Schuyler Historical Society marks 50 years
MONTOUR FALLS—Fifty years ago, a baker’s dozen of local history buffs joined forces to begin the Schuyler County Historical Society. Within the next year, 133 charter members became part of the group. On Saturday, Oct. 23, the Historical Society will celebrate its golden anniversary with a gala evening at Logan Ridge Estates in Hector.
Back in 1960, says Schuyler County Historian Barbara Bell, “We had no idea where we were going to have a building or even if we were going to.” About a month after the group was organized, the Odessa-Montour school district offered the group an unused country schoolhouse, the Lee School building, which the group purchased for $1. For a time, historical county artifacts were housed in donated space in the county courthouse in Watkins Glen and in the Rural-Urban Center in Montour Falls.
Then, two events converged to make the museum a possibility. The Lattin family, owners of the historic Brick Tavern building at 108 N. Catharine St. in Montour Falls wanted to sell their house and move to a more compact retirement home. A bequest from Ithaca resident Dorothy Longnecker, a friend to Barbara Bell and other Schuyler County residents, made purchase of the building possible, and the museum opened its doors for the first time in 1974. Built in 1828, it is the oldest brick building in Schuyler County, and formerly served as a hostelry on the stagecoach route between Elmira and Geneva, as well as a boarding house, a school for boys and a family home.
As a result, “We have an eclectic mix of stuff,” says museum director Andrew Tompkins. “Things from the heyday of Montour Falls in the 1870s to the 1890s; early 20th century items and medical devices from when Dr. Clawson was here, information on the old sanitariums and recuperative hospitals that are no longer around, also Native American artifacts.”
The museum also has a modest collection of giraffes, from an original carousel giraffe carved in the 1880s, now referred to as “Emily,” to a pair of giraffe-decorated Majolica parasol containers, and a set of fine china from the 1830s sporting a giraffe motif. Her name made Ms. Longnecker particularly partial to that animal.
Like all museums, the Brick Tavern Museum has more interesting objects in its collection than it has room to display, though some of the storage congestion is anticipated to be eased when the Wedgwood building, a gift from the town of Dix located on Route 414 near the Watkins Glen International Race Track, is refurbished and opened to showcase Schuyler’s agricultural past. Part of the museum will also be restored to highlight its original purpose as a former one-room schoolhouse.
One of the Brick Tavern Museum’s more pressing concerns is maintaining and upgrading the main building. Peeling paint on its shutters and brick exterior are one visible indication of needed work; the roof also needs repair. Jean Hubsch, chair of the Historical Society’s capital campaign, says one really big project is a changeover to a more efficient heating system.
“The heating system is actually already done, thanks to a gift from Jeff and Val Snider of Montour Falls,” she says. “But we have not yet addressed the humidity issue, that’s the second part.” Also on the agenda is air conditioning, which will help keep museum holdings—and those visiting in the summer—in better shape. The capital campaign goal is $150,000, of which $68,000 has already been raised.
“A lot of things have to be updated,” says Tompkins. In his three years at the museum, he’s worked on scanning the museum’s photographic holdings onto computer files, as well as overhauling the subject files to make them more user friendly. Many museum visitors come to do genealogical research—Tompkins refers to family history researchers as the museum’s “bread and butter.” But some of the collection’s treasured rarities are the “jam” that makes the building truly interesting to visit.
Tompkins says he’s looking forward to the results of the museum’s refurbishment. “I want it to be more welcoming to visitors, and looking the way it should,” he says. “I want it to pop when people come around the corner and see this beautiful building.”
And in the meantime, members and friends of the Historical Society want to celebrate their own historic accomplishments of the past 50 years. At this elegant evening event, the fund-raising will take a back seat to music, dinner, entertainment and drawings for gift baskets. A limited number of tickets at $50 per person will be sold through Oct. 22. For more information and to buy tickets, call the museum at 607-535-9741 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.