Local Museums Are Full Of Surprises
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
CHERRY VALLEY – In the homesteads of Cherry Valley, even the dogs had to help out with the chores.
“We have a dog treadmill from the 1893 Sears & Roebuck catalogue,” said Barbara Bill, director of the Cherry Valley Museum. “It was attached to a butter churn, and you hung a bone up front and the dog would walk on it to crank the butter churn.”
The dog treadmill is just one piece of the packed Cherry Valley Museum, one of nearly a dozen smalltown museums that track the history of very local life in Otsego County, from the earliest settlers to the present day.
“It’s amazing how many people aren’t aware of their local history,” said acting president Terry Cox. “But they can come here and learn all about it.”
The museum here is most famous for its elaborate diorama of the 1778 Cherry Valley Massacre. Push-button lights indicate homes and sites where the massacre occurred, creating an hour-by-hour timeline of the siege. “This is what Cherry Valley looked like at the time,” said Sue Miller, town historian and museum secretary.
Miller, the author of “Five Days in November,” built the diorama in her kitchen. “We had a plaster of Paris one, but it wasn’t accurate,” she said. “We got a topographical map of the area and blew it up, then built on top of that. It took two years.”
“I’ve been to other museums, and none of them have anything like this,” she said.
In addition to the diorama, there is also a video featuring a short skit about the massacre. “It’s so important that we get back to history, that we teach it in schools,” said Miller.
Also on display in the “Massacre Room” is the Cole Bible, which settler Asa Cole was reading on the night of the massacre, when he was speared by an Indian raider. The Bible was also speared, and bloodstains can be seen on the pages.
But Bill wants visitors to know that there’s more to Cherry Valley than just the bloody history.
The museum, opened in a former rooming house in 1959, has exhibits packed into every room, including a historic kitchen and bedroom, a selection of antique wedding gowns, locally manufactured Melodeon organs and the nation’s second oldest fire pumper, known as The Washingtonian.
“Whenever someone wants to donate to us, my first question is, ‘Does it have to do with Cherry Valley?’” she said. “And my second is ‘How big is it?’ We’re running out of room!”
If the Cherry Valley Museum is full of novelties, it’s not alone.
The Swart-Wilcox House, Oneonta’s oldest home, and the Greater Oneonta Historical Society in the former Laskaris candy store have collections, exhibits and full slates of lectures.
Others, from Milford to Otego to Middlefield, include the Edmeston Museum, which will open its first permanent exhibit, the C.W. Hopkins’ DelCo Light display, on Thursday, Aug. 29, on the second and third floors of the Edmeston Town Hall.
The display will include the DelCo generators used to power farms in the early part of the 20th Century, before Otsego Electric ran lines into the rural parts of the country.
“We have a map of all the DelCo products sold throughout the area,” said Deb Mackenzie, Edmeston Museum president and past president of OCHA, the Otsego County Historical Association. “Back then, it was more important to use electricity in the barn than in the house!”
And Cherry Valley isn’t the only museum with an antique piece of fire equipment. “We have a bicarbonate of soda fire extinguisher,” said Mackenzie. “It’s a copper cylinder filled with baking soda, and when you turn the top, it breaks a vial of vinegar – the original chemical fire extinguisher!”
The Edmeston Museum also has a collection of archeological artifacts, farm and home implements, and military uniforms from the Civil War through World War I and II.
“So many of our artifacts are donated by present-day family members,” she said. “We’re fortunate that we can demonstrate the evolution of rural America.”