A Column about Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier - by Roger Luther
Historic Loss
Three Examples of Landmark Properties Affected by the Flood of 2011

Owner Dane Burch and tenant Fran Antalek pause while cleaning out the building.
The little general store in Tioga Center is not your typical historic landmark. Unassuming and relatively simple in design, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 as an example of a rural, mid-nineteenth century small commercial building.

Located on route 17C a short distance from Owego, the store was built in 1849 by E.H. Schoonover, one of Tioga Center’s early residents. The small wooden building has stood in this spot for over 160 years.

Pre-civil war construction is evident throughout the Greek Revival style building. Floorboards are wide and of random width, hand-hewn posts and beams are joined with wooden pegs and hand-forged wrought iron nails, tree trunks serve as floor joists.

For over a century the little general store served this rural hamlet providing housewares, farm needs, clothing, dry goods and equipment. Later it was converted into an antique shop and old fashioned ice cream parlor. During the great flood of 2006, water was one foot deep on the first floor. There was significant damage, but the building was repaired and shortly thereafter re-opened as an antique store.

Now, after five years and yet another “flood of the century,” the future of this historic landmark is in question.

“The building is in bad shape,” said Shannon Burch. She and her husband Dane have owned the property since moving to the area in 2007. “It’s much worse now than after the 2006 flood.” According to Dane Burch, when floodwaters crested on September 8, 2011, this time the first floor was under six feet of water. He now suspects that there has been structural damage.

Inside, a narrow winding path has been cleared through an avalanche of brown mud-coated collectibles where store tenants Wanda Husick and Fran Antalek work to remove their antiques – a seemingly impossible task.

Climbing down below the trap door into the basement Burch’s suspicion is confirmed – the wooden staircase is severely leaning to one side and a stone foundation wall has shifted several inches from its original position.

Less than a week after the flood, mold is evident on museum collections.
Six miles to the east a brick house on Front Street in the Owego Central Historic District is home to the Tioga County Museum and Historical Society.

Within its walls collections of irreplaceable artifacts fill the lower level of the building, including original Matthew Brady photographs, early maps, local history collections, family genealogies and countless other historic treasures.

Kevin Lentz, acting Executive Director of the Historical Society, explained that a few items were moved upstairs or removed from the building as flooding became imminent, but the majority of material remained on the lower level, and much of it was ultimately covered by water.

One week after the flood a high water mark is evident on the wall, about five feet high. An unmistakable moldy-basement smell hangs heavy in the air. Computers, massive antique tables, books and other items are scattered about. The floor is covered with thick, slippery brown mud, shelves are lined with water-soaked books and filing cabinets are filled with damp documents. The genealogy card catalog and microfilm collections are wet. Everything is coated with a slimy wet residue, and just days after the flood, a thick layer of mold is evident on many books.

“We are currently working with a professional recovery company to salvage and restore the damaged material and cleanse the museum,” said Lentz. “That should take two to three weeks to complete.” Lentz is optimistic that much of the material can be salvaged.

Washingtonian Hall after the flood of 2011.
Continuing east another 20 miles to Endwell, Ken Jackson with the help of two friends struggles with chains and a small truck to pull a half-ton, four-foot diameter tree trunk out of his gazebo. That’s where it gently came to rest a few days earlier as floodwaters receded.

Just last December the Preservation Association of the Southern Tier presented an award to Ken and Linda Jackson for restoring their home on River Road in Endwell, the historic Federal style inn known as Washingtonian Hall.

A blue roadside historical marker gives a brief history: “Washingtonian Hall. Erected in 1799 by Amos and Ann Patterson it became a haven for travelers, stage stop, and in 1842 was used as a temperance inn.” In 1995, Washingtonian Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Just prior to the flood, beautifully restored rooms were filled with period antiques. One week later the first floor is empty, hardwood floors are covered with a dried layer of gray-brown mud and the wood is already showing signs of warpage.

“It happened so fast” said Jackson. By the time they evacuated, water was flowing over the street and rising steadily. River Road was living up to its name. At its peak, “water came up 27 inches on the first floor,” Jackson said as he pointed to a high-water mark on the wainscoting.

Today, in front of the historical marker a wall of mud-covered furniture, books and other personal possessions extends the length of Jackson’s property.

The historic flood of 2011 brought with it historic losses. In these three examples, the General Store in Tioga Center is devastated, irreplaceable historical collections in the Tioga County Museum may be in serious jeopardy, and although Washingtonian Hall suffered no apparent structural damage, after surviving two floods in five years, Jackson has a concern for this historic landmark. “What if this is now to be the norm?” he said. “If we expect a flood every ten years or so, we have a few choices: raise the building up higher, move it to another location, or just let it continue as is and eventually lose it.”

Two weeks after the flood, piles of debris line roadsides throughout the Southern Tier. In some areas long walls of discarded items are separated only by driveways – all of it waiting to be scooped up and hauled to a landfill. Each of these piles represents a tragic, and in many cases devastating loss for a family or business – and where historic property is involved, the loss extends to the community, now and for generations to come.

The Preservation Association of the Southern Tier (PAST) is conducting a survey of historic landmarks and collections in Broome and Tioga Counties to determine how they were affected by the flood. Anyone with information to contribute, or who would like to be involved in the survey effort, is asked to contact PAST at 607-237-0887 or email past@stny.rr.com.

See More Photos of These Historic Landmarks.