County historian, who is leaving for job in North Carolina, gets praise by legislators

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 May 2020 at 9:32 am

Photos by Tom Rivers: Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard leads a tour and historical presentation to about 200 people on Sept. 13 in downtown Albion. Ballard gave frequent community presentations about local history, wrote a weekly column and worked behind the scenes to modernize the Department of History.

ALBION — Matt Ballard is five-plus years as Orleans County historian took the Department of History to new levels, county legislators said.

He wrote a weekly column highlighting local history, gave many community presentations, developed an online presence for the department, and catalogued the records in the office.

He did it in a part-time role, while working another full-time job and finishing a master’s degree in American History from Brockport State College. (He also has a master’s degree in library science from the University at Buffalo.)

Ballard is leaving Orleans County next month to take a position at the college in North Carolina. He will be assistant director of Collection Strategies at Davidson College.

The seven-member County Legislature on Wednesday presented him with a “Special Recognition Award” for his “outstanding service” as county historian.

Matt Ballard sported an unusual beard style during the June 30 Barre Bicentennial Parade. Ballard competed in a beard contest later that afternoon.

“Your dedication and expertise in modernizing the County’s Department of History along with presentations, articles and tours provided outstanding history to put residents that will forever be widespread, long lasting and extremely appreciated,” the certificate states.

Ballard, 31, started as historian on Feb. 26, 2015. He served in the part-time role while working full-time at Roberts Wesleyan College in North Chili, where he is director of library services.

The historian’s job paid $8,600 in 2019. Ballard said he needed to pick a career, and the library position pays better.

Ballard has been dedicated to the position. When he 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.

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. 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.

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 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.

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