Historic Treasures: The Pandemic’s Silver Lining

November 23, 2020, Brewster, N.Y. – Recently, the Putnam County Historian’s Office hosted a virtual Historians’ Roundtable where members of local historical societies and museums discussed the interesting and increasing trend of donating ephemera and artifacts during the past eight pandemic-riddled months, all while local and former Putnam County residents have been staying home to curb exposure to COVID-19.

“There has been a noted uptick of in-kind donations to the Historian’s Collection during the pandemic,” says Jennifer Cassidy of the Putnam County Historian’s Office. “We’ve received an 1897 copy of F.W. Beers’ Commemorative Biographical Record of Dutchess and Putnam Counties, high school yearbooks, and many photographs that range from historic homesteads and families, to class pictures from the 1970s, and even more recent digital images that cover Black Lives Matter protests taking place in front of the Historic Courthouse in Carmel.”

Many residents have been cleaning up and sorting through, and sometimes deciding to donate family photos, papers, militaria and other ephemera that could be of significance to local history, rather than relegating these treasures to the garbage heap.  The local historical organizations view this as an opportunity to assess and gather important items and documents for their collections, while utilizing best practices of safety through social distancing, wearing masks, and sometimes using contactless drop off and pick up.

Over at the Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring, John Duncan, PHM’s Collections Manager, recently received donations from Anthony and Taylor Mike Belcher, former longtime residents of Garrison, NY and descendants of Henry White Belcher, owner of the Garrison and West Point Ferry Company.  The Belchers, now living in Florida, shipped local history artifacts to the Museum.  “One exceptional item is a seal stamp for the West Point Ferry Company, which operated from approximately 1854 to 1900 along the shores of the Hudson River,” says Duncan.

The Belchers also sent a selection of photographs of Garrison Landing dating back to the 1920’s and 30’s which feature a variety of unique views of the landing and surrounding areas.  The importance of photographs like these is never lost on historical organizations – they not only help tell the story of local history, but also help interpret the past, and sometimes fill a void.

“These images fill a gap in our collection since most of the photos we have of the landing are from the late 19th century, or post-1960’s. This time period is an amazing addition and comes from a family with strong roots in the Garrison Landing community,” says Cassie Ward, Executive Director of the Putnam History Museum.

Donations vary from the formal to the decidedly off-beat. Back in September, Village Trustee, Mary Bryde, contacted the Southeast Museum, located in the Village of Brewster, about a set of cobblestones. “They were once part of Main Street before the street was paved with asphalt,” says Museum Director Amy Campanaro.  “We don’t even have pictures of the Village with cobblestone streets, but here’s physical proof! We cannot wait to construct an exhibit around these historic objects.”

The stones were donated by Bryde’s friend, Ruthann Platz, daughter of the late Mayor Richard Mitchell who was a trustee of the Village from 1963 to 1969 and mayor from 1969 to 1977.  But her roots don’t end there: she’s also the granddaughter of the Village’s first clerk and great-granddaughter of an immigrant miner who worked in the iron ore mines that were once located in the village during the 1870’s.

Aside from the museums in Cold Spring and Brewster, other towns throughout Putnam County have historical societies that collect significant items relating to their towns including Patterson, Carmel, Kent and Putnam Valley.

“Donations documenting local history have been a silver lining during the pandemic,” says Cassidy, “Putnam County’s local historical societies and museums depend on donations they receive from supporters near and far.  These non-profits need the community’s continued support through financial donations and membership too, so that they may care for these historic treasures in their collections.”

Cassidy noted that the most ideal setting for collections is in climate-controlled storage facilities like the County Archives, but they are expensive to build, maintain and upgrade.   “We are fortunate to house not only our archived records but also papers and photographs from the Historian’s Collection in our humidity and temperature-controlled archives room,” says Cassidy.  “We have a wonderful facility and partnership with the Records Department and County Clerk’s Office, all working together to protect Putnam County’s history for the future.”

For more information on Putnam County’s local history organizations and museums and how you can help, please contact the Putnam County Historian’s Office at 845-808-1420 or email historian@putnamcountyny.gov.

 

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Image Captions and Credits:

  1. John Duncan, Putnam History Museum’s Collections Manager studies acquisitions received during the pandemic. Image courtesy of Putnam History Museum
  2. The 19th Century seal stamp from the West Point Ferry Company, which was operated by Henry White Belcher of Garrison, NY. Image courtesy of Putnam History Museum
  3. Cobblestones donated to the Southeast Museum dating back to early days in the Village of Brewster. Image courtesy of Southeast Museum
  4. L to R: Jennifer Cassidy and Melinda Miller review Garden Street School class pictures dating back to the 1970’s, now in the Historian’s Collection at the County Archives. PCHO
  5. Class pictures donated to the Putnam County Historian’s Collection in memory of Dorothy Weizenecker, a former Garden Street Elementary School teacher. This school was built in 1927 but closed in 2012 due to dwindling enrollment and restoration needs. PCHO