Guests gather for Holiday tea at fort


Recorder News Staff

Nestled in the historic first floor rooms of the Old Fort Johnson Historical Site, sat a few dozen guests chatting away in front of freshly brewed cups of tea and delicate sandwiches.

First steps into the fort brought the strong aroma of the teas and the sound of holiday music played with 18th century instruments to the guests.

And servers, garbed in 18th century attire checked tables and made sure teapots were still hot and the homemade snacks were never-ending.

It was the Old Fort Johnson Holiday Tea, and the women and a few men, were laughing and chatting as they enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in the fort.

Spring teas in the garden at the fort have been happening since 2005, said volunteer fort gardener Debbie Gibbs who began the tea events with a few other volunteers that year.

But Saturday was the fourth year that the Holiday Tea was being held.

Last year, the tea was held at St. Ann's Church in Amsterdam due to the flooding from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, she said, but guests were happy to see it back within fort walls.

There were two sold out seatings for the tea, and 82 people throughout the area paid $15 to enjoy the afternoon with holiday and citrus teas, finger sandwiches, and sweets.

Alessa Wylie, museum director, said all of the money earned will go right toward the flood recovery effort, specifically to obtaining new tables and chairs that were lost during the tropical storms.

The event, she said, is simply a unique experience.

"I think the fact that you're inside the fort is just really kind of neat," she said. "And we get a lot of people who come because it's a nice chance to just get together and talk."

Marigrace Hoag, a museum member and Canajoharie resident there with her mother Agnes Rodd, said they've been coming to the teas for the past five years.

"It (the fort) is a rare gem," she said. "There are not enough of these events in Amsterdam."

She added that it's especially important now, as the fort is still recovering from the flood.

Inside the Visitor’s Center at the fort were teas and honey for sale for guests to take home, holiday crafts, and some knick-knack gifts.

Even CDs of the 18th-century ensemble, Liaisons Plasisantes, that played during the Holiday Tea, could be purchased.

And inside the fort’s regular gift-shop sat remnants of teas past that came in the form of broken china pieces reused into broaches and jewelry.

Back inside the fort, local artists were displaying their work for guests and selling prints.

Susan Peters, another guest at the event, sat at her tea table with five other members of her family.

Two of those members had birthdays recently, and Peters said she thought the event would make the perfect birthday celebration.

"This is my love," she said of the fort. "It's (Holiday Tea is) really unique and it supports the museum."

Serving Peters and her family were 18th-century garbed volunteers, all young people from the community.

Helen Articolo, also at the table, said that seeing the young people made the event even more special.

"And it's infused with the tradition of the period: music, tea, the clothing," she added.

But most important was the feeling of being together.

"That's how the holidays were spent in the past," Articolo said. "And it's wonderful."

One of the young people serving was Susie Detweiler, a 17-year-old from Broadalbin who said she is often involved in events at the fort.

"We got to learn more about history and kind of really be involved in it. But it's also just a fun time to hang out and serve all of the people," she said.

With 10 other young people her age helping out, Detweiler said it's a unique opportunity for them.

"It's just a really cool experience and the fort's just a really cool place to be," she said. "I'm just really blessed to have this around and that I can participate in this."