I grew up in Glenmont, NY, a semi-rural community where the milk we drank came from the farm up the street, as did our eggs; our Thanksgiving turkey was fresh from another local farm. We were free to play in the fields and woods, enjoy the pleasures of fresh air, shade trees and cozy farmhouses. It was idyllic. On Sunday we went to church at a large church in Albany. I loved that church, with its warm wooden, cushioned pews, its beautiful stained glass, and the reverence I felt as I stood before its altar. However, when I reached my teens, urban revitalization began in our city. Old homes were being torn down and families displaced, landmarks forever destroyed, and old churches ripped from their foundations in the name of progress — the South Mall was the proposed savior to the blight of all of these old structures. I remember our minister pleading with officials to save our church — to make it a little sanctuary in the midst of the concrete and glass office buildings. Alas, he met with no success, and our beautiful old church was wiped from the landscape of the city forever. This was my first bitter taste of “progress,” and I think of that now each time I look at the cold glass towers that rise from the concrete below.
Since then, I have watched as my childhood fields and trees have been replaced with big box stores, chain restaurants, and housing developments. Very little has been deemed worth saving — developers have raped our lovely little piece of countryside. It breaks my heart each time I drive through and remember the natural beauty and old buildings that existed before all of the rampant development.
I have lived across town in Slingerlands since my marriage, in a Victorian house built during the 1890’s, which has been in my husband’s family since 1924. Several years ago, an area of Slingerlands was designated as a National and State Historic District — quite an honor for those of us who love the rich history of our little hamlet and strongly respect the members of the Slingerland family who contributed so much to our country and our town. With a few properties now on the market, whose buyers could forever change the character of our town, we have formed the Bethlehem Alliance for Historic and Community Preservation. We are working diligently to inform the community about the significance of the historic areas of our town, and the impact the sales of these properties could have on our historic landmarks. We have already lost too much to poorly planned development. We must work to protect the history that remains in our town.
We all must remember that when a historic building is demolished or a historic lot developed by a greedy developer, a part of our history is destroyed. My old church will never exist again, except in the memories of those who loved it. Too many of the fields and trees of my childhood neighborhood are now paved over with blacktop parking lots and filled with stores and gas stations and banks. The lovely Victorian home of one of our founding fathers, William H. Slingerland, was demolished several years ago and is gone forever from our historic district.
We all have the power to fight for our history. It just takes time, determination, and a respect for its value. Wherever you live in the vast country of ours, look around at the history in your community and decide if you choose to fight for its survival.