TROY — In Troy on Saturday, more than 300 people took advantage of the opportunity to find out about secrets hidden behind the walls of some of Troy’s most prominent downtown buildings.
The event was the Second Story Secrets Tour, organized by Troy Community Works. TCW is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to community development. Its efforts center around rehabilitating and restoring the city’s buildings. As Second Story Secrets chairperson Martha Harris put it, the TCW goal is “to improve the quality of life through bricks and mortar.”
Bricks and mortar certainly were on display Saturday as participants got a close look at 11 different sites in downtown Troy.
Sarah Werling of Troy was one of those visitors and she walked away impressed with what she saw.
“It’s wonderful for the community,” Werling said. “It’s great to see things you can’t usually see because they’re off limits.”
The 11 stops featured tours of upper stories of downtown buildings that normally are not available to the public. They included buildings that already have been revitalized, such as the Shaugnessy-Westfall Building, The Mayflower and the Thrive Pilates Studio above LaPiazza Restaurant; buildings with some work done and more to go, such as the Hatfield House and the East Gate Building; buildings where work currently is under way, such as the third floor of the Dye Building; and buildings where work is just getting started, such as the Coleman-Allen-Saidleman Building and the Mayo-Westfall Hall.
The Saidleman Building, best known to long-time Troy residents as the David’s Shoe building, is TCW’s latest project. The non-profit group recently purchased the building and is in the beginning stages of rehabilitation, with work starting on the building’s classic Mansard roof. During the tour, the building housed an art display by Troy artist Annette Cargill.
Also on the tour were historic Troy buildings usually only seen by members of private clubs – the Masonic Hall and the Elks Lodge.
And keeping with the theme, this year’s tour included a secret site not revealed until the day of the event. In this case, the secret wasn’t in a second story at all – it was the tunnel below the Presbyterian Church, used in the years before the Civil War as an Underground Railroad stop.
“We wanted to do something different from last year so it wouldn’t be the same thing,” Harris said. “Some of the comment cards from last year said, ‘What about things that are under Troy?’ That led to the Underground Railroad and the Presbyterian Church was very gracious to help out.”
Along the way, visitors found out about some intriguing aspects of Troy history. The Mayo Hall, located next to the Morris House, once had an active third floor ballroom. Actors stayed in the Morris House and entered the backstage area through a third-floor connection between the buildings. There still are actor’s messages scrawled on the wall of the actors’ nook there.
Then there was the plight of Mrs. Hatfield, wife of the builder of the Hatfield House, which served as an early Troy Hotel. She was from the South and during the Civil War her loyalty was questioned. Friends convinced her to place a light in her window, a sign of loyalty to the North, to convince her neighbors that she wasn’t a Southern sympathizer.
Many who took the tour said they were thrilled to finally see what was behind the walls of buildings they have seen only from the outside for many years.
“I think it’s great that they let people see this part of Troy,” Julie Trotter said. “If walls could talk …”
Others were surprised to see how much work has been done in recent years to downtown Troy buildings and how much transformation is possible.
“I admire the people who do the work,” Linda Christie said during a stop at the Eastgate Building. “It’s just mind-boggling.”
The tour capped off a big day for downtown Troy. It began with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s along with a farmers’ market in the morning, followed by the Taste of Troy featuring local restaurants on the Public Square in the afternoon and then the Second Story Secrets Tour Saturday night. This was the second year for the tour, with proceeds from the event going to Troy Community Works.
“Originally I thought it would be better to do it every other year, but response from the public was so strong we decided to do it again,” Harris said. “People were so excited to do this. It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase what can be done.”
As for next year? Harris said a number of participants already were asking about another tour and there still are plenty of secrets left uncovered.
“People can’t get enough of it,” Harris said. “They just want to see what’s behind those upper story windows.”
David Lindeman is a contributing columnist for the Troy Daily News