New Cobblestone Museum directors ready for season

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 May 2014 at 12:00 am

Site, a National Historic Landmark, opens on Mother’s Day

Photo by Tom Rivers – Matt Ballard and Sarah Karas, the co-directors of the Cobblestone Society Museum, are pictured in front of the Ward House (built in 1836) with the Cobblestone Universalist Church (built in 1834) in back. The museum has eight historic structures. It opens on Mother’s Day, about six weeks earlier than its usual schedule.

CHILDS – Since they started as co-directors in February, Matt Ballard and Sarah Karas have been busy at the Cobblestone Society Museum, revamping the museum web site, booking weddings in the historic church from 1834, and getting ready for the season.

The museum includes eight historic structures near the intersection of routes 98 and 104. It is in the only site in the county that has been declared a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior. The museum opens next Sunday on Mother’s Day, about six weeks earlier than in a typical year.

The extended season will make the museum eligible for more grants to help maintain the historic buildings and add programming, said Ballard.

“There is a lot of potential here, we just have to think outside the box,” said Ballard, 26. “There’s a lot of good ideas out there. We want to try some new things.”

Ballard and Karas both graduated in the Class of 2006 at Albion, and they both have master’s degrees in library science at the University of Buffalo. They commuted together for classes. They are friends and both have a love of local history.

They have different strengths and interests, and they said that is benefitting the museum.

Karas, 25, is organizing the weddings, training volunteers and docents, redesigning the gift shop and working on the museum’s social media with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

“Matt and I are constantly organizing,” Karas said.

She volunteered at the museum for over four years, making an inventory of the books at the one-room cobblestone school house. She also organized the materials in the used book sale.

“I really love getting my hands on the old artifacts,” she said. “I really see the potential in this museum. There is such a variety of buildings. There is something here for everyone.”

Karas works part-time as a reference librarian at Genesee Community College in Batavia. Ballard is a part-time library supervisor for Hilbert College in Hamburg.

They are sharing the workload at the museum, which is open every day but Monday and Tuesday from May 12 to Oct. 12.

The cobblestone school house is part of a museum complex that has been declared a National Historic Landmark.

Ballard brings a passion for genealogy and research to the position. But there are plenty of maintenance tasks to tend to, including a recent leak that had to be fixed in the bathrooms.

The two have been connecting with businesses in the county to offer deals as part of a museum pass. They are pushing for more memberships, whether at the individual, family or corporate levels.

Ballard sees the collection of buildings and the artifacts inside as a tremendous showcase of local and regional history. The museum’s designation as a National Historic Landmark will be part of the museum’s branding strategy.

“We want to sell that message to the larger community that this is an important site,” Ballard said. “It is a unique style of construction. We have a wide variety of things. There is something for everybody.”

The museum has a one-room school house built in 1849, a cobblestone house with furnishings from the 1880s, and the church from 1834 – the oldest cobblestone church in North America.

There are several historic buildings on Route 98, just south of Route 104. Those structures include a blacksmith shop, print shop, harness shop, farmer’s hall and even a fancy outhouse. Together the sites provide a snapshot into life in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Many local students used to tour the sites as part of local history programs, but Ballard said those tours dwindled in recent years. He wants to reach out to schools and welcome them to the museum.

He also sees potential in a “Cobblestone Corridor” or Cobblestone Trail along Route 104. The cobblestone homes could all be highlighted with a map that would appeal to tourists.

“The museum would be the centerpiece,” he said.

For more on the Cobblestone Society Museum, click here.