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Recipients of historic preservation grants say they help preserve NY’s heritage

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)
The Seward House in Auburn is one of the historic sites in New York to receive historic preservation grants

Thirty historic sites in 21 counties in New York received $239,634 in preservation grant money, and they say it makes a difference in a region where the economy is struggling.

The grants were distributed by the Preservation League of New York State, along with help from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. They were awarded to groups ranging from an antique boat museum to a dance center to help with preserving cultural heritage across New York.

Peter Lopez, an assemblyman from Schoharie who represents a wide swath of upstate New York, said the grants can mean a difference to regions that have suffered economic hardship for decades. He said his district is full of pastoral beauty and historical sites dating from before the American Revolution, but it needs help.

“Much of my region is northern Appalachia,” Lopez said.

He said the grants also can “serve as a rallying point” and help leverage other resources.

Janet Acker is the board chair of the Rensselaerville Library in southwestern Albany County, a village in Lopez’s district. She said the library, which received $9,104, is housed in two connecting historical buildings that serve as a community center — and require quite a bit of upkeep.

“We have a beautiful, multi-tiered garden in the back,” Acker said. “For people to come to read, to meet with their neighbors, to enjoy programs that we provide.”

She said many come for the high-speed Internet access, which is not readily available in the rural area.

“It’s one of the really vital resources,” Acker said.

Other grant recipients include historical societies and sites. Among them is the William Seward House in Auburn. It received $10,000 to expand its exhibit space into a barn on the property.

Mitch Maniccia, facilities manager, started as an intern, and was hooked when he learned more about one of the most prominent New Yorkers of the 19th century. Seward was a governor of New York before the age of 40, as well as a U.S. senator. He was President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state and was severely injured by a would-be assassin and co-conspirator on the same day that Lincoln was shot.

“I was blown away by the amazing history,” said Maniccia. “And I think everyone who visits goes through that same transformation and they realize just how special the place is.”

Seward stayed on as secretary of state under President Andrew Johnson, where he negotiated the purchase of what is now the state of Alaska. This year is the 150th anniversary of the event.

Maniccia said Auburn’s economy is improving, aided by another historic site in the town, the Harriet Tubman Home, which became a national historical park in January.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that the state is giving $10 million to the city of Auburn for a new Equal Rights Heritage Center, which he said will highlight the efforts of New York’s “equal rights pioneers.”