February 01 , 2008


19 years of service, a lifetime of knowledge —

Mary Ann Kane retires from Cortland Historical Society

M. Kane

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Mary Ann Kane poses Thursday inside the Suggett House museum at the corners of Maple and Homer avenues. Kane has retired as director of the Cortland County Historical Society, a position she had held since 1988.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Mary Ann Kane wasn’t at the Cortland County Historical Society this morning because she slept in.
Kane, who has been the director of the Historical Society for nearly 20 years, retired Thursday.
“I just felt the time was right,” Kane said about retiring. “You get to a point in your life when you realize there are things you haven’t done.”
Kane said she is excited not only to sleep in, but also to do housework and yard work.
“I will miss the people,” the Cortland native said. “There are an awful lot of nice people that have passed through there.”
Kane will continue to volunteer on a part-time basis at the society and will also continue to work as the city historian from her home at 25 Homer Ave.
“I won’t lose touch with what’s going on around here,” Kane said.
The Historical Society has hired a former trustee as part-time interim director until the search for the new director is completed.
“It’s certainly going to be big shoes to fill,” said Diane Ames, president of the board of trustees at the Historical Society. “If she doesn’t know it, she knows where to find it.”
Ames said Christine Buck, who served as a trustee for nearly 20 years, would replace Kane until the new director has been selected.
Buck started as the part-time interim director today.
“I can’t replace her but I’m going to step in and do what I can to keep things moving forward,” said Buck, who owns and operates Buck Engineering with her husband, John. “It’s nearly impossible to replace the knowledge she has.”
Anyone who knows Kane describes her as encyclopedic in her knowledge of Cortland.
“She’s just one of those people you have a tough time describing,” Mayor Tom Gallagher said Wednesday. “The amount of information she has been able to retain for the length of time she has been there is amazing.”
Kane is a graduate of St. Mary’s High School, received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and has a master’s degree from SUNY Cortland.
She was a social studies teacher for 25 years in Mattydale and at St. Mary’s, where she also served as vice principal. Her work as an educator was one of the reasons she became a historian.
“I had taught social studies in various grade levels and I was interested in Cortland County history,” Kane said. “My father was very interested in history so I think it came from that.”
Kane started at the Historical Society in 1976 as a trustee.
She was named the Cortland city municipal historian in 1984, replacing Harold Burgess, and after a short period on the board, was named director of the Cortland County Historical Society in 1989.
As the director, Kane watched the budget, oversaw the society’s building at 25 Homer Ave., spoke in the community, arranged programs and even wrote a book in 1999 titled “Images of America Cortland County,” which is an accumulation of pictures throughout history in the county.
One of Kane’s fondest memories was when members of a crew on the SS Cortland, a World War II ship, came to Cortland for a reunion. “It was pretty spectacular to meet those fellows who worked so long ago on a ship named after the county,” she said.
In November, Kane received the Community Service Award from the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce for her longtime dedication to the community.
According to the Chamber, Kane is the Cortland County Historical Society, and under her leadership she has provided an invaluable service to the community, keeping at her fingertips information that helps people remember who they are and where they came from.
“The amount of knowledge, expertise and professionalism she brings not only to the Historical Society but to history, is amazing,” said Cortland County Historian Jeremy Boylan. “She’s like a walking encyclopedia of Cortland County.”
Kane said one of her favorite things to do is people’s genealogy, or family tree.
“That’s really fun,” she said. “I get a lot of satisfaction being able to help people like that.”
Kane hopes with her spare time she can begin to research her own family tree.




Historian dusts off artifacts from Cortland Academy

Documents including 1819 charter have been stored in Key Bank vault

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Looking at documents from 1819 that chartered the Cortland Academy preparatory school, town historian Martin Sweeney and Board of Education member David Quinlan marveled at the history embodied by the signatures of the school’s first trustees.
Some of the trustees later would sit for portraits by Homer native Francis Bicknell Carpenter, painter of the “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln”; some would eventually clash with a free-thinking Homer minister advocating the end of slavery; and the grandson of one of them would go on to be President Lincoln’s personal secretary during the Civil War.
“It’s wild, you know,” Sweeney said of the historical connections.
Sweeney and Quinlan spent late Thursday afternoon perusing the school charter documents and other school artifacts that Key Bank on South Main Street had been storing in its vault.
Sweeney and Quinlan decided to review the artifacts after reading of their existence and location in a 1932 yearbook from the school. The historical documents were all but forgotten, they said.
“Many schools either lost (original documents) in a fire or people didn’t keep records,” Quinlan said.
Key Bank manager Susan Sandy took Quinlan and Sweeney beneath the bank Thursday to check out the vault, which is about 12 by 6 feet and 10 feet tall.
Sandy said she wasn’t sure when the documents, which are owned by the Homer school district, were put in the vault or how they ended up there.
She also did not know how many documents were in the vault, but said many were bank records, Chamber of Commerce documents and documents from the Home for Aged Women, now the Elizabeth Brewster House.
“This is not very common,” she said Thursday about local residents looking for documents in the vault. “You’re the first ones that have come in the last 25 years.”
They said they have stepped up their town history research in the last several months.
They are preparing for the county’s bicentennial celebration this summer and the Abraham Lincoln, William Osborn Stoddard and Francis Bicknell Carpenter celebration planned for 2009 in Homer. The latter event will commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday and two Homer natives who worked with him.



Storm closes schools, ices roads

Staff Reporter

A storm that swept through the region this morning coated roads with ice and closed schools in the Cortland County area.
The National Weather Service in Binghamton issued an ice storm warning for Cortland County until 5 p.m. today.
According to the National Weather Service, a snow and sleet mixture changed into freezing rain by late morning. It was expected to mix with rain after 2 p.m.
With snow and sleet accumulations expected to be between 1 and 3 inches, the National Weather Service said travel would be dangerous or impossible.
The weather service advises that ice accumulations and winds will likely lead to snapped power lines and falling tree branches that add to the danger.
All area elementary schools and high schools were reported closed. Both Tompkins Cortland Community College and SUNY Cortland canceled classes for today.
Superintendent of the city Department of Public Works Chris Bistocchi said he had crews plowing and scraping the roads and following up with salt.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of it,” Bistocchi said. “It seems to be icing over right after we’re done.”
The DPW has three salt trucks and five plows it uses throughout the day. Bistocchi said he has crews that will continue to service the roads throughout the night.
Superintendent of the County Highway Department Don Chambers said he would also have crews on throughout the night.
“Right now the roads are snow covered and slippery,” Chambers said. “With the anticipated freezing rain we have deliberately left snow cover on the road to bond the breaking of any ice we may get.”
The County 911 Dispatch Center reported 14 property damage accidents before noon, with nine of them on Interstate 81.




Homer to replace village water tank liner

HOMER — The village has decided to replace the liner in one of its water tanks rather than replacing the entire tank, which would have cost nearly seven times as much.
Lawrence Barber, superintendent of water and sewer for the village, said testing revealed the tank is still in pretty good shape. The tank is one of three in the village and located on a hill on the east side of the village above High Street.
Replacing the liner on the 200,000-gallon tank will cost about $30,000. A new tank would have cost about $200,000.
The tank’s 17-year-old liner fell to the bottom of the tank last year, prompting the village to take the tank out of service in September.
With the more than 50-year-old tank offline, the village now has about 890,000 gallons of water at its disposal.
The new liner will be paid with $15,000 from the village’s water budget from last year and $15,000 from reserves in the 2008-09 general fund budget, Mayor Mike McDermott said.
Barber said the project will be going out to bid in the coming months, with the liner expected to be replaced in the late spring or early summer.