County historian resigns to take job in North Carolina

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 February 2020 at 11:56 am

File photos by Tom Rivers: Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard speaks on May 26, 2016 during a ceremony at Mount Albion Cemetery, when a marker was unveiled at the Civil War section. That project was led by Albion seventh-graders with Ballard assisting the students with some of the research. Students catalogued the burial locations for more than 250 Civil War veterans buried at Mount Albion.

ALBION – Orleans County Historian Matthew Ballard is resigning to take a position at the college in North Carolina.

Ballard, 31, has served as county historian the past five years, a tenure where he modernized the county’s Department of History, cataloguing many documents and photos and making them available online.

Ballard has also written a weekly column – “Overlooked Orleans” – and led numerous tours at local cemeteries, as well as downtown Albion. He also has spoken at many local organizations and is a frequent guest at Albion Central School, sharing with seventh-graders about local history.

Ballard has served in the part-time role while working full-time at Roberts Wesleyan College in North Chili, where he is director of library services.

He is taking a job at Davidson College near Charlotte. He will be Davidson’s assistant director of collection strategies.

“I’m at the point in my life where I have to decide what path I want to take, whether libraries or history,” Ballard said.

The library position, ultimately, pays better than working as a historian. Ballard was paid $8,600 as county historian in 2019. The pay was bumped up to $11,500 this year.

Ballard said he worked hard to share stories and history from the county, whether in the weekly column, tours or speaking engagements. He also responds to many emails with people seeking information about the history of houses, businesses and genealogy, as well as assistance in getting birth, marriage and death records.

Ballard has been dedicated to the position. When Ballard was on his honeymoon in July 2017, he and his wife Christine planned a trip to England, France and Poland. They visited the Somme American Cemetery in Bony, France and paid their respects at the graves of local soldiers who trained with Company F at the former Medina Armory.

Ballard is the former director of the Cobblestone Museum and then served as its board president. He has been president of the board of trustees for the Orleans County Historical Association and an active member of the Knights of Columbus.

He has juggled his full-time job at Roberts with his historian’s duties, while also finishing his graduate work at Brockport State College in American History. He graduates in May. He also has a master’s degree in library science from the University at Buffalo.

Matt Ballard was in costume in September leading tours of downtown Albion and the Courthouse Square. About 300 people attended two tours of “Murder and Mayhem,” tours highlighting notable characters and some crimes in the community.

Ballard is an Albion native. He joined Orleans County Genealogical Association when he was 18 and served as treasurer for more than a decade, and was a frequent speaker at the organization’s meetings.

His interest in genealogy led to him pursuing career as a historian and archivist. In February 2015 he was appointed as county historian, following Bill Lattin, who served in the role for about 35 years.

Ballard added to the Department of History’s digital presence, adding a laptop, email address and updated content on the website.

He has expanded the number subject files from 250 to about 1,400, and that doesn’t include about 750 family files for gathering genealogy materials.

He also catalogued about 500 rare books and the local history publications, and has the department prepared for a move from the basement of Central Hall to the second floor. This building on Park Street also serves as the Treasurer’s Office.

Ballard was named a “Friend of Education” by the Albion school district on April 1, 2019 in appreciation for several projects with seventh-graders. Ballard teamed with Albion’s service learning class to secure a headstone for Civil War veteran John Frost at St. Joseph’s Cemetery on Brown Road in Gaines.

They also added a historical marker at Hillside Cemetery in Clarendon for Charles Herbert Taylor, the only known Orleans County resident killed in the Battle of Gettysburg. Ballard also helped secure a historical marker for Lemuel Cook of Clarendon, the last living pensioner from the Revolutionary War. That marker is at Cook Cemetery on Munger Road. (Another marker is expected to be dedicated this spring in Holley for home that was a safe house on the Underground Railroad.)

Ballard and the seventh-graders also had a large bronze tablet from World War I placed back at its original location on the Orleans County Courthouse. The historian and students also created interpretive panels in Albion about the Erie Canal and the former Poor House on Countyhouse Road in Albion.

Ballard said he is willing to help his successor with a transition into the role as historian. He praised the county officials for embracing some of the changes he made to the office, with more computerization and soon more office and storage space.

‘I took the job and made it what I wanted it to be,” he said. “My hope is the next person coming in will have a solid platform coming in.”

He said the county is fortunate to have many dedicated and effective historians at the town and village level. He sees more potential to promote local history and attract visitors with heritage tourism.

“There is so much more that this position could be with the right person and the right level of support,” Ballard said.

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