A rare look into the museum's archives ...

By John Antonowicz


This year, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the Chenango County Historical Society opening its doors to the public. The last article discussed when the museum opened an exhibit called “Attic Treasures,” how the St. John Morton Oxford collection of glass slides were purchased by the society, how the Norwich Pharmacal Company archives were given to the Historical Society, and when the society declined on a grist mill to be donated from the northern part of Sherburne. This fifth article will span from 2002 to the current progress of the society. By searching through old meeting minutes, correspondences, and newspaper clippings, the society’s history has once again emerged.


The society decides to revitalize the home on 77 Silver Street that was purchased in 1984, as the Paperback Book Exchange, where books can be sold at a discounted rate. The house is full of objects and is cleaned out by volunteers over the course of more than a year. The book store will allow an income to the society, instead of costing the society money. A grant from Procter & Gamble grants $800 for the establishment of the Paperback Book Exchange in honor of Del Law, a former employee. The grant also gives the society a lap top computer for $700. Telegraphs from 1863 – 1864 from the Chenango Telegraph are given in excellent condition along with the flag from the Chenango & Unadilla Telephone Company. On July 30th, an exhibit called “Looking in the Mirror,” focusing on textiles from the collection, are exhibited. Both “The Chenango Canal” by Dr. Barry K. Beyer, and “Annals of Norwich Volume II” are reprinted by the society.


After over a year of cleaning, painting, and building of shelves, the Paperback Book Exchange is opened to the public. A portrait painting of Oscar Bell, founder of the Norwich Pharmacal Company, is given by Holly Hoag. The Pioneer Room is redone with a better focus on early Chenango County settlers. A doll collection that once belonged to Millicent Fahy is now on exhibit in the first floor hallway. A new exhibit focusing on the music record collection on Robert Bellamy is on display. A rifles raffle is being held, with an end profit of $4.600. A reed organ made by the Norwich Piano and Organ Company is donated from California. NBT Bank donates furniture for the offices of museum staff.


An exhibit on Chenango Lake is now on display. A diary that once belonged to Grace Darling, post mistress of Beaver Meadow in 1914, is given to the museum. A “last man” bottle, box, and correspondence are given to the museum. The bottle was signed by World War II veterans from Chenango County and was unopened until many of the veterans were no longer living. The Lt. Warren Eaton Legion Post 189, funds the restoration for the 114th Civil War regiment flag.


A toy collection dating from the early 1900s through the 1920s is donated with many in their original packaging. A grant is given to the society to have a professional organizer review the attic and assess a plan for the artifacts. A doll day is held with doll appraisal available on site. The 114th Civil War regiment flag is finished being conserved and is mounted in a permanent glass case. The flag is unveiled on the courthouse stairs in West Park, Norwich. It is then moved to the museum for safe keeping.


An exhibit entitled, “Hatched, Matched, & Dispatched,” is opened with a highlight of women’s textiles and accessories on display. An exhibit comparing the 1905 and 2005 Chenango County floods is on display with a main focal point of local flood photographs and diary entries. NBT Bank celebrates their 150th anniversary and donates a group of NBT Bank 150th anniversary banners that hung on the lamp posts in downtown Norwich. An exhibit on the murder of Grace Brown is exhibited in partnership with Morrisville State College.


The first Chenango Lake book, “Wish You Were Here” is written by Christine Gibson for the society. The Assembly Room is repaired and repainted, along with fabric placed along the old chalkboards for exhibits to be mounted on. A display of antique purses is placed in a front hallway case. The Chenango County Sheriff’s Department rakes the museum’s lawns, along with tending to light yard work.


A new canopy is built over the Silver Street entrance to the museum. The parking lot at 41 Rexford Street is resurfaced. An exhibit of the W. H. Dunne & Co., which progressed into Victory Markets and Great American Food Stores, is created. The front entranceway to the museum is repaired with sheetrock being placed on the walls instead of plaster. An exhibit entitled “Between the Lines: Finding Women in the History of Chenango County” is exhibited in the Case Room featuring stories of several local women. The exhibit includes information on artist Maria Louisa Wagner of Preston and Mindy Williams of Sherburne, who was the first female to ride in a hydrogen air balloon in Chenango County. A large drum made by John Pike of Norwich is donated to the museum by Tracy Law. The drum was used by the City of Norwich band and is marked “Norwich” with large letters on the face of the drum.


The Assembly Room is modified into two offices and a gift shop space. The first Gala is held on the museum grounds as a fundraiser for the James S. Flanagan Research Center. An exhibit on 99 bottles is displayed in the front hallway of the museum. 43 Rexford Street is emptied out for the building project. The new research center will require modifications within the old home structure. The first Chenango Lake book, “View From The Porch” is written by Christine Gibson for the society.


The research center renovations begin with the removing of asbestos from the building. The one room country school house from Ross Corners in Preston is restored with a grant from the Community Foundation from South Central New York. An exhibit on the life of George Eastman Cook and the Cook Family is on display in the case room. The exhibit highlights objects from the estate along with two dozen paintings by George Eastman Cook. The outdated Indian Room exhibit is taken down for the future exhibit of the Norwich Pharmacal Company. The first annual Civil War weekend is held by the society with re-enactors from the 61st New York Infantry. The re-enactors camped and cooked on the CCHS grounds. The Norwich Pharmacal Company exhibit is moved from the Eaton Center museum to the Rexford Street museum. The exhibit displays a variety of old products, machinery used for the products, and company advertisements.


Construction continues on the research center with a new structure being constructed in the back of the old home. The first annual Maple Sunday is held with local maple producers discussing the art of Maple Sugaring in Chenango County. The “Lillie” canal boat replica house is being renovated. The boat house will include storyboards on the canal in each town and a new ramp for visitors to walk on. A lot of land along Berry Street is donated by Clay and Liz Welch. An exhibit title “A Flash from the Past” is on display, highlighting past Chenango County photographers. A $10,000 grant from Norwich Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is given for the new research center. An exhibit on Ballroom dancing is opened in the case room. A functional maple sugar shack is constructed with materials from Curtis Lumber. The sugar shack will have the proper equipment for boiling sugar. A new exhibit in the first floor hallway entitled “A Walk down Mainstreet Chenango County: Now and Then” was unveiled at the annual Holiday Open House. The exhibit focuses on the business districts in Chenango County. A barn from Tyner is offered to the society. A barn committee is formed to help find a way for the barn to be moved to the museum grounds. An education committee is formed. The committee is focusing on youth through adult level education.


Minor construction continues on the research center with the museum and county historian getting ready to move into the new space. The society is named Non-Profit of the Year by Commerce Chenango. The society receives a new website made by Chris Bishop and Mike Gray. A new exhibit on Electronics in the 20th Century is opened in the case room. The exhibit highlights the impact of radios, telephones, televisions, and more. The society is preparing for a Folk Art Fair and the Chenango Canal Exhibit opening on August 4 from 11-4 p.m., with a dedication to take place at 2 p.m..

As we have approached the year 2012, the society looks ahead for a brighter future. With the completion of the research center, the new development of the “Lillie” boat house, the first annual Canal Boat Derby on the Chenango River to be held on August 25, and more, the Chenango County Historical Society understands and continues to preserve the history of Chenango County. The Chenango County Historical Society looks ahead for another successful 50 years in the great county of Chenango.

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