Shandaken Museum celebrates its 30th anniversary

Museum director Kathleen Myers with the confiscated radio. (Photo by Violet Snow)

During World War I, Shandaken mill owner and forest ranger Jay Simpson was sent up the Oliverea Valley to confiscate a communications radio from a German hotel owner. The winter weather was so frigid, Simpson’s wife, Clara, stuffed his clothing with sheets of newspaper to keep him warm. The radio, with its flaring horn, is now on display at the Shandaken Museum in Pine Hill.

The historical museum will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Saturday, September 14, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a party featuring a scavenger hunt and other activities for kids, refreshments, tours, and more. When you stop by, be sure and schedule time to look through the astounding collection of antique tools, photographs, clothing, and other vestiges of the town’s history.

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The museum has had a busy summer, with 90 visitors in the month of August alone, said director Kathleen Myers, also the town historian. When she started working there seven years ago, the visitor count was usually 10 to 15 per month, but lately it’s up to at least 30, even in winter. Board president Mary Lou Stapleton says the increase is due to Myers’ diligent work. The director gives tours to visitors, engaging their interest with her encyclopedic knowledge of the town. Albums that used to be tucked away are left out so anyone can peruse the newspaper articles, photographs, and vintage post cards of hotels and boardinghouses, divided into separate albums for each of Shandaken’s 12 hamlets.

Myers gets requests from all over the country for genealogical information, usually from people who grew up in Shandaken but moved away. She researches the families through the museum’s files of birth certificates, burial records, chattel mortgages, election lists. Inquiries also come from second homeowners wanting to know the history of their homes and hamlets. 

On a recent Sunday, Phoenicia resident John Shrader was visiting the museum with his parents, Linda and Richard, who have moved to Rhinebeck from North Carolina. “We always thought New York was just New York City,” said Linda, “but there’s so much history in this area.”

“There are all these layers,” agreed John. “We’ve been looking at the history of all of upstate, the Iroquois Museum, the Erie Canal.” The family was especially struck by the Shandaken Museum’s copy of the Rosetta Stone, handed down by scientist and educator Henry Jackson Morton. In 1856, he was among the students at the University of Pennsylvania who made the first complete English translation of the famous stone’s parallel Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphic texts. In later life, Morton, a New York City resident, owned a summer cottage on Birch Creek Road and endowed several local projects, including the library in Pine Hill.

Treasures at the museum include a copy of the treaty between Dutch settlers and the Esopus Indians, signed in 1665; a circa 1800 pulpit from the Chichester Wesleyan Church; the minutes from the first Shandaken town board meeting in 1804; a rocking chair from the porch of Highmount’s one-eighth-mile-long Grand Hotel; wood planes, ice saws, spinning wheels, and a plethora of other tools. This list barely scratches the surface of the vast variety of items on display.

The anniversary party will include, if weather permits, a scavenger hunt, in which children will visit a list of historic hotels and other sites in Pine Hill, collecting a bead from a basket at each place. The children will bring the beads back to the museum and string them into bracelets to take home. There will be face-painting and balloon animals. Speeches by museum co-founder June LaMarca and town supervisor Rob Stanley. A talk by a beekeeper. Free cupcakes and beverages. 

Admission to the celebration is free, but Stapleton invites visitors to make donations for the continuing improvement of the museum, which operates on a shoestring budget of $5000 a year, supplied by the Town of Shandaken. “Ninety-nine percent of people in town have never been to the museum,” said Stapleton. In the opinion of this reporter, they’re really missing something.

The Shandaken Museum 30th anniversary celebration will be held on Saturday, September 14, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The museum is located at 26 Academy Street, Pine Hill. It is currently open Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Monday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Winter hours will be more limited. For more information, call 845-254-4460.

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