In 2011 Hurricane Irene tore open Guy Park Manor, a Georgian-style residence along the Mohawk River in Amsterdam, New York revealing its pastel interiors to a storm-ravaged landscape as furniture floated in floodwaters amid piles of fallen rubble. Although left in a state of ruin, the historic home-turned-history museum was not a lost cause. The Reimagine the Canals Project, an economic development program to convert and promote the Erie Canal region into a bustling tourism and recreation destination, will imbue new life in the National Register of Historic Places–listed building and its surrounding landscape.
The New York Power Authority (NYPA) and New York State Canal Corporation have announced construction has kicked off on the Guy Park Manor Environmental Education and Resiliency Park, an education center focused on the environment and preservation of local ecosystems. Through a partnership with the nearby Erie Canal Museum, the project will convert the Guy Park Manor and property into a community-oriented destination where locals and visitors can learn about the Mohawk Valley and climate resiliency in the region.
Schenectady, New York–based Synthesis Architects, LLP will take the lead on the restoration of the manor house, with construction by local firm VMJR Companies, and the park design by Philadelphia-based WRT Design. The design team was selected from a competitive procurement process launched in 2021.
“For nearly two centuries, the Erie Canal has connected people and commerce across the Empire State, and as the stewards of this iconic waterway, the New York Power Authority and Canal Corporation are committed to ensuring the preservation of its historic sites,” said New York Power Authority Interim President and CEO Justin E. Driscoll in a statement. “By investing in the rehabilitation of Guy Park Manor, we are investing in environmental education, community building, and the revitalization of canalside communities for generations to come.”
The Guy Park Manor, a limestone house with green shutters was built in 1774 for Irish immigrant Guy Johnson, the son-in-law and nephew of the British Superintendent for Indian Affairs in colonial New York, Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet. After Johnson returned to the United Kingdom in the late 18th century, the house functioned as a stagecoach stop along the Mohawk Turnpike and was later purchased by the state and converted into the Walter Elwood Museum, an institution devoted to showcasing history and artifacts about the Mohawk Valley, Erie Canal, and city of Amsterdam. Of the 35 locks inserted in the Erie Canal, the east-west manmade waterway extending from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, trussed lock E-11 is located on the Guy Park Manor property.
After the wrath of Hurricane Irene left the house in a severe state of disrepair in 2021, the state swiftly launched an emergency procurement to repair and restabilize the structure, essentially readying it for this latest renovation.
Restoration of the site will be divided into two phases, with the first phase tackling the rebuilding and resiliency of the building and the second concentrated on revamping the landscape. A primary focus of the project, will be to mitigate future weather- and water-related catastrophes that could again destroy the site. Among these upgrades is a plan to lift the building up 3.6 feet, which will place its first floor 7 feet above the 100-year flood elevation. A new reinforced concrete foundation and flood vents inserted in the basement walls will drain water from the structure’s base.
Additional renovation work to the building’s exterior will repair the limestone facade, replace the slate roof, reconstruct chimneys, restore windows and doors, and rebuild the south porch to install a wheelchair lift. As for the interiors, upgrades will be made to the mechanical systems and a new fire and security system will be installed along with repairs to the architectural elements such as the fireplaces, staircases, flooring, and trim work throughout. The spaces will be reimagined for new exhibitions and to house multipurpose spaces.
As previously mentioned, the second phase centers on the surrounding property, reimagined as an extension of the museum exhibitions it will add to the educational value of the site with demonstration gardens, an outdoor pavilion, and opportunities for visitors to engage with water, ecosystems, and native plantings. Similar to the building, resilient design is a major consideration within the new park and there are plans to erect berms across the property to stunt erosion and mitigate water runoff.
Other improvements include a new fishing platform and kayak launch as well as a staircase leading to the moveable dam over the waterway, which will create a safe pedestrian pathway connecting the park to the Empire State Trail, canal, and river.
“Historic preservation seeks to celebrate and save significant elements of the past while planning for a resilient and sustainable future,” Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid added. “Communities are increasingly having to plan for and respond to risks – and the rehabilitation of Guy Park Manor is an admirable example of incorporating protective measures designed to withstand future storms while also maintaining the historic integrity of a locally significant site.”