Cobblestone Museum asks congressman to help with visitor’s center

Photos by Tom Rivers: U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs and Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman walk together on the grounds at the Cobblestone Museum on Route 104 in Gaines on Friday. Jacobs, who was sworn into office on July 21, made his first visit to the museum, which is a National Historic Landmark.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 September 2020 at 11:07 am

GAINES – Leaders of the Cobblestone Museum met with Congressman Chris Jacobs for an hour on Friday and asked him to pursue federal assistance for a visitor’s center in the historic Childs hamlet and also to help make the area safer for pedestrians.

Jacobs, who was sworn into office on July 21, made his first visit to the museum, which is a National Historic Landmark, the top historic recognition given by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Congressman Chris Jacobs said he has experience with historic properties in Buffalo’s Theater District. He said federal tax incentives are critical for projects at historic sites.

“History is the best thing Orleans County has to sell to visitors,” Erin Anheier, the museum president, told Jacobs.

She thinks the county has many historic sites that could be promoted as part of heritage tourism. The museum could be the center of those efforts, working with other partners in the county, Anheier said.

The museum has expanded its programming, drawing more visitors and members in recent years. (The Covid-19 pandemic has limited the museum to tours by appointment in 2020, but the museum has a full calendar of activities planned for next year, said Doug Farley, the executive director.)

The museum will soon acquire the home next to the blacksmith shop at the southwest corner of routes 98 and 104. It will be decorated in a 1920s style and offers more space for exhibits, Anheier said.

The museum would like to work with other local agencies – perhaps the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce and Orleans County Tourism Department – to develop a visitors’ center in the historic Childs hamlet. The site could be used promote many attractions in the county, including sportsfishing, Farley told Jacobs.

The hamlet in October 2019 was named one of “Five to Revive” by the Western New York Landmark Society. That designation brings awareness to important sites in the region that are in need of protection and investment.

Congressman Chris Jacobs, right, hears from Cobblestone Museum President Erin Anheier about concerns over traffic and available parking near the museum on Route 104.

The hamlet is unusual in WNY, with so many cobblestone buildings and other historic sites on a busy road that is largely devoid of chain store commercialism, said Larry Francer, associate director of preservation for the Landmark Society of WNY.

She praised the museum and other Gaines residents for their work to preserve so many sites from the 1800s.

“This is great example for the rest of our region,” Francer said about the Childs hamlet.

The hamlet would benefit from sidewalks along the stretch of cobblestone buildings that are part of the museum (from the Cobblestone Universalist Church to the former one-room schoolhouse), and historic-looking street lights, said Richard Remley, the museum’s vice president.

Cobblestone Museum Executive Director Doug Farley, left, speaks in the lower level of the Cobblestone Universalist Church, a building constructed in 1834. Farley said the museum maintains three important cobblestone structures, as well as other important buildings near the routes 104 and 98 intersection. Others in the photo include, U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs, Cobblestone Museum President Erin Anheier, Cobblestone Museum VP Richard Remley and Larry Francer, associate director of preservation for the Landmark Society of WNY.

Farley said the museum needs more parking. It would like to upgrade its bathrooms for the public, and have meeting space for up to 100 people with a kitchen facility.

It could pursue a new structure for a visitor’s center, but Farley and museum leaders believe a brick house from 1834 across the street from the church offers a lot of potential as a visitor’s center. The 3,000-square-foot site is owned by Ray and Linda Burke and is for sale.

Museum leaders asked Jacobs to help pursue funding for the visitor’s center and the pedestrian improvements in the district.

Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, said the county would benefit from a welcome center. She said the Legislature values the museum and has recently contributed $3,000 in annual funding for the organization.

The Legislature also ended a hiring freeze on Aug. 27 and appointed a new county historian, Catherine Cooper of Medina. She recently retired as the director of the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina.

Jacobs said he knows the value of well-maintained historic sites. As a real estate developer, he worked on several historic rehabs in Buffalo’s Theater District. He said maintaining state and federal tax incentives for those projects is critical for developers.

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