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Thu., Oct. 8
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Potsdam celebrates history with sandstone fest


POTSDAM — The village celebrated its legacy last week during the Potsdam Sandstone Festival, which ran Thursday through Sunday.

Masons, historians and architects recounted the importance of the region’s distinctive red sandstone, which can be found only at four quarries in the country.

“There are people that are very enthusiastic about sandstone,” said Mimi Van Deusen, director of the Potsdam Public Museum.

Each day of the festival offered tours of some of Potsdam’s sandstone structures, such as the Old Main building at Clarkson University and Trinity Episcopal Church on Grand Island.

The village’s first sandstonebuilding was erected in 1821 as an experiment to see if the stone would hold up. It still stands, now known as Little Italy on Market Street.

“It indeed has held up pretty well,” Ms. Van Deusen said.

Further buildings were created throughout the 1830s and into the 20th century.

As the years have passed, some of these historic buildings have begun to fall into disrepair. One of the main reasons for the Sandstone Festival is to educate people about their proper care and maintenance, Ms. Van Deusen said.

Often people with the best intentions can accidentally damage a building further by using faulty repair techniques.

A mason showed spectators how to repair mortar joints during a presentation at Trinity Episcopal Church.

“It’s really interesting and exciting for me to have these hands-on demonstrations,” Ms. Van Deusen said.

The festival ended Sunday with a lecture and tour of Bayside Cemetery, with its large gatehouse built from local red sandstone.

The cemetery has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002.

“It’s a beautiful cemetery,” said Rachel E. Fulton, Colton. Ms. Fulton is studying history at Clarkson University. “There’s a lot of interesting stones and mausoleums.”

Susan S. Omohundro, a member of the cemetery’s board of directors, recounted how the building was commissioned by the Clarkson family in 1900.

The gatehouse was used for a combination of religious functions and living space for the sexton. In more modern times it was rented out, but now it stands empty.

“The status of the gatehouse is a little bit in limbo right now,” Ms. Omohundro said.

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