Kevin Franklin was appointed to the position of Historian for the Town of Colonie in late 2003, shortly after retiring from 30 years of service with the Menands Police Department. He has also been the municipal historian for the Village of Menands since 1986.
Q: Why is it important to preserve a community’s history?
A: The language in the header on the historian’s web page is open to some interpretation. The historian has no legal authority to halt a development project or stop some structure from demolition. However, it is my duty to advise or to work with other departments within the town and other individuals including outside agencies when it comes to trying to preserve architectural, historical, or sites with possible archaeological significance. I work with developers, the state Office of Parks & Recreation and Historic Preservation and with non-profit organizations such as the Historic Albany Foundation whenever possible to salvage important architectural elements, if they exist, on or in structures slated for demolition.
Q: What do you think is the most significant historic site in the Town of Colonie and why?
A: Several places come to mind, but without question, it has to the Schuyler Flatts Cultural Park on Route 32 between Menands and the City of Watervliet. The Schuyler Flatts site dates to the early 1640’s and with the vision of past Colonie Historian Jean Olton and the town, and many others, the site, which was owned by several individuals, was saved with the help of the Open Space Institute and developed by the town into a space now enjoyed by many people. The Schuyler Flatts Cultural Park is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark Site. The site is also where captured French Jesuit Priest Isaac Jogues made his escape from his Mohawk Indian Captors with the Help of Ardent VanCurler in the early 1640’s. For additional information about the Schuyler Flatts Site, readers can visit: newnetherlandinstitute.org
Q: Specifically, what got you interested in history?
A: I guess it would begin with my mother. My mother was fond of antiques and would visit small antique shops, and depending on the price, would purchase furniture that needed to refinishing, which I would sometimes help her with. I learned to see that beneath the many layers of old paint and varnish were beautiful works of craftsmanship that were given new life and were placed throughout our home. I always found the topic of history itself interesting.
Q: Development or Progress, if often at odds with preservation. What do you think is the best way to balance the two. Is one side winning?
A: This brings me back to the first question. What is it exactly that may be preserved? Is it open land or a structure? Is it an old home, or structure, that has deteriorated beyond a reasonable cost to save, and who decides that? For example: Recently, an old home consisting of one part dating to the late 1790s and the remainder to about 1840 sat on a small parcel of land, perhaps two acres remaining of what was once a very large tract of land. The owners were up in years, both physically and financially unable to do much needed repairs and upgrades to their home, and decided to sell. At least one younger couple was interested in buying the home with the thought of restoring it, but found there were too many drawbacks from serious structural to asbestos issues and more, and decided not to invest in the home. The critical word here is “invest,” which of course means time and money put towards something. That is where balance comes in. How much time and effort and money should be spent (and by whom?) to save a structure? Does the structure remain where it is to be re-habbed or can it be moved? If so, where? Land, and land beneath a structure often worth more than the structure itself. There is no magic wand.
Q: If you could have lunch with one historic figure, who would it be and why?
A: I’ve often thought about that. Who wouldn’t want to have lunch with George Washington or Benjamin Franklin (no relation!) However, it would be a toss-up between Gen. William Worth who built the large home called “Hedgelawn” across from the Schuyler Flatts Park or Benjamin Prescott. Worth distinguished himself during the War of 1812. He was also an early superintendent of the Watervliet Arsenal, fought in the Seminole Indian Wars and the U.S. War with Mexico, quite the flamboyant character. Lake Worth Florida and Fort Worth Texas are named for him. My choice however would be Benjamin Prescott, a little known figure in American History who was an Army Engineer during the American Revolution. A surveyor by trade and designer of the first inclined plane in America to haul canal boats up the side of a waterfall on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. By the late 1790s he contracted with the City of Albany to construct their first municipal water system. Part of that system included a stream in the Menands area of Colonie. He was also superintendent of the Springfield Armory and designed the first dam and sloop lock on the Hudson River between Waterford and Lansingburgh. Prescott was also an early founder of the Cohoes Company. Prescott and his wife are buried in the old Waterford Cemetery.
If you would like to see someone featured in Five Questions contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or [email protected]