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Fort Edward historian reflects on town's bicentennial

FORT EDWARD — When R. Paul McCarty was about 4 or 5 years old, his parents took him to Storytown USA, where he found a schoolhouse just his size and wouldn’t leave.

When he finally did, his family would point out real schoolhouses when they drove to various places. His interest and curiosity in history and education would lead him to become a teacher, and Fort Edward village and town historian.

“I think that’s how, they say, this is how things happen, when you’re really young,” McCarty said. “We don’t realize it, but that’s what will give you your life’s interests, so who knows?”

McCarty has been the town’s and village’s historian since he graduated from college in 1975. Between his longtime family ties to the town and his historian role, McCarty has a comprehensive view of the municipality that turned 200 this year, and its ebb and flow of success.

Sitting inside the Old Fort House Museum on Sept. 11, McCarty said he will not be spending money on a celebration for the town’s bicentennial, instead opting to keep what funds the historical association has to preserve its files and artifacts.

It’s a different approach than what other towns have done when such milestones are reached. For example, the town of Corinth is celebrating its bicentennial this year with events all year long, from a Founder’s Day dinner in March to a parade in August.

McCarty pointed to the town’s budget crisis.

WCC, the company that leased land to General Electric, has stopped paying its taxes. It is seeking a lower assessment on two dewatering plant parcels. Town and county officials are still in negotiations on the matter, but it has had a devastating financial impact on the area. The lack of tax revenue further hurts a community already suffering from the loss of an employer that provided hundreds of jobs, grew side businesses like gas stations and grocery stores, and then left.

McCarty said his historical association budget has been cut, and he didn’t want to spend what money he does have “for a parade, which is just a flash and then it’s gone.”

Town Supervisor Terry Middleton agreed.

“Because of the budget, because of some of the things, we can’t give the money to things like that,” he said. “We would like to. It’s unfortunate.”

With a 2 percent tax cap and a bond payment due to Washington County in the amount of $149,000 after the General Electric parcels’ taxes weren’t paid, the Town Board is facing tough cuts to prevent tax hikes this year.

While there will be no parade or celebratory dinner, Middleton pointed to the Old Fort House Museum and the Rogers Island Visitors Center, two of the “best kept secrets” in Fort Edward, he said.

The Old Fort House Museum, of which McCarty is the executive director, is an extensive collection of pottery, ornate furniture, paintings and portraits, buildings McCarty and others have saved from demolition and photographs telling the story of the town and the surrounding area. It shows a town steeped in industry and history, starting with the time it was just forestland that Native Americans called Wahcoloosencoochaleva, or the “Great Carrying Place.”

Fort Edward was a strategic location, McCarty said, on the junction of the Champlain watershed and the Hudson Valley. That made it a good spot for a fort during the French and Indian War.

Originally called Fort Lyman, the fort’s name changed to Edward in 1755 to honor the Duke of York and Albany. The fort once stood in the vicinity of where The Anvil Inn is located today. McCarty wishes more of the fort had been saved.

But many things have been saved because of him, including important town buildings; a desk used by Philip Schuyler, a U.S. senator from New York and the father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton; and the bedroom where abolitionist Solomon Northup, who wrote “Twelve Years a Slave,” stayed for a few years.

Pat Niles, a trustee for the Washington County Historical Society, said the Old Fort House complex of buildings is “outstanding for a small community,” and credited McCarty with making it happen.

The Rogers Island Visitors Center down the road tells a great deal of Fort Edward’s history, too. McCarty said when he was growing up, it was just called “the island.” It has since developed the name Rogers Island, in part because the Rogers family owned it and in part after Revolutionary War figure Robert Rogers, who was stationed there.

“I think the Robert Rogers thing is cool, too, a fact that he penned his rules of ranging here on the island,” McCarty said. “But you know, it’s kind of interesting because initially he was put on the island so he would stay away from the other regular troops.”

McCarty’s own family history is tied to Fort Edward, as well. He’s a descendant of one of the town’s pottery manufacturers, The Hillfinger Brothers. Pots with his great-great-grandfather’s signature blue decorations are on display. It was an industry that started up in the late 1800s and persisted until about 1942, when World War II and other kinds of manufacturing took precedence.

Shifting into the 20th century, McCarty’s mother worked for General Electric Co., making parts for machine guns. She also volunteered with the local Civic League and for the museum, and that’s how McCarty found himself getting involved, too.

The 67-year-old has seen the boom and bust of General Electric in the town and worries what the future holds for the community.

