Cobblestone Museum meets $750K fundraising goal for visitors center

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 28 May 2022 at 8:44 am

Site will be named for Thompson and Kast families

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Cobblestone Museum will put an addition on this house from 1824 and make it a visitors center. The site is prominent at the intersection of routes 98 and 104.

CHILDS – Only eight months after aggressively launching a fundraising campaign to build a Visitors Center in Orleans County, the Cobblestone Society has announced exceeding its goal by reaching $759,000.

On the heels of that announcement comes the news of two local families who have stepped up for the naming rights to the center which be in a brick house from 1824 that will include an addition with a large meeting room.

The site will be known as the Thompson-Kast Visitors Center, Cobblestone director Doug Farley, membership chair Gail Thompson Johnson and fundraising chair Dick Remley announced Friday morning.

The Thompson and Kast families are longtime farmers in the Albion area, with a connection to each other. Gail Johnson’s parents Charles and Hannah Thompson sold their farm on the corner of Ridge Road and Brown Road to David and Kathy Kast in the 1960s.

Leaders of the museum and the fundraising effort discuss plans for the visitors center. From left include Doug Farley, the museum director; Dick Remley, the board president; and Gail Thompson Johnson, the membership chairwoman and a key donor to the project. David and Kathy Kast also gave for the naming rights to the visitors center, but were unable to attend Friday’s announcement.

Johnson remembers her father saying he could have probably received more money for the farm from someone else, but he knew the Kasts would take better care of it, she said.

“When we identified the Thompson family as having naming rights, it was natural we should also think of the Kasts,” said Farley.

He contacted the Kasts and 10 months later, they committed.

In addition to those major donors, other local families have also stepped up to buy naming rights, starting at $15,000, to more than a dozen rooms in the new Visitors Center.

Roger and Ingrid LaMont, also local farmers, fell in love with the fireplace in the front room and bought the naming rights to that space.

Roy Bubb of Holley was the first person Johnson called, and he immediately pledged support for another room, followed shortly after by John Nipher, who chose the kitchen with its antique fireplace.

Peter and Patricia Hurd have chosen naming rights to the reception room, which will probably be located in the new addition being planned to the existing house.

Other early donors are Bill and Jackie Bixler from Albion Agencies, Lawrence and Gabriella Albanese, Jack and Debby Batchellor, Orleans Chapter DAR, Elizabeth Dye Curtis Foundation and Jim and Sue Bonafini.

The addition is planned for the sloping grassy area on the southside of the brick house. It will have a large meeting room and new bathrooms.

The Visitors Center will be located in an 1824 home on the southeast corner of Ridge Road and Route 98.

Farley said a committee had been looking at establishing a visitors’ center in Orleans County for the last five years.

“We looked at everything – from existing buildings to a new build,” Farley said. “Then this building became available, and it checked off all the boxes, except a large meeting room. That we plan to add on.”

The Cobblestone completed purchase of the historic home on Dec. 1, 2021 from Ray and Linda Burke. They gave the brick house new life after extensive work about a decade ago.

Farley said the Cobblestone Museum is not open during the winter, but the Visitors Center will be open all year.

Farley shared benefits of establishing a Visitors Center at this location, which include prevention of a 19th century home from demolition or unrelated commercial activity, high visibility at an essential crossroads location, plentiful parking for school and tour buses, year-round access to restrooms, further expansion of the Cobblestone historic district, expansion of educational programming and visitation with year-round access, and a kitchenette for use by caterers or small receptions.

There will also be a large community meeting space for educational programming, a multi-purpose room, room for Orleans County Tourism, new exhibit space to interpret Orleans County history, space for viewing an introductory video and new cobblestone interactive exhibits, and space to display materials for all local attractions, such as the Medina Railroad Museum, Erie Canal, Point Breeze lighthouse, campgrounds, marinas, bed and breakfast sites, sportsfishing, agri-business, the wine trail and more.

Gail Johnson attended the Cobblestone School as a kid and has been a member of the Cobblestone Society since the 1960s, as a charter student member.

In addition to her family receiving the naming rights for the Cobblestone Visitors Center, Gail Johnson’s connection to the Cobblestone Society goes back to the early 1960s, when she became a student charter member of the Cobblestone Society. Next, she became a life member and now a legacy member. She heads the membership and donor committees.

“I had not been active in the Society for 30 years,” Johnson said. “Then after my husband Lyle died, I felt the need  to start meeting new people and I turned to the Cobblestone Museum, which was half a mile down the road where I began to do volunteer work, and I’ve been active ever since.”

Along with half of the naming rights to the building, Johnson is also adding her name to the new large meeting room.

Farley said they knew they didn’t have the resources to purchase the property for a visitors’ center, and would have to start fundraising.

Dick Remley had chaired the fundraising committee for the new Hoag Library in Albion, and stepped up as chair of the Cobblestone’s fundraising committee, with Brett Kast, Andrew Meier, Fred Miller, Bill Lattin and Johnson as co-chairs; Kevin Hamilton, treasurer; Erin Anheier, president of the Cobblestone board; and Farley.

“Like every good fundraiser, you lead by example, and we asked all the fundraising committee members and all the board members to make a contribution,” Farley said. “Within a month, we had identified $350,000 in pledges and before we went public in September, we had $500,000. Two weeks ago, right after our annual membership fundraising dinner, we met our goal.”

The Cobblestone Society initially identified 12 naming opportunities in the existing building at a minimum cost of $15,000 each, plus several more in the new building addition. Several naming opportunities still exist. Anyone interested in becoming part of this legacy program may contact Farley at (585) 589-9013, or Remley at (585) 506-8312.

Lynne Johnson, chair of the Orleans County Legislature, added her support for creation of a visitors’ center in Orleans County.

“The new Thompson-Kast Visitors Center will provide for better programming and educational opportunities that will enhance and further the understanding and celebration of this historic site,” Lynne Johnson said. “This is so vital to the community and our tourism. The visitors’ center will be a better way to accommodate all our annual visitors who descend upon our historic area. We look forward to its unique history and beauty and contribution to Orleans County.”

The Visitors Center committee is currently in the architectural drawings phase of the project.  Farley and Remley said they anticipate groundbreaking next spring.