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Rome's Erie Canal Village re-opens with plans for restorations

Erie Canal construction began on the land where Erie Canal Village is--now the village is under new management and historic buildings will be restored

Most of the historic buildings at Rome's Erie Canal Village are locked because of safety concerns, but the group that's leased the historic property with plans to buy has begun cleanup and restoration of the 225-acre park. Fences and gates are gone and visitors are invited in to picnic, and watch the progress of restoration.

Tim Shannon, a partner in Empire State Heritage Park and the project's general manager, promises his group will rebuild the Erie Canal Village, to include historical re- enactments.

Memorial Day weekend saw a 'soft opening' for the new managers with a craft fair and live entertainment. Thousands came, many who remember visiting the Rome-New London Road complex as children on school field trips.

"I have a duty to save it," Mark Clough, the project operations manager told us. He says his crews are doing basic cleanup, including mowing and removing fallen tree branches. The buildings, including a church, a one-room schoolhouse, and a cheese factory, were moved to the site decades ago, and have serious structural damage. The Harden barn once housed a collection of horse drawn vehicles, but the family has moved them off site because of leaking problems in that building.It's hoped that at least three of the buildings can be re-opened this year, with more to come.

Erie Canal Village is on an historic site that dates back to pre-settler days. It's most noted as the 'start construction site for both Clinton's Ditch (1817) and its successor the Erie Canal, both water transportation routes that let the products of the region, including furs and lumber, be shipped to New York City, and which became 'America's highway to the West' for thousands of immigrants. Before the canals, it was a key site in the French and Indian War (1756) when Fort Bull was attacked by the French and 300 British defenders were killed. Shannon calls it 'the Alamo of the East' and wants to build a replica of the fort, and to bring in researchers to find the victims and set memorials to them.

Danielle Gorton-Williams is the Creative Director, and says that in addition to the restorations, this summer they're training people so that by fall they'll have 'edutainment' programs--hands-on historical experiences--for both school children and adults who visit.

While the emphasis is on the local history of the period, visitors can also watch medieval knights fighting. Sir Steven Thompson was in full armor on Memorial Day, demonstrating traditions from over a thousand years ago. His group, part of a national organization, will be doing its training and matches here, in exchange for helping with the cleanup. Their activities were already a draw over the weekend.

No admission will be charged for the park--they plan to support the operation with food sales and more (plans are also underway to restore an old tavern, on site).

This year, a bluegrass festival, a civil war encampment and a pirate festival are on the schedule. Next year, they're planning on events every weekend, themed on the coming 200th anniversary of construction of Clinton's Ditch.You can follow plans on Facebook, on the Friends of the Erie Canal Village site

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