Local students take walk through history at Fort Drum
May 25, 2017
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 25, 2017) -- The Fort Drum Environmental Division staff teamed up with the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum personnel last week to present a set of tours designed to educate fourth-grade students about local history.
The concept behind this joint outreach program was to show children that where they live matters and that they walk in the footsteps of community members who have lived and worked this same land long before it became home to the 10th Mountain Division (LI).
"This is the first time we've ever done multiple-stop tours," said Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum cultural resources manager. "Students are touring the museum, the lost villages and LeRay Mansion as one program."
At the museum, students saw the technological advances from Native American artifacts to the equipment 10th Mountain Division Soldiers use today.
At LeRay Mansion, students learned how the earliest Euro-American settlers lived after the Revolutionary War and how the geography of this area impacted their decisions on where to build. A short walking tour of LeRaysville encouraged them to imagine what life was like for these early community members.
Matt Rogers, Fort Drum school liaison officer, said that the fourth-graders were really excited about the tour, and it is a great example of the educational partnership that the installation shares with local communities.
"This tour perfectly aligns with New York state social studies learning standards for fourth grade," he said. "This is the time of year when they are actually learning about local New York state history, so they study it in class and then see it firsthand here."
The children were provided with a study guide filled with puzzles and quizzes, photographs and maps to remind them of all they learned on the tour and to help them stay connected with the history and geography of this area. Students were asked to find all of the objects pictured in their guides that are on display at the museum. They learned about material culture and how museum collects these items to provide people with a different way to study the world.
The booklet also includes a section on the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunees), the Native American people who inhabited Fort Drum hundreds of years ago. Students learned at the museum how Army helicopters have been named after Native American tribes since the 1960s, and names are chosen to honor their warrior spirit.
Heather Wagner, Environmental Division outreach and education coordinator, conducted the mansion tours with Rush. Wagner had just finished one with a class from Black River Elementary School on May 18, and she noted that half of them were Fort Drum Family Members.
"Many of them live on post, and they probably have driven by these areas at some point," Wagner said. "I think that making larger connections to the geography is important for them."
When she isn't being tour guide, Wagner is acquiring more stories and historical facts.
"We've done a lot more research on the mansion, and over time we find new things, some of those little anecdotal stories that we can share with our audience," Wagner said. "You just pick which ones are appropriate for which group."
Most recently, Wagner poured over letters written by President John Adams and found a connection to LeRay.
"He was a prolific writer, and it turns out that he and James LeRay wrote to each other … almost weekly for most of their lives once James came to America," she said. "They were both heavily invested in agriculture."
On a personal note, LeRay wrote Adams that he would be absent from correspondence while the family grieved the loss of a child. During the tour, Wagner takes groups to the grave marker of Sigit Clotilde de Gouvello, LeRay's 15-month-old grandchild who died of unknown illness.
"When I started here almost 20 years ago, I took oral histories from folks who lived in the area a long time, and they said there used to be a little silver bell that hung from a tree that you rung when you walked down the path to let the baby know you were near," Wagner said. "What I really love about taking down these oral histories and then sharing them with people on these tours is that someone, last year, must have been inspired by my story, and they actually hung a bell out here for her."
After completing six tours for nearly 80 students, Rush and Wagner returned to LeRay Mansion on Friday for two more -- first with the garrison commander and members of the 91st Military Police Battalion and afterward for the International Spouses Group from Army Community Service.
Despite this influx of tour groups, LeRay Mansion primarily functions as quarters for distinguished visitors at Fort Drum. It also has served as the site for annual holiday receptions, change of command ceremonies and military tattoos.
"What's really wonderful about the mansion is that it is being used today exactly the way it was intended to be used when LeRay built it," Rush said. "He built it to make a positive impression on the community, and he built it to host really important functions with invited dignitaries."