SCHENECTADY Nothing could be sweeter than a summer stroll through one of the oldest neighborhoods in America.
In Schenectady’s Historic Stockade District, which is more than 350 years old, you can walk among houses from the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Giant maples shade the sidewalks, and flowers cascade from boxes and baskets. It’s quiet enough to hear the singing of birds and, periodically, the ringing of a church bell.
Last year, on July 1, the Stockade Association enhanced a walk through the Stockade by launching a cellphone audio tour.
Using a simple map that lists 20 historic houses, churches and other sites, visitors can tap a number on their cellphone and listen to information about the architecture and the people who once lived there.
“We’ve had probably 800 total callers that have called or used the streaming on the Web,” says Carol DeLaMarter, vice president of the Stockade Association and leader of the audio tour project.
“We’ve been through more than 1,000 maps that we printed, and people can download it from the website,” DeLaMarter says.
Stockade Historic District Cellphone Walking Tour
WHAT: Self-guided tour with 20 stops in Schenectady’s Historic Stockade District
WHEN: Any time, any day, all year round
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: Pick up a map at Schenectady County Historical Society, the Stockade Inn, Moon & River Cafe, Proctors Arcade or the Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce, or download and print your own map at historicstockade.com, the website of the Stockade Association. To start your tour, call 387-3282.
“The [Schenectady County] Historical Society, when they run out, they just print more. They hand it to people all the time who are looking for information and are walking around.”
By the end of this month, photos and video will be added to the tour. Stockade visitors with smartphones and iPads who dial 10 and listen to a narrative about Washington Avenue might also see scenes of the avenue from a hundred years ago.
“They can see a picture of the house or maybe some people in front of the house from the 1900s,” says DeLaMarter. “It gives them a whole different flavor.”
The Schenectady County Historical Society, on Washington Street in the Stockade, has always been a prime stop for people interested in learning more about the neighborhood.
“We have people from all over the country,” says office manager Jennifer Hanson.
“It depends on events, the time of year, what exhibit is going on. Or sometimes people are taking the bike path. People walk over from the train station,” she says.
The Stockade audio tour is featured in New York By Rail magazine.
Out-of-towners also find about it when they stay overnight in the Stockade at the English Garden Bed & Breakfast, the Stockade Inn or the Vintage Chic Inn.
DeLaMarter, who grew up near Utica and has lived in the Stockade for 12 years, says she came up with the idea after doing audio tours herself in different cities across the country.
In 2012, the Stockade Association received a county grant to do the project, and this year, the group got another county grant to add the photos and video.
DeLaMarter and a small group of volunteers worked on the project.
“The hardest thing was deciding on which stops,” she says. “When I started this, I came up with 40 of them.”
After much discussion, the group decided on 20 stops, including 13 North Church St., the oldest house in Schenectady, built in 1730 by a fur trader, and 17 Front St., the home of Joseph C. Yates, the seventh governor of New York.
With the help of volunteers at the Schenectady County Historical Society’s library, the group did research and wrote a script with 200 words or fewer for each stop.
They then recruited six people, four of whom who live in the Stockade, to be the voices for the tour.
“It’s like doing an answering machine message. People could take the script home and sit on a land line with no background noise, like dogs barking, and record,” says DeLaMarter.
While tourists are a prime target for the tour, most of the callers are from the Capital Region, DeLaMarter says.
“We started with our own neighbors. If you have family visiting here, you might as well tell them about the place where you live,” she said.
Even in the winter, DeLaMarter is on the lookout for people wandering around the Stockade looking at the houses.
“I often approach people. And if they don’t know about the tour, I make sure they know where to get a map,” she says.
For would-be visitors, the Stockade Association website and its audio tour phone number, which you can call from anywhere, serves as a preview.
“You can get an orientation to the neighborhood without leaving your home. I’ve visited places all over the country without leaving my home on websites that have the same technology,” DeLaMarter says.
The photos and video that will soon be appearing on http://historicstockade.com will make these virtual visits even better, she says.
“People who are thinking to come to the area can get a better look,” she said.