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Irene damaged historic landmarks upstate

FORT JOHNSON -- A single line of blue duct tape wrapped around Old Fort Johnson marks the floodwaters' crest when Tropical Storm Irene swept through the Mohawk River community a year ago.

The tape is almost 7 feet above the National Historic Landmark's grassy lawn.

The 18th-century homestead, Guy Park Manor in Amsterdam and Schoharie Crossing near Fort Hunter were among the historic sites inundated when the storm came through last Aug. 28. The assault cost an estimated $11 million to $13 million to about 40 New York State-owned parks and historic sites.

Museum coordinator Alessa Wylie of the Montgomery County Historical Society, which has its headquarters in Old Fort Johnson, recalled the frantic effort by staff and volunteers to protect centuries-old artifacts as the rains came.

"When the water began flowing into the basement, it sounded like a waterfall," Wylie said.

The storm flooded the first floor of the museum as well as that of another Colonial-era building, which served as the visitors center. The fort's original privy, believed to be one of only a handful from that era still standing, was knocked over and became lodged against a concrete wall.

The interior plaster of the now-upright outhouse has cracked and fallen, but the original two wood seats are intact.

As disruptive as the storm was to Old Fort Johnson, the damage was worse downriver at Guy Manor. Floodwaters tore away large sections from the Georgian limestone home and carried off about 2,000 of the 20,000 artifacts belonging to the Walter Elwood Museum, which leased the building from the state. The floodwaters destroyed the entire contents of two exhibit rooms and ruined equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars, executive director Ann Peconie said.

Since then, museum staffers have nearly finished sorting, cleaning and re-cataloguing items that survived the flood. The museum is using a former car dealership as temporary storage space until it moves to a new home in Amsterdam. Federal disaster aid helped cover some of the losses, Peconie said.

At Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, the storm came with an unexpected benefit. When the Schoharie Creek overflowed its banks, it swept away the parking lot, revealing the remains of the frontier fort built by the British in the early 1700s to protect the local Mohawk Indians. After the flood, archaeologists spent several months excavating the exposed foundations and discovered numerous 18th-century artifacts.

"It was a terrible disaster, but there have also been some good things that came out of it," site manager Janice Fontanella said.

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