building of the bandstand. According to the
C-S-E archives,Timmerman celebrated her 91st birthday in 1992.

Because the Mackays weren’t really using the structure, they recently
contacted the Friends of Fort Plain, who brought in an architect to
look at it.

He said, “We were told if they could get it to the village, the high
school tech class might be able to fix it.”

The Mackays donated the gazebo to the village in the hopes that it
could be used as a backdrop for weddings and the like.

Fort Plain Mayor Guy Barton said the village “has graciously accepted
ownership” of the bandstand and will be responsible for moving it from
the Sand Hill property.

“We’re moving it to a downtown location and hoping to have it
restored,” Barton said, noting that it had been protected over the
years.

While the bandstand isn’t in pristine condition, village Trustee
Marianne McFee said that it’s “fixable.”

Pamela said, “It won’t take a lot of money and work to fix it.”

She said the gazebo initially had metal bands that extended from one
post to another to give it stability. “They were removed,” she said,
“But it’s in really good shape considering it’s 150 years old. We have
some of the bands to put back on, but there aren’t enough to go all
the way around.”

Pamela said she and her husband were present when the architect
detailed steps to move the structure.

She said, “Jim and I were there when he said what needed to be done to
stabilize [the bandstand] to move it. In order to move it, it needs
beams under it. It needs to be jacked up; then, coming from the
property of the neighbor in back of me, they can back a flatbed
underneath it and drive away. It’ll have to be strapped down.”

Based on the transfer document between the village and the Mackays,
the village has agreed to accept the transfer of ownership and is
“responsible for the moving of the bandstand from the Mackays’
property within a reasonable time.”

-- 
Bob Sullivan
Schenectady Digital History Archive
<http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/>
Schenectady County (NY) Public Library