August 25, 2010

Monaco's legacy deserves respect

All too often, rather than being preserved when the opportunity was there, significant North Country landmarks have been allowed to slip into memory. Only after they are gone do people realize their value.

The original Chazy Central Rural School and the Turner Mansion on upper Cornelia Street are just a couple of examples that come to mind.

But, fortunately, a group is determined not to let this happen to the Land of Makebelieve in Upper Jay.

Created in 1954 by famed North Country designer and artisan Arto Monaco, the theme park delighted a generation of North Country families before it was devastated by a flood for the final time in 1979.

The remaining structures and property are badly in need of attention. A castle, the centerpiece of the park, is still standing. The western town, Cactus Flats, is still there, too, as is the old saloon, but all in a significant state of disrepair.

Hundreds of related treasures, including Monaco-created toys, models, signs, souvenirs, figurines, drawings, plans, papers, notebooks, photographs and other memorabilia also still exist. But, until recently, a comprehensive plan for their preservation was lacking.

It hadn't been for lack of trying. In 2005, the Arto Monaco Historical Society ( was formed by President Anne Mackinnon and a dedicated board of Monaco devotees. For years, they've been making slow and steady progress, but only now are those plans coming to fruition.

Things got rolling in 2006 when a $10,000 member-item grant from Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) was secured to help stabilize the park's centerpiece. Framing lumber, roofing and tarps were purchased in an effort to preserve and evaluate the castle.

A $50,000 donation from the Charles R. Wood Foundation and contributions from board members and others allowed the group to purchase the Monaco memorabilia from the family estate.

Then, in 2008, the society bought the site of the theme park along Route 9N in Upper Jay. A $2,500 grant from the New York State Council on the Arts has been secured for an evaluation of the property and a landscape architect to make plans for a park.

But much still needs to be done.

Buildings that can be restored — including the castle — need major renovation, and those that can't need to be photographed, documented and demolished. Brush needs to be cut and landscaping done.

A major coup by the society has been the successful donation of Monaco's memorabilia to the Adirondack Museum and the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, where it will be cared for and displayed.

Now the focus turns to the site. The society has stressed the need to be sensitive to the wishes of local residents and taxpayers, and community backing will be essential as the property is restored and, it is hoped, turned over to the town for a park that all can enjoy.

Volunteer work days and financial donations will be needed as plans unfold. Let's all get behind this worthy effort, especially those who have fond childhood memories of family adventures at the Land of Makebelieve.

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