By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Backers of a proposed county historical museum met with municipal historians and community leaders Thursday to gauge their views on how the project should move forward.
The effort has largely been a loosely organized one, said County Legislature Chairman David Callard, who moderated the discussion, but one that is gaining steam. He noted the project has the potential to serve as a hub that would promote historic efforts across the county, one that many other counties already possess.
“I’ve heard the desire to have a county historical museum,” said Callard, who endorsed the idea in his 2012 State of the County message. “It’s something we should have done a while ago.”
The two dozen history buffs who gathered at the Hoag Library Thursday largely and loudly agreed that such a museum would be beneficial. But they expressed a range of questions that showed there is much work needed to ensure the project is a successful one.
The largest question is the scope and location of the planned museum. Carol Culhane, who discussed establishing a museum through the Lake Plains Resource Conservation and Development Council with the County Legislature in 2011, said she’s led an enthusiastic fifteen-person committee in exploring the museum — with Culhane as the designated “Keeper of the Stuff” that locals have given the group for use in the future museum.
Those discussions have largely ran parallel with the efforts to find a new use for the Burrows Mansion. The mansion was vacated by the Swan Library Association in June, when the library moved to a purpose-built facility at the site of the former Dale’s Supermarket.
The library association did not sell the mansion to finance the construction of the Hoag Library, and SLA President Kevin Doherty said the library would be supportive of the museum.
“We’re committed to making an easy transition (to a new use),” said Doherty, who noted the cost of maintaining the Burrows Mansion costs the library about $25,000 annually. “I think the museum is a great idea ... we want to see (the old library) used for it’s highest and best purpose.”
John Sawyer, who has worked on a committee exploring future uses for the old library, said having a central, continuously open place for historical exhibits and archives would be a good use for the facility.
“We have a lot of artifacts and history that’s spread out in many different places ... I have things I’d want to part with, but we need a central location for it,” Sawyer said. “I’d like to know there’s someone looking after it. This would serve the county well.”
Albion Village Historian Neil Johnson cautioned that the focus should be first on the planning out the museum, not for fitting a museum into the library.
“There’s a tendency for (museums) to be in places that people love but don’t know what to do with,” Johnson said. “We need to think about what does (the museum) have to have ... the cart is before the horse.”
The other major issue is forming a body to operate and sustain the museum. The parties at Thursday’s meeting supported an endeavor that would be larger than those currently in place at the handful of local historic societies.
Callard envisions the establishment of a not-for-profit to manage the planning of the museum and to seek funding to launch it. He said the county’s intention of a county-backed but independently run historical museum was not to replace or diminish the workings of town and village historians, and groups like the Cobblestone in Gaines and the Medina Historical Society.
”The museum would not be county-owned; it would be driven, developed and run by the people,” Callard said.
Terry Abrams of the Western New York Association of Historical Agencies noted that the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia is owned by Genesee County but managed and operated by an independent historic society.
Many of the speakers who’ve helped set up other historical museums said a crucial component of a fully-functional museum would be to have a full-time staff
“If you want to have a professional museum, you need a paid staff,” said Catherine Cooper, a board member of the medina Historical Society.
Under that scenario, finding funding to sustain the museum, curate new exhibits and operate the facility would be necessary. Tom Rivers, who is leading the effort to establish a historic park in downtown Albion honoring sandstone quarrymen, said the state’s regional economic development councils have assisted other museums in their recent funding rounds.
Callard said that step would come after the not-for-profit is established. In the meantime other committees will work on deciding site location and intent for the museum.Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.