Museum momentum

Fulton County Historical Society and Museum Board of Directors Treasurer Gregory Young heads into the museum at 237 Kingsboro Ave. in Gloversville on Monday. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — A groundswell of support for the Fulton County Historical Society and Museum throughout the early part of the year helped push the Board of Directors to move forward with plans to hire a full-time executive director this spring. A first that locals are hopeful will help preserve the area’s history while bringing the museum into the 21st century following the appointment of Fulton County Historian Samantha Hall-Saladino to the position in June.

Marion Viglione, a volunteer member of the Fulton County Historical Society and Museum Board of Directors for roughly nine years, said she first became involved at the museum as a volunteer after moving to the area and visiting the museum to learn about her new home.

“I enjoyed the board members and thought it was a way to get more involved,” Viglione said. “They were a group of mostly older people with the time and passion to see that the museum was kept open with interesting programs and displays.”

Since opening in 1972 in the former Kingsboro school at 237 Kingsboro Ave., the museum has been organized and run entirely by volunteers with a summer intern as the only paid worker each year. The museum serves the historical society’s mission to acquire, preserve and promote the history of Fulton County.

Every aspect of the museum up to this year from the preservation of historical documents and materials, curation and organization of displays, staffing of open hours, production of programming and activities to caring for the building, has fallen on the shoulders of board members and volunteers from the community.

The museum currently features six exhibit spaces dedicated to Fulton County history in the areas of the leather and glove making industry, the military, public service, the railroad, Native Americans, technology, farming and other businesses, sports and school.

“Thanks to volunteers and board members many of the exhibits have been updated over the last decades with interpretations and explanations of how the artifacts were used or their importance,” said Board of Directors Treasurer Gregory Young appreciatively.

Young joined the board in 2015 after he was approached by other members a little over a year into his first term as Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor.

“It was hard to hide my enthusiasm,” Young recounted of his recruitment. “I grew up just a few blocks from here. This place has been important to me since I was a child.”

While Young and Viglione both agreed that volunteers from the community and the board had achieved a great deal over the years, more recently they said the board recognized that there was a limit to what could be accomplished by the efforts of volunteers alone.

The board is currently comprised of 13 active members, yet Viglione said staffing the building, as well advancing the museum and its mission has become challenging.

“We realized as an organization we were really doing as much as we could on an all volunteer basis. In order to expand program offerings, improve the exhibits and become a more professional organization we needed a full-time staff person in place,” Young said.

Before taking the plunge the board worked with representatives from the Documentary Heritage and Preservation Services for New York, a support program for planning and education services offered through the New York State Archives and New York State Library.

Young said DHPSNY led the board through a strategic planning process to develop short and long-term goals for the museum that include increasing membership and attendance, developing new programs to be delivered both at the museum and out in the community, refreshing exhibits, reorganizing and cataloging stored artifacts at the museum and securing new funding through fundraising and grant writing.

“It was clear we needed someone with museum experience to help carry out our mission and to further our goals,” Young said.

Pursuit of the strategic plan and hiring an executive director to oversee its enaction was spurred on in part through the success of the Year of the Glove, a year-long celebration of Fulton County’s heritage as a tanning and glove industry giant through events organized by the museum board in conjunction with Fulton County Historian Samantha Hall-Saladino.

The Year of the Glove kick off event at the museum on March 28 featured a presentation on the origin of the glove and leather industry in Fulton County by state Archivist Thomas Ruller, a Gloversville native, and the opening of the “Hand in Glove” art exhibit featuring work by students from Perth Academy in Perth, Scotland completed as part of a research project on the history of their local glove industry to cultivate pride in their heritage and city.

The Perth Academy students uncovered a connection between their local industry and Fulton County which was largely settled by Scottish immigrants recruited by Sir William Johnson in the 18th century. Perth Academy art teacher Alison Ferguson reached out to the Fulton County Historical Society and Museum to share the historical connection and offered to loan the students’ artwork to the museum for display which ultimately served as the springboard for the yearlong program series.

“In our wildest dreams we never thought it would attract so many people who wanted to hear about local history,” Viglione said of the kick off event that saw the museum overwhelmed with guests who spilled out into the hallway beyond the main room where the presentation was held.

According to Viglione, the Year of the Glove kick off and subsequent events clearly demonstrated the wide audience for local history, and the board ultimately moved forward with plans to hire an executive director, opening the position for applications in the spring.

Hall-Saladino, a Gloversville native — who was employed full-time as executive director of the Albany County Historical Association at the time — said she wasn’t looking for a new job when the position at the Fulton County Museum was posted, but decided to apply right away.

“It made sense,” Hall-Saladino said. “I’m already immersed in local history and have been involved for a long time.”

“It’s my hometown, it’s my family’s history and I wanted to give something back,” she added.

Following what Young described as an “ambitious” number of interviews with applicants, Hall-Saladino was selected to become the museum’s first ever executive director in June.

“I thought Samantha’s selection was really exciting for the museum,” Young said. “Having her bring her talents home is a real gift for us.”

“I feel lucky to be the chosen applicant,” said Hall-Saladino. “I love everything about the museum.”

Following her appointment in June, Hall-Saladino focused on overseeing the day-to-day operations of the museum during the busy summer visiting season that runs through Labor Day, while also working to develop new programs and special events, fundraising campaigns and plans to update museum exhibits.

To help visitors enjoy the entire holiday season at the museum this year, Hall-Saladino has planned a pair of spooky events in October and several festive offerings in December.

