March 30, 2010
Homer History Center prepares for opening
HOMER — Verna Whitney eyed the black and white photograph. The decades old image showed a dozen young women who had attended a meeting in Homer.
The photo, along with other artifacts of historical significance, had been donated to the Homer History Center. The village co-historian is doing more research on the photos, which might include interviewing locals and looking up last names. She will then file the photos.
The center next to Key Bank on Main Street will be shown to the public in an open house being arranged in June after a restroom is built. The center is expected to have regular hours by July 17 for the annual Homer on the Green celebration, but the regular hours of operation have not yet been set.
The history center will be free for the public and all staff members are volunteers.
“I’ve waited for what seems like forever,” Whitney said of the history center.
Whitney said that as a young girl she received information from talking to her family and neighbors.
Before the history center, information on Homer was passed down through families in Homer, or kept in repositories like the Cortland County Historical Society in the Suggett House in Cortland.
The center recently received a grant for $8,000 from the Cortland Community Foundation and $2,000 from an unidentified donor to build a wheelchair accessible restroom. This will help make the center available to the public. The bathroom is unisex, and is the only bathroom in the center.
“We’re very interested in preserving the history of our community,” said Tom Gallagher, president of Cortland Community Foundation.
The idea for the history center was conceived in about 2003 by Kathy Beardsley, who is now managing director of the center.
Beardsley, who at the time was an elementary teacher in Tully, and an antique dealer in Homer, noticed the need for a history center. Her Main Street antique shop was located in the Barber Block Building in Homer. The Keator Opera House was on the third floor of the building.
Public interest prompted Beardsley to give tours of the opera house, which had many famous guests, including Mark Twain. Soon people wanted more information on the history of Homer. Beardsley began looking for a space for the history center.
In 2008, Susan Sandy, the vice president of the Key Bank in Homer, told Beardsley she had a possible space for the center. The bank decided to renovate its offices, freeing up space.
On a wall in the room hangs a mural, “A View of Homer,” by Drix Duryea, which is a copy of an original lithograph by Fessenden Nott Otis.
The history center will focus on events that happened in Homer from its settlement in 1790s to the present. Originally, Homer was a Military Tract, and land was given as compensation for soldiers who had served in the Revolutionary War. Two families, the Todds and Beebes, began settling in 1790s. The town of Homer was incorporated in 1832.
The center has also been designated a destination for people interested in the life of President Abraham Lincoln. Martin Sweeney, the town historian, and David Quinlan, a Homer school board member, were responsible for Homer’s celebration of Lincoln. It was part of a national celebration and was held last September because of the community’s ties to Lincoln.
The history center has prints of paintings of President Lincoln by Francis Bicknell Carpenter and books written by William Osborn Stoddard, who was the personal assistant to the Lincoln family, both Homer natives. There is also information on Eli DeVoe, a detective from the town of Homer who spoiled an assassination attempt before Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861.
The board of directors for the history center consists of: Mayor Michael McDermott; Sandy, Key Bank; Charles Bernheim, Homer village co-historian; Beardsley, Homer Business Association; Whitney; Martin Sweeney, town historian; and Mary Alice Bellardini, Homer Landmarks Society and a former village mayor.
The history center is still collecting artifacts. People who are interested in donating materials to the center should contact Whitney at 607-749- 2717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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