Preserving New Scotland’s history, one structure and site at a time

— Voorheesville Public Library Archives

Union Depot was built in the 1800s to accommodate the Albany & Susquehanna and West Shore railroads and later used by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad and others. Although the village of Voorheesville was built by train traffic, the old station was torn down when it was no longer used. Recently a replica has been built nearby as a pavilion at the head of a rail trail that goes to Albany.

NEW SCOTLAND — The New Scotland Historical Association is inviting the public to a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m., at the Wyman Osterhout Community Center, to help develop a historic-preservation law for the town.

At its May meeting, the association invited John Scherer, a Voorheesville native, and, since 1978, the the town historian for Clifton Park, to discuss the challenges of preserving history in suburbia.

Clifton Park has a bit of a reputation as a developer’s paradise, said Alan Kowlowitz, president of the New Scotland Historical Association — a point not lost on the town itself.

“During the last decade, Clifton Park has become synonymous with subdivisions and shopping centers,” according to Clifton Park’s own historic preservation commission. “Most visitors to our town do not venture past the exit 9 area of the Northway and thus receive a distorted view of Clifton Park.”

But, Kowlowitz adds, Clifton Park has also accomplished a lot through its historic commission.

“If they could get something done to preserve historic structures and historic sites in a town that was exploding with growth, then we should be able to replicate that in New Scotland, or in Voorheesville,” he said.

Kowlowitz said that the majority of New Scotland residents believe in preserving historic structures and sites — it’s about three-quarters, according to the Town of New Scotland Comprehensive Plan Update.

A survey conducted by the town for the plan found that close to 75 percent of respondents said that conserving New Scotland’s historic buildings was “important,” “very important,” or “extremely important.”

Kowlowitz said that Scherer has been invited back to discuss, and answer any questions about, Clifton Park’s historic-preservation law. The second half of the Sept. 26 meeting, he said, will be a discussion about what should go into a New Scotland preservation law.

Clifton Park’s zoning code lists over 70 examples of buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts that it considers historic properties.

The intent of Clifton Park’s historic-preservation law is to:

— Protect and enhance those properties, which the code says represent distinctive elements of the town’s historic, architectural, and cultural heritage;

— Promote civic pride in the town’s accomplishments; and

— Protect against the kind of development Clifton Park has become synonymous with, subdivisions and shopping centers.

A historic property may be placed on the town’s register of historic places, if it:

— Is associated with significant a event; or

— Is identified with a historic person; or  or the lives of persons significant in our past; or

— “Embodies distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction”; or

— Has, or could, produce historical information.

Each historic property that is added to the town’s register of historic places, receive a plaque acknowledging that placement.

Clifton Park’s register of historic places “is strictly a local honorary listing”; owners have no restrictions on the use or maintenance of their properties — that is, if they are willing to forgo a tax break.

If the property’s owner does decide to apply, and is approved, for a historic-conservation easement then the owner is agreeing that any alterations that are made will be architecturally compatible with the existing building. And, that any exterior alteration can’t begin without a review from the historic preservation commission, unless it poses a threat to the public.

So, why does New Scotland, a rural town that, at every opportunity, has made it clear it intends to stay that way, need a law to protect its history?

“I think there’s interest in preservation,” Kowlowitz said. “We’ve seen that it takes a village — it takes a town — to even save a barn;  it took a lot of effort to save the Hilton Barn. But we’ve seen a lot of structures that have gone by the wayside; we’ve seen other structures disappear.”

There’s no formal way, according to Kowlowitz, of being able to slow down a process — development, alteration, restoration, reconstruction, or other construction — to see if a building is worth with preserving.

“The other thing is that, we have a historic district in Onesquethaw, where everybody recognizes the value of structures and those sites,” he said, “but we really don’t have a handle on what other historic resources exist in the town that are worth saving.”

Clifton Park’s historic-preservation law, Kowlowitz said, gives the town the ability to designate as having historic value local buildings and sites.

New Scotland’s comprehensive plan says that a historic-resources survey of the town has never been conducted, and, recommends that one be undertaken because “such a survey is critical to preservation efforts.”

“The other thing that was very attractive to us, the Clifton Park law uses tax incentives to encourage property owners to preserve and have their buildings identified as being historic,” Kowlowitz said; it uses the carrot, not the stick.

Homeowners, Kowlowitz said, would be able to voluntarily opt in to a preservation law; the town shouldn’t require anyone to do so.

“I really think we need to focus on the voluntary nature,” he said. “I think people are generally positive about historic preservation, but as soon as you start putting restrictions on property owners, it becomes perceived as being bureaucratic.”

A town historic preservation commission — those making the decisions — should be made up of a range of stakeholders, Kowlowitz said. Contractors and developers — who are typically not friendly to historic-preservation laws, but have to work within their confines — should be considered for the commission as well,  Kowlowitz said. It would give more legitimacy to the process, rather than having a commission stacked with “just people like myself,” he said, “who are interested in historic preservation.”

Clifton Park’s Historic Preservation Commission is made up of 15 town-board appointees, and includes at least one: architect, historian, licensed real-estate broker, attorney, and resident of a historic district.

Some of the duties of the commission include recommending:

— Certain criteria for historic designation;

— Which historic properties should be listed on the town’s register of historic places.

— Areas of Clifton Park that should be designated as historic districts; and

— The purchase of historic properties.


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