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Village of Potsdam to join TAUNY on hydro dam history project

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POTSDAM — Village officials will be joining forces with Traditional Arts in Upstate New York in an oral history project on the construction of hydroelectric power dams on the Raquette River.

A resolution authorizing Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis to execute a memorandum of understanding with TAUNY was passed at this week’s village board meeting.

“One of the work plan components in the Raquette River Blueway Trails was the development of the oral history on the people who worked on the Raquette River dams. Between the 1920s and present day, there have been several hydroelectric dam projects,” village Planning and Development Director Fred J. Hanss said.

The project will be put together in an amount not to exceed $20,000, subject to final approval by the state Department of State Division of Coastal Resources.

Funding for the project will be provided through the department’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.

“Part of TAUNY’s mission is to collect the stories of people who are in the north country,” TAUNY Executive Director Jill R. Breit said. “We’ve already been making connections with people to do this work. This particular project will focus on the creating of the hydro-electric power dam. It will not only focus on the people who constructed them but also the people who were affected by them.”

Mr. Hanss said that there are tentative plans to get the project underway this summer.

An important aspect of the history work will be showcasing the laborers’ efforts. “Many of those people worked on (the dams) before the St. Lawrence Seaway was developed. Many of those people who worked on those are in their 70s now and we wanted to showcase their work before they slip away,” Mr. Hanss said. “They knew that they were doing something unique and they took photographs and home movies. Before all of that stuff ends up in somebody’s attic or taken to the dump, we’d like to give them the opportunity to share that.”

Mr. Hanss said he is appreciative of the opportunities an organization like TAUNY brings.

“We’re fortunate that the north country has a group like TAUNY that has traditional folklorists that would be able to do the interviews, collect the artifacts and there has been some discussion of some video shot of that at the same time,” Mr. Hanss said.

“They’ll also be a school-based curriculum prepared from this that local history teachers will use. This would be something that would be available for teachers. The other thing is (the students) may be very surprised to learn that their grandparents or other family members may have been involved with the work.”

Ms. Breit said she was very much on board with the project when the village approached her office with the idea.

“A lot of the local repositories don’t have long recorded interviews but one of the things that TAUNY does is record long interviews. By the time we’re done interviewing somebody, there is a long narrative of the person and their work. ... We do anticipate working with videographers, and it’s possible that some of that material will be used in the finished productions, but we want to start by getting a better feeling on what material we have,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity, and we are very glad that the village passed the idea.”

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