November 27, 2012


History center settles in


Mark Ferdinand/contributing photographer
Central New York Living History Center volunteer Tyler Holcomb stands among the Cortlandville museum’s World War II collection. The Homer High School sophomore is planning on donating war memorabilia to the center that he has collected in recent years.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — It took about six years for the Central New York Living History Center — an amalgamation of the Brockway Museum, Homeville Museum and Tractors of Yesteryear — to garner the support and funding needed to open this summer.
It has now been open for about six months and it is generating healthy visitorship, said Chief Operations Officer Doreen Bates.
She estimates about 100 people on average come to see the exhibits each week. Guests have come so far from over 30 states and four countries, Bates said.
She recalled specifically one visitor from Australia who collected Brockway trucks himself. Cortland County was once the seat of the Brockway Motor Co., which manufactured heavy-duty trucks until it was closed in 1977.
Brockway is one of three museum “wings” at the CNY Living History Center, along with the Homeville Museum, which holds a trove of military and cultural artifacts once belonging to collector Ken Eaton, who died in 2006. The center will hold a formal ceremony celebrating his birthday in January.
The third wing, Tractors of Yesteryear, is home to antique tractors, threshing machines, corn shellers, corn binders and other preserved agricultural relics. It is located in a restored barn on the museum property.
Bates said the center’s offerings attract a diverse audience, from military buffs to farmers to “motorheads.”
“Now that it’s open, the task is keeping it open,” she said. “With the limited amount of advertising we’ve done, we’ve done well.”
While over 100 people volunteer at the history center, Bates — as chief operating officer — is the only paid employee. Despite the center’s success in getting up and running so far, she said there is still much left to be done before the project could be declared finished.
She estimates there is still over $50,000 worth of work to be done on a theater, which is now only a large white wall, a projector and a wooden slope without any seating. Once finished, it will seat 80, she said.
Bates also said the museum plans to add a pavilion with picnic tables in the back of the facility, where a storage shed will be removed to provide a better view of the Tioughnioga River. It already has a catering hall, which has been rented for birthdays and baby showers, she said.
Bates added that more insulation and windows need to be added to the barn that houses much of the tractors and farming equipment. Just last week work was completed on the front of the center’s outside wall, which cost $60,000.
Bates said it was all part of phase two for the project, and that organizers are applying for as many grants as possible.
Television, magazine, newspaper, radio and Internet advertising are also being planned, she said. The center has already been featured in Wheels of Time magazine, which primarily covers antique trucks.
The museum has applied for occupancy tax funds from the county for marketing purposes, said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The allocation committee will meet in mid-December, he said, to decide on how to distribute those funds.
An amount has yet to be determined.
Dempsey’s group has helped the center by directing other groups toward holding events at the facility, such as the Cortland Area Innkeepers Association and the Association of Public Historians of New York State.
“Next year we hope to include them as part of our co-op advertising efforts. To go from an annual truck show into an attraction on the river there. It really is very impressive and the volunteers there deserve all the credit in the world,” he said. The bureau has also put up a banner ad for the center on its website,
“Where do we go from here? We just keep going,” Bates said. “This isn’t just a museum complex. It’s a community resource. We’ll change as the needs of the community change.”
Many of their exhibits would change over to new ones next April, she said, though she would not say what is being planned. Some of the new inventory will be donated by Tyler Holcomb, a sophomore at Homer High School and one of the center’s five junior volunteers. He has been collecting uniforms, guns and other artifacts from as far back as the Civil War. One of his show items, he said, will be a rocket from the Persian Gulf War, which he purchased at an Army Navy store.
Part of the exhibit he will be contributing, which will replace one of the Homeville Museum’s Native American sections, will come from lesser known factions of the World Wars, such as Bulgaria and Sweden.
A couple of Holcomb’s favorite exhibits are a knapsack from the Civil War that belonged to a soldier in Cortland’s 76th Regiment of Infantry and a photo album belonging to a German soldier during World War II. The youth, whose grandfather was a truck driver who drove Brockways, said he liked that the collection did not shy away from some of the more uncomfortable avenues of history, referring to its collection of Nazi uniforms and Hitler portraiture, as well as a framed newspaper article advertising a slave auction, with an actual set of slave clothing nearby.
Upcoming events at the CNY Living History Center include a series of night events in February to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday where an actor will portray and answer questions as William Stoddard, a Homer native who was the famed president’s personal secretary.
On Saturday another historical figure, though not quite as non-fictional, will be portrayed for visitors to sit down and interact with: Santa Claus. He will be at the center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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