Cobblestone Museum sees growth in visitors

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 November 2014 at 12:00 am

County’s only National Historic Landmark looks to build on success from 2014

File photo by Tom Rivers – Matt Ballard and Sarah Karas, co-directors of the Cobblestone Society Museum, are pictured in front of the Ward House (built in 1836) with the Cobblestone Universalist Church (built in 1834) in back. The museum opened six weeks earlier this year and expanded its programming.

CHILDS – The Cobblestone Museum saw attendance nearly double this past year when the National Historic Landmark opened on Mother’s Day, six weeks earlier than normal, and worked to expand programming, including a series on medicine in the 19th Century.

A new Museum Crawl also linked museums and historic sites on Route 98 from Batavia to Lake Ontario. It resulted in about 50 new visitors for the Cobblestone Museum. Altogether there were 1,475 visitors to the museum in 2014, up from the 876 that were counted in 2013.

“It seems like we’re going in the right direction,” said Matt Ballard, co-director of the museum. “We just have to stick with it.”

Ballard put together an exhibit – “Medicine at the Museum” – about medical care in the 1800s. The museum has an extensive collection of artifacts, and many were also donated from community members for the exhibit, which ran until Oct. 12.

“Medicine at the Museum” features photos and write-ups on many of the pioneer physicians and pharmacists in the county. The museum also hosted a lecture series with four speakers discussing Orleans and WNY medical history.

Ballard is now working on an exhibit for next year about World War I. The war lasted from 1914 to 1918, with the United States joining in 1917.

The Cobblestone Society had its annual meeting on Thursday and Susan Rudnicky, president, cited several successes, including the growing attendance. The museum also used grants and donations to complete a new roof on the Cobblestone Church and a next-door brick house.

“The church is near and dear to all of our hearts,” Rudnicky told about 70 people at the meeting at Tillman’s Village Inn. “Keeping it in good condition is pre-eminent. We have to keep it in good condition.”

Sarah Karas, co-director of the Cobblestone Museum, addresses about 70 people who attended the annual meeting for the Cobblestone Society on Thursday. She is joined by Matt Ballard, at right, and leaders of the Board of Directors, sitting.

The Cobblestone Society hired Ballard and Karas as co-directors in the spring. They both have other jobs and shared the duties in running the museum and its complex of historic structures.

Ballard and Karas both graduated in the Class of 2006 at Albion, and they both have master’s degrees in library science at the University of Buffalo. Karas works at Genesee Community College in Batavia and Ballard works at Hilbert College in Hamburg.

They have different strengths and interests. Karas organized weddings, trained volunteers and docents, redesigned the gift shop and worked on the museum’s social media with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ballard brings a passion for genealogy and research to the position.

“Matt and Sarah are doing what I hoped people would be doing when I retired,” Bill Lattin, the long-time museum director, said at the annual meeting. “I’m very grateful for what they’ve done in carrying the museum into the 21st Century.”

The museum isn’t without challenges. Rudnicky said the organization would benefit from more revenue for upkeep of the buildings and to better pay its staff. Cobblestone Society Treasurer Ken Braunbach said the organization dipped into $30,000 of its investment funds in 2014. Those accounts are now down to $163,010.

The organization has been pushing more tours and weddings, as well as other events to bring in revenue. But ultimately, Rudnicky said other support will be needed to build a strong Cobblestone Museum for the future.

Orleans County currently doesn’t have the museum in its budget. Museum leaders have reached out to county legislators, and several took tours of the museum property in late October.

Rudnicky is stepping down as president and will remain on the board of directors. Mary Anne Braunbach will be the organization’s new president. Other new board members include Al Capurso, Louise Wu and Karen Desjardins.