“Fort Edward is a community in transition,” he said. “That’s the nice way to put it. I don’t know which way we’re going to transition to, but we are. And we’ve lost a lot of people. I don’t know that there’s going to be people coming in and taking interest. I don’t know. I’m very worried about that.”

But he keeps preserving the town’s history, collecting hundreds of files and preserving family heirlooms. The other day, he got a call from a woman in Texas whose father has a tool box from Washington County labeled 1849.

Researching old things never gets old to McCarty.

“He’s a walking, breathing book of history of Fort Edward and the area,” Middleton said. “I mean, it’s not a job to him. It’s his life.”

Kavanaugh sworn to high court after rancorous confirmation

WASHINGTON — Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in Saturday night as the 114th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, after a wrenching debate over sexual misconduct and judicial temperament that shattered the Senate, captivated the nation and ushered in an acrimonious new level of polarization — now encroaching on the court that the 53-year-old judge may well swing rightward for decades to come.

Even as Kavanaugh took his oath of office in a quiet private ceremony, not long after the narrowest Senate confirmation in nearly a century and a half, protesters chanted outside the court building across the street from the Capitol.

The climactic 50-48 roll call capped a fight that seized the national conversation after claims emerged that he had sexually assaulted women three decades ago — allegations he emphatically denied. Those accusations transformed the clash from a routine struggle over judicial ideology into an angry jumble of questions about victims' rights, the presumption of innocence and personal attacks on nominees.

His confirmation provides a defining accomplishment for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, which found a unifying force in the cause of putting a new conservative majority on the court. Before the sexual accusations grabbed the Senate's and the nation's attention, Democrats had argued that Kavanaugh's rulings and writings as an appeals court judge had raised serious concerns about his views on abortion rights and a president's right to bat away legal probes.

Trump, flying to Kansas for a political rally, flashed a thumbs-up gesture when the tally was announced and praised Kavanaugh for being "able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats." He later telephoned his congratulations to the new justice, then at the rally returned to his own attack on the Democrats as "an angry left-wing mob."

Like Trump, senators at the Capitol predicted voters would react strongly by defeating the other party's candidates in next month's congressional elections.

"It's turned our base on fire," declared Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York forecast gains for his party instead: "Change must come from where change in America always begins: the ballot box."

The justices themselves made a quiet show of solidarity. Kavanaugh was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts and the man he's replacing, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, as fellow Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan looked on — two conservatives and two liberals.

Still, Kagan noted the night before that Kennedy has been "a person who found the center" and 'it's not so clear we'll have that' now.

Noisy to the end, the Senate battle featured a call of the roll that was interrupted several times by protesters shouting in the spectators' gallery before Capitol Police removed them. Vice President Mike Pence presided, his potential tie-breaking vote unnecessary.

Trump has now put his stamp on the court with his second justice in as many years. Yet Kavanaugh is joining under a cloud. Accusations from several women remain under scrutiny, and House Democrats have pledged further investigation if they win the majority in November. Outside groups are culling an unusually long paper trail from his previous government and political work, with the National Archives and Records Administration expected to release a cache of millions of documents later this month.

Kavanaugh, a father of two, strenuously denied the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, who says he sexually assaulted her when they were teens. An appellate court judge on the District of Columbia circuit for the past 12 years, he pushed for the Senate vote as hard as Republican leaders — not just to reach this capstone of his legal career, but in fighting to clear his name

After Ford's allegations, Democrats and their allies became engaged as seldom before, though there were obvious echoes of Thomas' combative confirmation over the sexual harassment accusations of Anita Hill, who worked for him at two federal agencies. Protesters began swarming Capitol Hill, creating a tense, confrontational atmosphere that put Capitol Police on edge.

As exhausted senators prepared for Saturday's vote, some were flanked by security guards. Hangers and worse have been delivered to their offices, a Roe v. Wade reference.

Some 164 people were arrested, most for demonstrating on the Capitol steps, 14 for disrupting the Senate's roll call vote.

McConnell told The Associated Press in an interview that the "mob" of opposition — confronting senators in the hallways and at their homes — united his narrowly divided GOP majority as Kavanaugh's confirmation teetered and will give momentum to his party chances this fall.

Beyond the sexual misconduct allegations, Democrats raised questions about Kavanaugh's temperament and impartiality after he delivered defiant, emotional, testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he denounced their party.

The fight ended up less about judicial views than the sexual assault accusations that riveted the nation and are certain to continue a national debate and #MeToo reckoning that is yet to be resolved.

Republicans argued that a supplemental FBI investigation instigated by wavering GOP senators and ordered by the White House turned up no corroborating witnesses to the claims and that Kavanaugh had sterling credentials for the court. Democrats dismissed the truncated report as insufficient.