and improved: an exhibition gallery at the Rensselaer
County Historical Society.
Into the Past
week, a “behind the scenes” walk-through of the Joseph B.
Carr mansion in Troy, the home of the museum of the Rensselaer
County Historical Society, revealed a state-of-the-art facility
filled with artifacts from the region’s many towns and neighborhoods,
as well as evidence—such as the fantastically designed iron
stoves lining a corridor—of Troy’s heyday as an industrial
powerhouse whose products were sold internationally. Above
the Carr’s three galleries are storage spaces equipped with
sophisticated climate and lighting controls and moving platforms
for antique furniture. Within the enameled steel cabinets
can be found whole collections of wedding dresses, portraits,
military uniforms, jewel-like buttons, and shelves piled high
with Victorian-era paisley shawls. The tour was held in anticipation
of the society’s Special Diamond Anniversary Party, to be
held today (Thursday). For a history buff, it was akin to
being a kid in a candy shop.
The renovation of the Carr building, completed in October
2001, included reinforcement of the floors with steel beams
to hold the weight of 50,000 artifacts. “Paper is the heaviest,”
says Donna Hassler, RCHS’s executive director, as she gestures
to the interior of a large room stacked from floor to ceiling
with documents. The society’s research library, its fastest
growing component, receives requests from around the world,
and has been utilized by the History Channel and Hollywood
movie crews. Last year, the film crew for Bill Moyers’ PBS
documentary on the Hudson River spent days at the library
and used several archival photographs in the footage.
Yet a mere 75 years ago, the society began with just a box
of genealogical materials and an idea. The box belonged to
Louise Brown of Troy, who wanted to memorialize her father,
Daniel Van Antwerp, a descendent of one of the early Dutch
families to settle in New York state and a member of the local
chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. The SAR suggested
that Brown use her memorial fund to set up a county historical
society. The idea was championed by the Troy Record,
which pointed out that such an organization would correct
“a deficiency that was amazing in view of the rich historical
value of the county, and especially in view of similar societies
that have long flourished in Albany and Schenectady.” The
paper also lamented how “more than one valuable collection
has gone to Albany or elsewhere for want of a suitable organization
RCHS was incorporated in 1927, but according to registrar
Kathryn Sheehan, the society’s longtime historian, Brown’s
organization did not acquire its first artifact until two
years later, when a donation was made of an 1835 guest book
from the Mansion House, an illustrious inn that occupied the
site of the Hendrick Hudson Hotel. “The Marquis de Lafayette
stayed there when he was on his grand tour,” says Sheehan.
“The register reads like a Who’s Who.” (The guest book,
along with paintings, photographs, and other objects illustrating
the society’s progress, are on view in the 75th Anniversary
Exhibit through Dec. 23).
By the late 1940s, however, RCHS had 200 members and was outgrowing
its archives at the Troy Public Library. The society became
a real museum in 1952, when it received the Hart-Cluett House,
an architecturally innovative 1827 mansion previously occupied
by two of Troy’s most entrepreneurial families. But it wasn’t
until 1976, with the acquisition of the Carr building next
door, that the society could begin its evolution to a full-fledged
facility with space for changing galleries, community programming,
and collections storage.
the Carr building was such a huge project, every phase that
was completed brought us higher visibility,” says Sheehan.
“Before that, people always thought of us as a Troy historical
society, because of the [Hart-Cluett] house. We’ve spent a
lot of the last 20 years trying to change that perception,
and to making people understand that we are a county organization,
and that we’re extremely conscientious about doing our exhibitions
to include the entirety of Rensselaer County.”
been on this track for 30 years,” says Hassler. “The vision
to have a dynamic facility for regional art, history and culture
was drawn up in 1971.” Five directors, two mansions and several
large-scale renovations later, the society is close to its
goal. “As we’ve become more known,” she says, “we’re reaching
a wider audience.”
RCHS will celebrate its 75 years with a Special Diamond Anniversary
Party today (Thursday, Dec. 19), from 5 to 8 PM. Admission
is free for members; nonmembers who wish to join ($35) will
receive a copy of The Marble House of Second Street.
The party will feature a champagne toast, a cake in the form
of the two buildings, a raffle for a diamond pin, and giveaways
of tickets to the Troy Music Hall and the New York State Theatre
Institute. RCHS is located at 57 Second St., Troy. Call 272-7232
for more information.
may fall short of the criteria for an official Christmas miracle,
but local bookworms are more than just a little pleased that
the struggling Bryn Mawr Book Shop on Albany’s Lark Street
will not be closing its doors, as had seemed likely.
Last week, a trio of neighborhood investors—Mark Brogna, Bill
Pettit and John McLennan—purchased the store’s inventory and
announced their plan to lease the space under the new moniker
the Lark Street Bookshop. And though the store has had trouble
making rent payments in the past, in the days since the announcement,
the apparent level of community support for a revitalized
book store has been promising.
been an outpouring of support,” says Brogna. “We’ve gotten
flowers and letters, and lots of well-wishers. Lots of business
owners and people from the neighborhood are grateful and happy
that it’s staying put.”
According to Pettit, that goal—simply preventing the closure
of a much-loved, if underpatronized, local literary establishment—was
the motivation for the purchase: “None of us is in this for
the money; we just wanted to keep it open.”
So, fans of the intimate and personal space can be confident
that no rapacious corporate bottom-line mentality will be
imposed, and the new owners are keeping on manager Matthew
Bach; that being said, some changes are already underway:
The once-erratic hours of the store have been expanded (not
to mention stabilized), some décor changes are in process,
a Web site has been developed (www.standardweb. com/larkstreetbooks),
and an entertainment program is being devised.
Discussing the type of musical entertainment likely, Pettit
mentions folk and Irish/Celtic music; Brogna explains that
the programming decisions will be made with an eye (or ear)
toward preserving the mellow, comfy atmosphere of the store.
trying things to draw the neighborhood in,” he says. “Something
laid-back and quiet, not like a nightclub but something in
keeping with the feel of the store. We want it to be a place
where people can browse and listen,” he says.
buy,” Pettit adds with a laugh. “Browse and listen and buy.”