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County picks new historian to succeed Bill Lattin

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 February 2015 at 12:00 am

Legislature chairman wants push for heritage tourism

File photo by Tom Rivers – Matt Ballard, interim director of the Cobblestone Museum, is pictured in front of the Cobblestone Universalist Church built in 1834. Ballard was appointed the county’s new historian today.

ALBION – Orleans County’s new historian is only 26. But Matthew Ballard already has shown a commitment to historical initiatives.

Ballard has served as interim director at the Cobblestone Museum for more than a year, and organized an exhibit and lecture series at the museum on medical history in Orleans County and Western New York.

He created a web site in 2010, www.albionpolonia.com, that highlights the history and art of the former St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Albion. Ballard grew up on Brown Street and was part of the St. Mary’s community while growing up. He was an altar server.

The Albion Polonia site includes baptismal records, marriage licenses, and funerals of the Polish community. Ballard has photos of many of the weddings. He has a searchable database that helps people on a genealogical quest.

Genesee Community College and Orleans Hub named Ballard one of the inaugural “Heritage Heroes” during a ceremony last April during the Civil War Encampment in Medina.

Ballard wants to build an on-line resource of many of the artifacts in the historian’s office. He praised the work done by Bill Lattin, the county historian for over 35 years. Lattin retired on Dec. 31.

“Bill has done a great job getting the history of the county out to the community and to all of Western New York,” Ballard said.

He intends to write a regular historical column for local publications, and wants to take stock of the photos and artifacts in the historian’s office. He said the county may want to pursue grants for archiving the materials and safeguarding them for the future.

Lattin has been pushing for Ballard to be historian for many months. Lattin said he observed Ballard give a tour of St. Mary’s several years ago, and Lattin saw Ballard’s knowledge of the church and community, and his ability to captivate a crowd with stories.

Lattin also was the Cobblestone Museum director before retiring. He said Ballard has proven himself in that role, bringing a high level of professionalism, especially with his organization of the medical exhibit. Ballard is now putting together an exhibit on World War I, and some of the local ties to that war from a century ago.

“I’ve really been impressed by what Matt has done,” Lattin said after Ballard was appointed historian by the County Legislature this afternoon. The part-time position pays $8,000 a year.

Orleans County Legislature Chairman David Callard wants to see Ballard work with local historical groups to help develop a heritage trail that would be county-wide. Callard said a “Sandstone Trail” could be one possibility.

He noted the state is providing funding for such endeavors that promote community pride, link attractions and draw visitors.

Ballard said the county is fortunate to have many dedicated historical enthusiasts. He mentioned the Clarendon Historical Society, Medina Sandstone Society, Orleans County Genealogical Society (where he is treasurer), Cobblestone Society, and several other local historical societies.

“There are a lot of people really interested and dedicated to local history,” Ballard said. “We need to draw them together to see what we can do as a group.”