COOPERSTOWN – Velma F. (Fassett) Armstrong, 90, a leader in the restoration of the Pierstown Grange, died peacefully at her home on Armstrong Road in Pierstown on Sunday Aug. 23, 2020, surrounded by her family.
A life-long area resident, Velma was born Oct. 24, 1929, at Bassett Hospital, the daughter of Owen and Iva (Richards) Fassett. She was raised on the family farm in East Springfield and graduated from Springfield High School.
Following graduation Velma attended college in Albany but left school before graduating to return home to care for her mother, who was battling cancer, and to help raise her siblings.
PIERSTOWN – The Pierstown Grange is getting a restoration overhaul.
The 1898 structure is undergoing a $130,000 renovation. Grange members and friends had raised about $60,000 in donations for the project when an anonymous supporter offered a low-interest loan to cover the rest.
“It certainly speaks to the sense of community that the Pierstown Grange provides that so many people have dug so deep into their pockets to make contributions,” said grange President Paul Lord, adding that more donations have already started coming in since the project kicked off, but more is needed.
Construction started this winter and is expected to be complete by early summer, when there will be a grand reopening celebration that will kick off the next phase of the grange’s existence.
Contractor Stephen Purcell, a farmer and grange member himself, is heading up the restoration.
He called the grange an “unpolished gem,” but said it had been in danger of collapsing.
Like many 19th century buildings, it was built very close to the road. As time went on, and the Pierstown Road was improved and built up, water began to pool on one side. It then seeped under the road and compromised the foundation of the grange on the other side.
By 2019, the building was tilting precariously.
Saving the structure has been a complicated job, but Purcell it is on track for completion by the beginning of May.
For him, it has been a labor of love, and he has learned new things, just as he has from other restoration projects.
“These structures do talk to you, if you know how to read the evidence,” he said.
In the case of the grange, there was a surprise. When they opened up the walls, the team realized that the building’s main floor was not tightly attached to its frame as most floors are. Instead, it was suspended atop strong but flexible metal rods.
Purcell has a theory about the unusual set up:
“They felt that the pounding of dancing would compromise the walls,” he said.
He has now fully joined the floor to the frame, but in a way that allows for some give, so future generations can have as much fun there as generations past.
“Oh, there will always be dancing here,” he said.
When the work is complete, the ground floor will house a large dining room. An attached shed addition will be replaced to house a new kitchen and restrooms. The second floor will remain as it always has been, with a stage at one end and portraits and other memorabilia around the walls.
The grange still holds an important place in the hearts of Pierstown residents, both new and old. Where once it served a farming community, its functions are now more varied. The grange’s fundamental purpose remains unchanged, however. It serves as a center for a small but thriving community.
Kathryn Mollach grew up in Pierstown “when cauliflower was king.”
“My parents moved here in 1945,” she said. “Cauliflower was big business. We hired people. We had trucks. We had acres and acres of cauliflower.”
The years went by and Molloch left the area to build her adult life elsewhere. But decades later she returned with her husband to her parents’ land. The community had changed, but they had kept the grange alive and she decided to become involved.
There were monthly meetings about community issues, lectures and performances. When new people moved in they were invited to join.
The Mollachs and about 60 other Pierstown property owners participate in grange activities, though some are more involved than others. There are lectures on everything from local Native American artifacts to training guide dogs. The Glimmerglass Festival’s orchestra has performed there more than once. An annual Country Fair Day includes a bake sale, a plant sale and a collaboration with a local garden club.
“Every time I meet with that community I feel uplifted, Mollach said. “It’s a changing grange. It’s adapting to new uses.”
By June it will be all ready to go, complete with a fresh new coat of paint.
ART EXHIBIT – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Art By The Lake 12th annual juried art exhibit celebrating relationship between artists and landscape. Also features artist demonstrations, food by Origins Cafe, music, more. Lake front Lawn, Fenimore Art Museum, Coopersotwn. 607-547-1400 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org
SCREENING – 6:30 p.m. See Oneonta’s Ninja Warrior compete in Baltimore City Finals on the big screen. Features door prizes, mini obstacles, refreshments. Foothills Performing Arts Center, Oneonta. 607-431-2080 or visit foothillspac.org
HARVEST SUPPER – 4 – 7 p.m. Community potluck supper to celebrate autumn. Bring a dish to pass, tableware, beverages, enjoy meal with friends. Features live music by Stoddard Hollow String Band, games for kids on library lawn. Main St. between River & Fair St., Cooperstown. E-mail kristen firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/GrowingCommunityCooperstown/
BENEFIT BREAKFAST – 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Pancake breakfast, raffles to support Corena Martin, who has worked as Laurens School Nurse and volunteered with Laurens Fire & Emergency Departments, as she battles deals with health problems. Laurens Central School, 55 Main St., Laurens. 607-432-2050 or visit www.facebook.com/otsegonyfirewire/
CONCERT – 7:30 p.m. Annual Florence High Memorial Chamber Music Concert features musicians from Glimmerglass Festival performing works by Beethoven, Brahms, Paganini, more. Free, open to public. Pierstown Grange, 137 Wedderspoon Hollow Road, Cooperstown. 607- 264-3069.
LECTURE – 7 p.m. Craig Timberg presents “Russian Disinformation: Will it Happen Again” on threat of Russian interference in future elections, efforts by NSA, social media to prevent future meddling, more. Cooperstown Village Library. www.facebook.com/VillageLibraryOfCooperstown/
CONCERT – 7:30 p.m. Enjoy Embi Esti, intercontinental fusion band incorporating Afrobeat, North African, Romani traditions in soulful music. The Star Theater, 44 Main St., Cherry Valley. Call 607-264-3080 or visit www.facebook.com/cherryvalleyartworks/
GRADUATION – 10:30 a.m. Seniors graduate. Gilbertsville-Mt. Upton Central School District, 693 St. Hwy. 51, Gilbertsville. Call 607-783-2207 or visit www.gmucsd.org
PERFORMANCE – 8 p.m. Sing an original arrangement with Toronto based group “Choir! Choir! Choir!” Cost, $23/adult at-the-door. West Kortright Center, 49 West Kortright Church Rd., East Meredith. Call 607-278-5454 or visit westkc.org/event/choir-choir-choir/
COLOR RUN – 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Run/walk through several color stations with friends/family to support the American Heart Association. Registration 7:30-8:30. Start & End at Cooperstown High School. Call 607-547-8181 or visit www.cooperstowncs.org