North Tonawanda History Museum Delivers the Goods
The North Tonawanda History Museum, 54 Webster St., is a 10,000-square-foot, remarkably comprehensive museum, almost unparalleled in scope for a city of 31,000 people.
The museum was established in 2004, in a 19th century storefront where the Misses Balance once made dresses, and Eddie Pickard had his furniture store and old John Schulmeister operated his dry goods store until 1926.
Many may remember the building from its days as Murphy's 5 & 10, established in 1928 and closed in 1997.
In place of the old lunch stand is the museum, created and sustained by a grassroots group and not funded by government subsidy.
Inside it are an amazing collection of artifacts of a city that never surpassed 35,000, even in its heyday.
North Tonawanda's history is intricately bound with the Erie Canal, whose terminus lies there at the Niagara River and a significant part of the museum is dedicated to that.
From 1850 through the 1970s, the forwarding of lumber made North Tonawanda one of the country's largest ports and attracted more than 150 lumber companies, earning the name, "the Lumber City."
As you visit the Lumber Heritage exhibits, you feel you almost know the lumber barons, whose mansions lined Goundry Street. Albert B. Williams or Alexander Granger Kent, and their banker and neighbor, James DeGraff and old Daniel Webster, a partner in a lumber company, often visited here.
The name museum comes indirectly from the Latin, by way of the Greek, and was originally a temple to the Muses, a building set apart for study.
The Muses loved to inspire the honest heart.
Inside the North Tonawanda History Museum, everything was gathered clean and honest. It was either donated directly or purchased with funds donated by the community, not poached by subsidies of a government that cruelly takes the bread away from the mouths of working people only to spend as wastrels.
"When we began planning a history museum in the fall of 2003, we assumed we would have to resort to virtual reality to tell the history of North Tonawanda," explained Donna Zellner Neal, executive director of the museum. "But those who wanted their own history museum in North Tonawanda about North Tonawanda have given us what they wanted us to build."
Beyond the Main History Hall is the Erie Canal Exhibit Hall and exhibits, in turn, display more than a glimpse back in time of the once great business enterprises alongside the canal.
There is The Payne Avenue Heritage exhibit, The Oliver Street Heritage room, the Tonawanda Island-River Road Heritage room.
Exhibits of the Richardson Boat Company, Remington-Rand, Herschell-Spillman/Armitage-Herschell, Niagara Motor Boat, Duby Marine, Bison Shipyard, Benson and Meyers Coal all catch the eye and speak to a bygone era, not long ago when anyone who wished to work could get a job.
There are the Military Exhibits. From the War of 1812, to the Korean War, there have been men of this place, like any place, who served and died. Here they are remembered.
Over here are the tools used by a farmer in his 18th century cornfield. Here, an exhibit of soda fountains and penny candy shops.
There's the William C. Wittkowsky Exhibit room, with the war-hero-turned-mayor's antique cameras and his wife's wedding gown.
It was more than 60 years ago when the former Miss Wilma Kuhn of Kenmore left her mother's home to marry a man and make North Tonawanda her home.
Over there, there is more: a wall covered with wedding photos.
People are meant to go through life two by two. 'Tain't natural to be lonesome.
At the beginning, He made them male and female.
A step beyond, and into a room: a room full of wedding photos and wedding gowns.
Here is the wedding dress of someone long in the grave, but on that wonderful day, she wore that dress; they celebrated life, and she was the center of all attention.
Names of the past, like rains and distant whispers, are alive in this museum.
The Clarks, the DeGraffs, the Van Voorhees, the Kohlers.
Peter Porter, Geneva Thompson, Frederick and Ruth Robertson, Milton Praker, Frank and Lottie Piwowarczyk Mroz, Joseph Labarbera, Susan Gelose, Adam and Mary Gondek, Benjamin Long, Mary Hershey Long and the Rands: Benjamin Long Rand, James Henry Rand, Nancy Rand, George Franklin Rand, Calvin Gordon Rand and Almira Hershey Long Rand.
Over here is the Wurlitzer Exhibit Hall with its 1840 pump organ and 1880s organ from the First Methodist Church.
This organ played so many times, "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling."
And you can hear the Reverend Watson preaching, "There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being" and leading them in song, 'Into the woods my Master went.'"
Clean forspent, forspent...
On a small hill opposite the Akropolis, a man named Musaeus, philosopher, historian, polymath, hierophant, prophet, seer, priest, poet, musician and of all men most advanced in lore, would go each day and sing on the hill to the delight of all the truth seekers, the mystic and oracular verses, the most sweetest to mortals, of all things.
He grew old and died on the hill and was buried on the hill.
It is said that the first museum, Plato's in Athens, was named after Musaeus.
This tells us much about the true meaning of museums.
The North Tonawanda History Museum is an open door to the past, a gateway to learning, in a sense, an oracle on a hill.
It should be heralded for its signal accomplishment.
Admission to the year-round museum is $5. Seniors and veterans pay $3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Sunday through Labor Day.
Visit their website: www.nthistorymuseum.org.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
AUG 06, 2013