RED HOUSE — The legacy of Bill Weitzel, a decades-long devotee to caring for the Stone Tower at Allegany State Park, will not be forgotten anytime soon.
The Friends of Allegany State Park, the Allegany State Park Historical Society and park officials Saturday presented a memorial plaque in Bill’s honor to his widow, Judy Weitzel. It will be on display at the Quaker Museum.
Paul Crawford, president of the Friends group, and Randal Fabritius, president of the historical society, led the ceremony recognizing the late Weitzel’s love and dedication to the park at the tower located on Stone Tower Road in the northern portion of the park off ASP Route 1.
A large group of family and friends gathered to show their appreciation for Weitzel’s years of devotion to the tower while he was alive. Along with Judy and his brother, Mark, they shared memories of their experiences with him and laughed about his keen sense of humor.
Among the attendees were Jake Taylor, assistant regional director at NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, and Tim O’Keefe, Red House park manager.
Taylor said Weitzel was iconic in the positive effect he had on folk’s lives, noting he was a real attraction at the park and folks looked at him that way. Taylor said although that piece of what people came to see at the park is gone, they are going to carry those memories of Weitzel with them.
“Bill was synonymous with the park. We could fill a stadium with the people whose lives he touched over the years,” he said. “We thank Judy for allowing the amount of time we got to spend with Bill and get to know him. He was very special to us.”
Crawford said Weitzel always had a great story to tell the park patrons. He showed him parts of Allegany that he never knew about.
“Bill was an original Friend of Allegany well before our organization was founded,” he said. “He treated the Stone Tower like it was his own.”
Schmid said Weitzel joined the historical society when it first formed and he was a big contributor to the organization. He said Weitzel loved Allegany’s rich history and could be found up at the tower several times a week talking with park campers and visitors.
“He told people about the various trails in the park and its landmarks,” he said. “He often explained the history of the many old house and barn foundations that are scattered throughout Allegany.”
WITH THEIR property adjacent to the parklands, the Stone Tower is practically in the Weitzels’ backyard. In 2017, Weitzel told the Press that he had been caring for the structure for probably 30 years or more.
In his later years, Weitzel was known by many visitors to the park as “the keeper of the Stone Tower.” Standing high on a hill overlooking Red House Lake, the tower has always been a favorite destination for campers and other visitors to Allegany State Park. Weitzel made it his mission to keep the historic observation tower cleaned up for all who visited the park.
On any given Sunday, and sometimes during the week, this keeper could be found onsite picking up trash and sweeping the stone floors. According to former park historian Bob Schmid, not even winter weather kept Weitzel away from his beloved tower. He said Weitzel took his shovel along and cleared the snow away from the stairs and the top floor when needed, so people could safely go up to see the view.
Weitzel grew up in Salamanca and attended school there. After he married Judy, they moved to their house on State Park Avenue that is approximately 100 yards from the tower, over the top of the hill.
For nearly 50 years, he rode his horse to the tower and found trash littering the area, so he’d pick it up. He also used to hike to the tower with his dog and clean up while he was there.
Although he had walked to the tower countless times over the years, Weitzel received permission from park management, at age 81, to take his six-wheeled Gator there so he could pick up the broken beer bottles and other trash left from weekend partiers.
When the historical society and Friends group gave talks at the Stone Tower on Sundays, Weitzel enjoyed being there to give visitors information about the history of the park, when it was built and who built it.
Fabritius read some of the numerous comments about Weitzel that were posted on the historical society’s Facebook page. He thanked Judy for sharing her husband with the park and everyone who knew him.
The plaque reads: “New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation expresses its appreciation to Bill Weitzel in conjunction with the Allegany State Park Historical Society and Friends of Allegany State Park. Bill was the unofficial Keeper of the Stone Tower. He will be missed. 1937-2021.”