Bipartisan group of officials celebrates Preservation League move
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Philipstown’s Old Albany Post Road Wednesday achieved a figurative milestone as welcome as the rock milestones that once marked wayfarers’ progress: The Preservation League of New York State designated a 6-mile stretch as one of “Seven to Save” sites for 2014-15, adding it to an elite state-wide selection of places considered too valuable to neglect.
The announcement came at a June 11 news conference attended by a bipartisan group of elected and appointed officials; members of the Old Road Society, which worked with the Preservation League; and public. It occurred on a rainy morning at the Bird and Bottle Inn, a colonial tavern located at the intersection of Old Albany Post Road and Indian Brook Road. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places, the only Empire State roads listed.
Old Road Society supporters have sometimes scrapped with government officials but on Wednesday everyone celebrated the new honor for Old Albany Post Road. Some likewise expressed hopes the designation leads to funding for maintenance.
Erin Tobin, a Preservation League regional director, pledged her group would “work with the Old Road Society and members of the Philipstown community on effective preservation practices” for “this very important historic stretch of road. As you drive up and down this road, you can go back in time and get a sense of what it was like 200 years ago and more. And that’s such a special characteristic. It’s so hard to find,” she said.
The road began as a Native American trail, grew into a rural track under Dutch dominance in the 1600s, became a crucial link between New York City and Albany after Britain wrested control of “New Amsterdam” from the Netherlands, and served colonial mail (or “post”) carriers, stage coaches, horsemen, wagons, armies, settlers, and others. Now it is frequented by cars and other heavy vehicles, with modern homes on the side.
Tracing the history, Terence Zaleski, Old Road Society president, noted — among other points — that “all the major generals were back and forth along this road” in the Revolutionary War. “We can’t forget that all roads connect people and places but this road connects people and generations over time. That’s what’s special,” he said.
Zaleski saluted all those who helped preserve the road, including local government leaders.
“We couldn’t be looking at a good dirt road if it wasn’t for the support we’ve received from the town,” Zaleski said. “Quite frankly, maintaining this road has not been cheap over the years. It’s a road that needs special care and attention.” He praised Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, his colleagues on the Town Board and Philipstown Highway Superintendent Roger Chirico for their involvement, including efforts by Chirico and his staff over the harsh 2013-14 winter. “They did a good job,” he said.
Shea, a Democrat, described Old Albany Post Road as “a historic gem” and said “we do have a little slice of paradise here” in Philipstown with such reminders of the past. “You can’t pave paradise. You can’t take things for granted,” he cautioned. Shea recalled that 25 or 30 years ago, an old schoolhouse stood near The Bird and Bottle. His grandfather taught there around 1900 and he himself saw it as a young man, Shea said. Then, suddenly, it came down. “That’s the way things do disappear,” unless there’s public vigilance he said. Shea also referred to the sometimes fractious debates over the best way to handle Old Albany Post Road. “It’s been an honest discussion and an open discussion. The result is the road stays the way it is,” Shea said.
“I know sometimes it’s difficult but we all work together as a community to preserve something as wonderful as this,” Putnam County Legislator, Barbara Scuccimarra, a Republican, concurred. She termed it a “wonderful thing” for the road to be one of only “Seven to Save” sites in the state. History “could be gone tomorrow, “but it doesn’t come without its challenges” when saved, she acknowledged. “Dirt roads are very difficult to maintain, because it’s not like it was 100 years ago. There are homes and driveways along” Old Albany Post Road now, “there’s trucks on it. So I’m hoping that with this designation would come some help with grant money, or some kind of money, to help Philipstown with drainage. And we have to have a grader that works” well on dirt roads, she said.
Fred Pena, Putnam County highway commissioner, spoke in a similar vein. “It’s important that we do work together to try to blend the right balance of preserving the historic integrity of these roads while maintaining them in a condition that’s usable to all the people who live in this community,” he said. He called the Seven to Save distinction for Old Albany Post Road “such a wonderful surprise … because that might allow us to apply for different grants and things we could do to preserve it historically while maintaining it in a condition that is usable.”