Historic Canajoharie school to be restored

CANAJOHARIE — The historic West Hill School will soon be restored to its former glory and serve as part of a new cultural arts center for the Mohawk Valley region.

According to a news release, The Mohawk Valley Collective historic preservation society took control of the original Canajoharie Academy— today known as West Hill School — in 2012. The group is looking to convert the historic building into a conference and cultural arts center.

“Restoration of the West Hill School preserves a local landmark and a piece of history here in the village of Canajoharie,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara in the release. “The history of the school, which sits on the former site of the Canajoharie Academy, is woven into the fabric of our community and keeping its legacy alive has been the driving force behind the importance of this project. This investment not only breathes new life into this nationally recognized site, but also ensures that our region’s history and culture will endure for generations to come.”

Tolga Morawski, founder of the Mohawk Valley Collective, said the project to restore the building is estimated to begin in mid-to-late 2019 starting with the restoration of the bell tower and a full building rehab scheduled for some time in 2020.

West Hill School which was built in 1824, famously employed women’s suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who served as a teacher and head of the “female department” from 1846 to 1851.

The current building’s stone facade and distinct red roof, built in 1892 by American architect Archimedes Russell in the Romanesque revival style, served as the site of multiple schools, until the building fell into disrepair in the 2000s.

According to the press release, with the original roof gone, the Mohawk Valley Collective — when they took control of the building in 2012 — sought to restore it to its former vermilion glory.

A Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of building materials, CertainTeed donated 15,000 square-feet of Venetian Red Highland Slate shingles needed to repair the school’s bell tower and roof, as well as underlayments and other materials.

“This is one of the most interesting projects we have been a part of. We are often approached for donations, and are very selective with the projects we become involved in, but there is a rich history to this building, as well as a promising future,” said Alex Pecora, director of roofing product management for CertainTeed. “The architect of the 1892 building, Archimedes Russell, was well-known and served as a professor of architecture at Syracuse University in the late 1800s. It’s an honor to be able to help restore the building to his original vision.”

According to the release, Morawski said previous roof patchwork had been done on the building in the 1970s, but the building became derelict when it fell into foreclosure during the 2008 housing crisis.

“A 25-year roof was installed on the building in 1975, but it’s in rough shape. Since acquiring the building in 2012, we’ve been patching it with donated shingles from homeowners who had extras, but we came to a point where we needed to replace the roof and make much needed repairs to the decking,” Morawski said. “The building sits high on a hill overlooking the village where it sees a lot of wind and the bell tower has been struck by lightning in the past due to its height, so we are thrilled CertainTeed was able to provide us with a product right for the climate that matches the building’s original charm.”

The Mohawk Valley Collective is a New York based nonprofit dedicated to the restoration and adaptive reuse historic architectural gems in the Mohawk Valley region. Their mission is to preserve deteriorated properties of historic or other significance in western and central Montgomery County and return those properties to productive use. Their goals also include striving to promote tourism and job creation; to serve as a clearinghouse for information about historic, natural, cultural and recreational attractions , events and accommodations; and to make connections.

By Kerry Minor

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