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County Museum To Close For Winter

By Nathan Mayberg
HURLEYVILLE — October 13, 2006 — For 35 years, the Sullivan County Museum has told the history of the county. But now, faced with being closed for seven months of the year, museum officials and members of the Sullivan County Historical Society, say that is all in jeopardy.
If the museum is shut down in the winter, the cold could ruin precious items such as clothes dating as far back as the 1790s, old newspapers, and many other temperature sensitive items.
The museum is home to the Cooke Society, which has a tribute to one of the county’s most accomplished men – the late New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Lawrence Cooke of Monticello. It is also home to the Cook Society – a room dedicated to telling the story of Hortonville’s Frederick Cook, the first man to reach the North Pole. The Sullivan County Historical Society, Dramatic Society and Arts Society all call the museum in Hurleyville their home. And of course, there is the main room – which gives the timeline history of the county.
Historical Society President George Ardito said the county’s budget cuts are “going to kill us.” Just how much the budget is being slashed is still an open question. Museum officials have requested an accounting by the county as to how much it will cost the county to heat the museum and supply electricity for those months when it will be shuttered. That way, the museum can figure out how much it needs to raise. The county has pledged to respond but has not done so yet. The museum relies largely on volunteers to keep it running.
The plan to close the museum for seven months was raised in the new county budget by County Manager David Fanslau.
Ardito said people travel from all over the county to visit the museum and conduct genealogy research. They go through the large assortment of newspapers, which date back to the 1800s. They range from the Liberty Register, the Republican Watchman, Liberty Gazette, Sullivan County Whig (predecessor of Republican Watchman), the Liberty Evening News and Sullivan County Democrat.
They are stored in a heat controlled room that includes old maps, postcards, diaries, and the minutes of the Board of Supervisors, dating back to their first meeting in 1809. The board’s first order of business was to appropriate $750 for a new jail. Back then, there were only five towns – Liberty, Lumberland, Mamakating, Neversink and Thompson. The first Chairman of the Board was David Milliken. The budget was $214,000 and there were bounties for the pelts of wolves and panthers.
Ardito and volunteer Bill Burns worried that all of these artifacts could be ruined if the museum were shut down. The coldness and dampness would leave many of the items vulnerable to deterioration. That includes army uniforms dating back to the Civil War, and first edition books by Sullivan County’s most famous author, Stephen Crane. Crane, of the nation’s greatest novelists, lived in the Town of Forestburgh where his brother was postmaster. Crane has a whole room in the museum dedicated to him.
Ardito called the possible shutdown “a catastrophe.” The museum board has no idea where they would move all of the items and how. “It would be almost impossible,” he said.
The museum has the support of two legislators so far. Leni Binder has been a longtime supporter of the museum since its inception, as is Sam Wohl. Wohl used to play basketball for Fallsburg against Hurleyville, when the museum was the Hurleyville School. He also delivered milk there. “This is important to the county. It is important to all of us,” he stated.
At a meeting of the Historical Society this week, Ardito called on members to contact their legislators and ask them to keep the museum open.
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