On Oct. 18 the headless horseman will ride through the museum during an interactive telling of Washington Irving’s classic “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as performed by artist Ragliacci. Then on Oct. 25 guests will have a chance to learn if there are any non-fiction ghosts making the museum their favorite haunt during a presentation by investigators with the Tri-City Paranormal Society.

In December, community members will have a chance to deck the halls of the museum during the first annual Festival of Trees. Hall-Saladino said the museum will set open hours for guests to come in to view the trees sponsored and decorated by locals or to enjoy several special events she is working to organize including a make and take craft activity and story time with Santa.

“People are always looking for things to do around the holidays,” Hall-Saladino said.

Over the winter, Hall-Saladino said she will focus on refreshing a couple of longstanding exhibits, planning to start by tackling the museum’s smallest exhibit featuring technology across many eras including an assortment of telephones, televisions and record players.

“Right now there are a lot of objects,” Hall-Saladino explained, saying that she plans to reorganize the display into three to four scenes depicting separate and distinct time periods.

“It’s hard because I want to display everything,” she added, expressing enthusiasm for all of the vintage items currently on display.

Additionally, Hall-Saladino plans to expand the museum’s military exhibit through the inclusion of new displays detailing what life was like for those who stayed behind at the home front in Fulton County.

Coming off of the success of the Year of the Glove and the temporary “Hand in Glove” exhibit, Hall-Saladino plans to curate a unique exhibit to feature in the museum’s main room each year with a theme around which special local history programs and events will be organized throughout the year.

In 2020, the museum will celebrate the centennials of both the start of prohibition and the ratification of women’s suffrage. Hall-Saladino said she has already started researching the impact of prohibition in the county and the local movement both for and against women’s suffrage for next year’s program series, “The Decade that Roared: Fulton County in the 1920s.”

A corresponding exhibit on display in the museum’s main room next year will feature local artifacts curated from the museum’s massive assortment of stored items that Hall-Saladino will gradually catalogue and organize with precise locations to ensure that items are preserved for generations to come.

“I would say there a few thousand objects total in the collection,” Hall-Saladino estimated of the number of artifacts that have accumulated over the years in the museum’s attic and basement.

As she works her way through the stored items, Hall-Saladino will cultivate objects for a traveling museum for program offerings at local schools and other sites with artifacts that can be handled due to an abundance of duplicate items, allowing the museum to preserve the object’s twin.

In recent years the museum has offered some surplus items to local businesses and organizations with a connection to the objects’ history including Stump City Brewing where tools used in the heyday of the city’s leather industry adorn the walls along with a variety of other significant artifacts.

Co-owner Nick Sherman said Stump City became involved with the museum around the time the micro-brewery opened about three years ago. Sherman visited the museum with his brother and their children around that time and were absorbed by the depth of local history on display.

“We toured the whole building from top to bottom and saw a lot of stuff that people usually don’t get to see,” Sherman recalled.

Sherman and his family take pride in their history as Gloversville natives and founded Stump City with those homegrown roots in mind as they named the brewery after the city’s early nickname for the large number of trees that were cut down to serve the booming leather industry.

Patrons visit the tasting room in part to chat about local history with the brewers manning the bar while enjoying hand crafted libations named for the region.

“Storytelling is a huge part of what we do, we thrive off of stories,” Sherman said, pointing to the museum as a source of inspiration and information for Stump City’s repertoire.

While the museum has supported the brewery pedagogically, Stump City has sought to return the favor by partnering with the museum at events including the Year of the Glove Kick Off where Stump City provided free tastings and at a history happy hour trivia night led by Hall-Saladino at the taproom in July.

Sherman said Stump City has enjoyed its relationship with museum over the years and he looks forward to it continuing with Hall-Saladino at the helm while expressing optimism about the museum’s future.

“We’re always open to doing stuff with the museum, any help we can provide we will,” Sherman said. “I hope more people get involved. I always tell people to head down there, they have really cool stuff on exhibit.”

Since becoming executive director in June, Hall-Saladino has already helped bring more people into the museum where she said the number of summer visitors was nearly double the number that visited last year and 15 new contributing members have joined the museum, bringing the total up to 149 memberships.

Young noted that securing funding for the museum through memberships, fundraising and grant opportunities will be an important component of Hall-Saladino’s position which the historical society has funded for the first year, but said the executive director position must become self-sustaining if it is to continue long term.

“I think she brings experience in grant writing, board development and fundraising that will allow her to thrive in this capacity,” Young said with confidence. “Samantha has really hit the ground running.”

While running the museum and planning future events and exhibits, Hall-Saladino has also become more active as the county historian, reestablishing weekly office hours for the part-time post that she continues to hold where she provides public presentations, assists with historic research inquiries and provides access to the historical records owned by the county.

“The roles are complimentary in many ways,” Young said of Hall-Saladino’s two positions. “Now she will be working full-time to promote Fulton County.”

“If the county doesn’t have a historical document there’s a good chance it’s here [at the museum],” Hall-Saladino said. “Now I don’t have to send people to two different places.”

While carrying out day-to-day tasks at the museum and planning new events and updates to the museum, Hall-Saladino is hopeful these changes will help generate a lasting impact on how area residents view the museum.

“I would love the museum to be seen as a resource and a place people feel ownership over,” Hall-Saladino said. “I want people to understand that the stories of their families or friends is our history and I want to preserve the history of everyone. I want people to feel that the museum is a reliable resource and part of their community, that we contribute to the quality of life in Fulton County.”

Viglione expressed her confidence in Hall-Saladino’s ability to carry out this goal, saying, “I think Samantha has the vision.”

By Kerry Minor

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