Community should support efforts to preserve existing heritage sites

Posted 23 April 2016 at 12:00 am


Nearly 160 years ago the Mount Vernon Ladies Association led by founder Ann Pamela Cunningham purchased the home of George Washington with the intent of preserving and restoring the property. At $200,000, over $5 million today, the investment was large and frightful during a period of uncertainty in the nation. The effort is regarded as one of the first real efforts in historic preservation in the United States.

Since then, countless organizations have sprung up across the country in an attempt to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the U.S. To no surprise, Orleans County has her fair share of museums and historical societies sprinkled throughout the fourteen municipalities; perhaps too many to list for fear of excluding one. Those organizations were founded in a good faith effort to educate the local public about our shared history and many have grown and succeeded through the years.

Unfortunately, the current economy has not been kind to historical organizations. Our priorities have changed, arts and humanities are thrown to the side and resources are pumped into tangible outcomes in the sciences; cancer research and renewable energy are worthwhile projects by all means. Efforts to preserve the physical history around us prove to be extremely difficult and expensive at times. Any homeowner of an older property can explain the pain involved with maintenance and upkeep.

Our local historic gems have a small pool of local supporters who pay membership, contribute to pledge campaigns, and make in-kind donations on a regular basis. More often than not, those people constitute a pool of supporters who provide contributions to all historic organizations across the board. The result is an overburdened supporting base that finds itself overtaxed physically and financially.

Many of those sites are accessed by people across the country and across the globe. The Cobblestone Museum regularly welcomes visitors from countries in Europe, visitors from Germany, Belgium, Ireland and as far out as New Zealand. The interest in these sites is real and far reaching. Yet few of our existing sites are supported by local municipalities. Instead, many are left to struggle, reducing hours, services, and programming.

Heritage tourism is a real thing and should be supported by all levels of government. Studies show that a new generation of museum-goers has entered the scene, a younger, more energetic generation with varying interestswith that comes money.

Members of the community are now interested in supporting a museum/building/statue to the memory of Charles Howard and the Santa Claus School. I’m not going to argue whether we should honor Howard or not, that answer is simple. I’m not going to argue whether we need a new parking lot in downtown or not, the answer to that was spelled out several years ago in a parking study conducted by the Albion Main Street Alliance. Instead, I am going to cry out for the community to support the historical assets we already have, not recreate the lost ones.

People outside of Medina are likely unaware that the Company F Memorial Committee is working to raise over $70,000 for the erection of a bronze statue atop the Company F Memorial at the Medina Armory, in honor of those men who served with the unit. The memorial in its truest sense extends beyond honoring only those who served with Company F, but all men who served from Orleans County from the Spanish American War through our most current conflicts.

Few people are aware that the Cobblestone Museum is amidst a comprehensive project to raise funds for the restoration of windows on the oldest cobblestone church in North America, the only National Historic Landmark in Orleans County; a project that encompasses extensive repairs to a cobblestone home once owned by Horace Greeley. How many are aware that the Clarendon Historical Society is raising funds for the restoration of the historic chapel at Hillside Cemetery? What about the efforts of the Orleans County Historical Association to save one of the oldest cobblestone buildings in the county?

Every day we lose historic sites throughout the country because the interest and support needed to save them is not there. Far too young to ever have experienced this myself, I have heard the stories of the beautiful mansions that lined South Main Street, allowed to fall into disrepair and become yet another victim of urban sprawl. How many residents reminisce about the beauty that was once Albion?

My hope is that our greater community in Orleans County will come to appreciate what we have and see that we do not need to recreate what was lost. Save what is here, before it is too late!

Matthew Ballard