County historian tells senior citizens many local resources to help understand the past
MEDINA – Senior Citizens of Western Orleans welcomed Catherine Cooper to their March dinner meeting to talk about the Orleans County historian’s job and share some of her vintage cookbooks.
Cooper retired in June 2020 as director of Lee-Whedon Memorial Library and accepted the position as Orleans County historian in September 2020.
She explained the first historian appointed was Arden McAllister, a Medina teacher, in 1938. Bill Lattin held the position for 35 years until he retired in 2013 and then was succeeded by Matthew Ballard he served in the position for more than five years.
As historian, Cooper said she is spending time sorting and refiling records to make them accessible.
“People come in looking for houses, genealogy, sandstone quarries and, always in December, information about Charlie Howard,” Cooper said. “You don’t need to know everything. You just need to know where to find it.”
Other things people ask for are old maps, minutes of the Pioneer History Association, early newspapers and photographs, Cooper said.
It can be a challenge when someone wants a photo from 1840 or a birth certificate from 1820. They didn’t take photos back then or have birth certificates.
Great sources of information are books by Medina’s Ed Grinnell and Ridgeway historian Richard Dennis. Cooper also talked about the Medina Historical Society at 406 West Ave. It was founded 50 years ago by the late Ceil White as a place to collect and preserve the history of Medina.
“There is so much material there,” Cooper said. “This includes information about the barracks by Fisher Price for World War II prisoners, H.J. Heinz Company, spinning wheels and more.”
The Medina Historical Society puts on informative programs, Cooper said. A recent one was on letters from the Civil War. Some were brought in and one person had a correspondence from Jack Benny a family member had received.
“Documenting change in an area over time – that’s local history,” Cooper said. “We are tribal. We need to know where we came from. When we are together, we talk about our families and what they did. We need to pass on those stories.”
One thing she urged was for people to label photographs.
Cooper also brought a collection of old cookbooks, some from the Historical Society and other belonging to her.
“You will find inspiration in those cookbooks gathered over the years,” she said. “They are a great resource. You can learn so much from the ads. In the 1950s and 1960s people canned and preserved food.”
Some of Cooper’s cookbooks were from Oak Orchard Elementary School, the Mustang Marching Band, St. Mary’s Mother’s Club and senior citizens.
Finally Cooper handed out copies of five self-guided walking tours of Medina developed by Todd Bensley. She urged seniors to get up, get out and see Medina’s history.