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Love of architecture still drives long-time historian

Thursday, January 10, 2013 - Updated: 8:41 AM


C-S-E News Staff

ST. JOHNSVILLE — Town and village historian Anita Smith loves architecture.

One-time historian for Montgomery County (from 1977 to 1983), Smith, now 88, has served as president of the New York State County Historians Association among other posts.

A grant writer who worked as the director of development at Little Falls Hospital until her retirement, Smith joked, “I have a special interest. My love is architecture. I’m not a genealogist. I’m a darn poor one, although when I was county historian, Violet Fallone [who then worked as the department’s general office supervisor and historical archives assistant] said, ‘You wouldn’t have history if people weren’t creating these things.’”

Smith said her interest in architecture stemmed from her acquaintance with Doris Manley, who worked for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation around 1974.

She said, “I’m from Canajoharie. I know all the back roads. [Manley] toured the back roads with me.”

Manley’s enthusiasm for the area’s rich architectural heritage made a lasting impression on Smith, who said, “Buildings are a piece of time. They tell who we were, what we were, where we’ve been.”

She said, “There are only about 10 different architectural styles except for today. I can tell how old a building is by the style.”

For instance, the 1830s was marked by an interest in Greek Revival-style architecture, she said.

“The style of the period reflects where people are going. They saw new styles. Upstate New York styles run a little behind,” she said.

During the Victorian period, Americans were traveling to Italy. When they came home, they wanted homes that looked like the Italianate villas — square houses with flat roofs and ornate brackets, she said. The parsonage of the St. Johnsville United Methodist Church is one such structure.

“Why they built them in upstate New York with all of the snow, I’ll never know,” she joked.

Smith said that people also built with the most economical building supplies. Over 70 houses in Canajoharie are built of limestone because of the availability of stone from the Shaper Quarry in the village, the Canajoharie native said.

In like fashion, St. Johnsville had a ready supply of limestone at the Klock quarry near present-day Fox Road, and it also had bricks because of the nearby Monroe Street brickyard.

“St Johnsville is famous for its brick homes. That’s because of the brickyard. It’s also known for its slate roofs. Doris Manley said all of these houses should be on the historic register,” she said.

Over the years, Smith has published several books and helped to achieve State and National Historic Registry status for the Enlarged Erie Canal Double Lock No. 33 in Minden.

She next wants to work on a Civil War project and write a book about her family’s history. “My great-grandfather was a famous Adirondack guide,” she said, noting she has family photos and other memorabilia related to Henry Radley, who ran a Hamilton County hunting lodge north of Stratford called Powley/Pauley Place.

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