Listen to voices of the past when deciding on your future

To the Editor:

I read with great interest the Enterprise story and podcast on the oral history event held by Joe Burke at the historic Altamont library. This was a fitting location as so many of you contributed money, effort, and wisdom to preserving the library. We could not imagine Altamont without the library.

The event featured seniors who couldn’t wait to tell their stories of their full and significant lives in our own village.

A recent article by a national historian commented on the significance of authentic voices in books. Once those first-hand memories are gone, the book is the only a representation of the time and place, and the perspectives those lives represented.

The contribution we all make with friends and family and the association with place give us an undeniable record of our identity. Our additional contribution to our community is the personal stamp that says not only who we are but together what kind of a community we have built and leave to the next generation. Our vision and the sometimes difficult decisions we have made throughout the years have kept us moving forward.

The oral-history participants are passionate to leave a legacy to those who follow them because they feel the past does matter as we move forward, preserving what is important and worth remembering in a world full of quick fixes and short-term goals, often with a “price” too expensive for those who value quality of life for themselves and others.

Our late village treasure, archivist and historian Marijo Dougherty, devoted her time to preserve the history of Altamont. A most amazing example of her creativity is the Museum in the Streets, at the personal request of the prior mayor, Jim Gaughan. The focus of the project is to tell the history of the buildings, the architecture, and the people who were of significance in the past history of the village.

We still treasure this history as we honor those who preserved and maintained the unique Victorian-era character of the businesses and homes that made Altamont unique, and for many years, totally self-sufficient.

It is up to us, the citizens of Altamont, stewards of our history going forward, to resist those changes that are either unnecessary or motivated by forces other than those that protect our village.

This past week, I had a random conversation with a contractor from Knox. He volunteered that he wished he could live in Altamont, but could not afford it at present.

“Just driving though the village is such a pleasure; there is something that warms your heart passing the buildings, homes, and places that make up the village,” he said.

This deep sentiment is hard to deny for those of us who grew up supported by the many residents who felt the charm of the village, and became our family’s supporters, cheerleaders, and friends. We can guess that in some way it is the continuity of architecture that says, “We will care for and protect our village, and those who choose to call it their home.”

You don’t have to look far to see the “insult of place,” with commercial forces overrunning or gaining influence with those making decisions for many communities. The demolition of the house on Helderberg Avenue for a larger Stewart’s, when the store Stewart’s desires can be accomplished with better use of the current lot for expansion, is a pending example.

Losing what we have and had was so important to Marijo that numerous village contributors set up a matching fund for an oral history project. The library would love your support in this effort. We all can help and continue her legacy.

In remembrance of those who have given you the voice of their past, and set the tone for the kind of community we all want to be proud of, raise your own voice to oppose commercial development that diminishes a very special and unique historical village. It’s a slippery slope that we could fall into one bad decision at a time, and find ourselves too late to return to what has been lost.

At this season of Thanksgiving, we feel much gratitude to those before us who left us with a vibrant community of concerned citizens who cared. As we listen to their voices, and learn what has already been compromised and even lost entirely, we can learn from them and all enthusiastically encourage those projects that make Altamont a better place to live, lovingly remembering and respecting our past, while going forward with renewed courage and dedication.

Thomas Sands


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