A Catskill Catalog: July 20, 2011

A trip to the museum is easier than one might think. There are some pretty interesting ones close by.

If you haven’t been to the Fleischmanns Museum lately, drop by. It’s located in an old carriage house behind the Skene Library, on Fleischmanns’ Main Street.

This Museum of Memories has always had a great collection. Fleischmanns was a major resort town in the first five or six decades of the 20th century. Its many hotels and boarding houses swelled yearly with, literally, thousands of summer guests, creating a vibrant summer culture and economy.
Such a place produced lots of what would be called, today, “collectibles.” Locals and visitors alike began, early, to collect Fleischmanns stuff. The late Dot Squires had an impressive collection. Much of it became the foundation of the museum collection, put together, years ago, by her daughter, Georgiana Fairlie.

Since then, scores of other families and individuals have donated artifacts and ephemera connected to Fleischmann: signs and menus, room phones and band uniforms, Edwardian dresses and agricultural implements, baseball scorecards and high school yearbooks.

This year, the collection has been re-organized, and the new manner of display efficiently absorbs the visitor in the many varied aspects of Fleischmanns’ colorful past.

And it was a colorful past. I have friends who, as children and teenagers, made Fleischmanns a summer destination. As little kids, they just wanted to watch the thousands of well-dressed city folks promenade up and down the avenue. Later, as big kids, Fleischmanns was where the action was.

The museum drops us into that colorful summer world as we enter. The building itself is nice, a beautifully constructed, exposed-beam carriage house from the pre-garage era. Very 19th-century feeling.

The hotels come first. The first display you see is an attractive array of posters, signs, and assorted neat stuff from Fleischmanns’ famous hostelries. The expansive, campus-like Takanassee Hotel and Country Club, at the west end of the village, seems to have pride of place.

The late Anne Greene once told me how she and her husband Bill would dress up, on summer Saturday nights, to go dancing at the Takanassee. Bill spent his days supplying flowers to the hotels and boarding houses out of his Clovesville greenhouse. Anne taught at the Fleischmanns school. In summertime, their little town glittered, and, like many locals, they enjoyed the chance to be part of the sophisticated fun.

Fleischmanns hotels could promise instantaneous communication with your home or office in New York, what with New York Telephone Company having its northernmost office right here on Main Street. The museum celebrates that communication hub, home to a gaggle of switchboard operators who made it all work.

Museum curators, volunteers like John Duda and Peg Menzies, pack a myriad of exhibits in a small space. They’ve organized things so the visitor moves smoothly from baseball to Klein’s Ladies Wear, from Camp TA-RI-GO to village family life, from early kitchen implements to Fleischmanns High School. Each display seems distinct, focused. Together, they bring back a lost time.
Time and the Valleys Museum, down in Grahamsville, looks to bring back a lost space, as well as lost time. This new museum is located in the gorgeous new Daniel Pierce Library, pride of the Grahamsville community. The museum’s focus is the upper Roundout and Neversink valleys, now under two New York City reservoirs that bear those names.

The library itself is worth a visit. The library was built with no local property tax money, finding funding through state grants and raised funds. One major donation was the pro-bono work of the architect, son-in-law of the library director, who designed a building that would be beautiful anywhere, even as its brick, stone, and clapboard façade, bluestone terraces, and in-the-hill design make it specific to its place.

The library features a wonderful regional history room with an expanding collection. The upstairs reading room, complete with fireplace, and outdoor readers’ terrace are particularly impressive.
Time and the Valleys Museum is located in the back portion of the new building. A geological timeline and interactive diorama-model of the Neversink and Rondout watersheds highlight the main room. Implements and artifacts from pioneer days bring back the rugged environment that faced the first settlers of the place.

A basement room chronicles the building of New York City’s reservoirs, including the Pepacton.
Manville B. Wakefield was an art teacher at Tri-Valley Central School who went on to lead arts instruction at Sullivan County Community College when it was founded in the ’60s. His paintings and etchings are on display in the third floor gallery through August 5. They are worth seeing.
Wakefield did some beautiful cityscapes and architecturally-focused oils. His renditions of household doors are especially interesting. One painting of a blue door from an Andes home particularly intrigued me. Several of his paintings experiment with raised surfaces, and depict doors ajar, raised from the surface of the canvas.

But it is his railroad paintings that form the heart of his work. Wakefield, who died a number of years ago, was a railroad buff, and his smoke-puffing steam engines and striving locomotives graced the covers of many rail-themed books and magazines. The originals are all here.
A ride from Big Indian to Grahamsville takes you through the beautiful Frost Valley, along the upper Neversink. Might make for a nice summer outing.
© William Birns