CANAJOHARIE, N.Y. — The original Canajoharie Academy — known today as the West Hill School — was built in rural upstate New York in 1824.
A prominent landmark of the village of Canajoharie, the school famously employed women’s suffrage icon Susan B. Anthony, who served as a teacher and head of the “female department” there from 1846 to 1851. The current building’s stone facade and distinct red roof, erected in 1892 by American architect Archimedes Russell in the Romanesque revival style, served as the site of multiple schools, until the building fell into disrepair in the 2000s.
The Mohawk Valley Collective historic preservation society took control of the site in 2012, stabilizing the building and cleaning up the site with plans to convert the historic building into a conference and cultural arts center. With the building’s original roof long gone, the collective sought to restore it to its former vermillion glory. Malvern, Pa.-based CertainTeed answered the call, agreeing to donate a portion of the 15,000 square feet of Venetian Red Highland Slate shingles needed to repair the school’s bell tower and roof, as well as underlayments and other materials.
“This is one of the most interesting projects we have been a part of,” said Alex Pecora, director of roofing product management for CertainTeed. “We are often approached for donations, and are very selective with the projects we become involved in, but there is a rich history to this building, as well as a promising future. The architect of the 1892 building, Archimedes Russell, was well-known and served as a professor of architecture at Syracuse University in the late 1800s. It’s an honor to be able to help restore the building to his original vision.”
“We’re thrilled to be participating in a project that will also bring cultural arts and learning to the Mohawk Valley area,” Pecora added. “Highland Slate is a tough shingle made to survive harsh conditions and 110 mile-per-hour winds, so we believe it will serve the West Hill School well for many years to come.”
Tolga Morawski, founder of the Mohawk Valley Collective, said previous roof patchwork had been done on the building since the 1970s, but that the building became derelict when it fell into foreclosure during the 2008 housing crisis.
“A 25-year roof was installed on the building in 1975, but it’s in rough shape,” said Morawski. “Since acquiring the building in 2012, we’ve been patching it with donated shingles from homeowners who had extras, but we came to a point where we needed to replace the roof and make much-needed repairs to the decking. The building sits high on a hill overlooking the village where it sees a lot of wind and the bell tower has been struck by lightning in the past due to its height, so we are thrilled CertainTeed was able to provide us with a product right for the climate that matches the building’s original charm.”
According to Morawski, the project will start with the restoration of the bell tower, with plans to repair the full roof in mid-to-late 2019 and a full building rehab scheduled for some time in 2020.
Rep. Angelo L. Santabarbara, D-N.Y., is representative of New York’s 111th State Assembly District, which comprises all of Montgomery County, where the West Hill School sits, as well as parts of Schenectady and Albany Counties. He praised the public-private partnership effort between CertainTeed and the Mohawk Valley Collective during a recent ribbon cutting ceremony for the project.
“Restoration of the West Hill School preserves a local landmark and a piece of history here in the village of Canajoharie,” said Santabarbara. “The history of the school, which sits on the former site of the Canajoharie Academy, is woven into the fabric of our community and keeping its legacy alive has been the driving force behind the importance of this project. This investment not only breathes new life into this nationally recognized site, but also ensures that our region’s history and culture will endure for generations to come.”