Emily L. Knapp Museum

By on April 27, 2014
The children’s room houses a collection of books, toys, games, clothing and baby shoes from the late 1800s, many of them donated by the earliest settlers.

The children’s room houses a collection of books, toys, games, clothing and baby shoes from the late 1800s, many of them donated by the earliest settlers.

At the Emily L. Knapp Museum: Putting order to an extensive local history collection.
A community invested in organizing, cleaning, and filing to revive Brockport’s showcase of historic treasures

At the top of a long stairway in the Emily L. Knapp Museum, Dianne and I found the bustling activity of many volunteers at work. There was lively talk among the women, as collection items were being moved, cleaned and organized in a labyrinth of rooms. On that floor, and another flight up, every room was filled with an astounding number and variety of historic clothes, furnishings, pictures, tools, machines, books, documents, and more. After the visual feast, our focus turned to individual artifacts that were well-labeled, revealing their role in Brockport’s history.

Those energized workers, led by Sue Savard, were near the end of a year-and-a-half of bringing order out of chaos in the historic collection. The project started soon after Savard visited the museum to do some research and found the collection in disarray. The work aims to help revive the museum located at 49 State Street. It seems to have faded from public awareness, even as the attached Brockport Village Hall sees daily public traffic.

Order out of chaos

Sue Savard stands in front of one of 32 file drawers containing historical information gathered and organized by the volunteers.

Sue Savard stands in front of one of 32 file drawers containing historical information gathered and organized by the volunteers.

Savard came to the museum in January 2013, to research one-room school houses.   “There was stuff there, but you could not find it,” she said about materials spilling over from filing cabinets, drawers, and shelves. From that experience, she recalled, “I thought, ‘I am going to start a filing system,’ having no idea a year-and- a-half later I would still be filing things.”

The project went beyond filing to a major sorting and organizing of the museum collection. Very impressive were two closets that originally contained boxes of jumbled documents, now neatly shelved.   One closet now has shelves labeled “year books, education, novels, history, local authors, technical, and children’s books.”   The top shelves have children’s games and law books from the 1800s. The other closet was similarly organized with archival boxes and book sleeves containing ledgers, family Bibles, travel scrap books, post cards and more. Savard had typed all the labels and is making a list of every item for reference.

Labor but keeping it light
Savard praised all who have supported the project. “I am very lucky to have so many people who have helped me. I could not have done this by myself.”

Reaching out to friends, she had enlisted a team of helpers who have been working each Monday morning. Most of the team were present on the day of our interview.   As a team leader, Savard says she is fairly good at sensing what tasks the volunteers prefer and gives them a choice. The clothing closet was the main task that day, the last area to straighten out. Deb Talley and Rosemary Smith were padding wooden hangers. Margi Lewis hung some pictures and started unloading the clothing closet. Chris Hunt came to photograph the clothes. Anne Frey made a list of books in the Mary Jane Holmes room. Jane Avery recorded a large collection of yearbooks going back to 1897. Sarah Cedeno, another dedicated worker, could not be there that day.

The cozy country kitchen in the Emily Knapp museum contains samples of dishes, cookware, utensils and furniture typical of a farm kitchen in the 1800s.

The cozy country kitchen in the Emily Knapp museum contains samples of dishes, cookware, utensils and furniture typical of a farm kitchen in the 1800s.

“Sometimes we go to lunch afterwards,” Savard said. “We make it fun,” evident in the spirited chatter heard that morning.   “Last spring I had a champagne luncheon at my house for the women who helped me. I took the men out to breakfast in early fall.”

The men volunteers are called to do special tasks. For example, Jim Bolthouse and Delos Jones turned a pile of tools into an attractive display, moved sewing machines around and hung signs. Tom Lewis built shelves and hung pictures. Allan Berry and his brother, Bob, painted the bathroom. Allan painted the library closet. Norm Frisch has helped by providing scanning and photography services.

A wide variety of support for the project
Besides the immediate team she works with, Savard credits Jackie Morriss, Museum Director and Village Historian, Doug Wolcott, Dan Burns, and Rayleen Bucklin, “members of the (museum) committee who have given their time and effort to make the museum available on Wednesday afternoons and evenings, as well as for special visitation requests.” She adds, “They also have helped our organization project by providing us with their valuable insight into the history of the village and its early residents. And, they have coordinated with the College at Brockport students in Museum Studies who are busy working on cataloging our items. The students are creating a database of information so it will eventually be a complete reference for the use of anyone with access to the internet.”

The Emily Knapp museum houses a complete reaper from the earliest days of Brockport’s history. In 1846, the manufacture and sale of this machinery made Brockport famous around the world.

The Emily Knapp museum houses a complete reaper from the earliest days of Brockport’s history. In 1846, the manufacture and sale of this machinery made Brockport famous around the world.

Savard praises the Department of Public Works for helping with many heavy lifting jobs and installing equipment such as a toilet and window air conditioners. “For the staff downstairs (the Village office) it’s the same thing,” she said, naming several helpful services and guidance provided “with a smile” by the office staff. “Mayor Margay Blackman is a strong supporter of our efforts in the museum,” she said. “I have received really good support from everybody. They are excited that something is happening up here I think.”

Fruits of their labor to date
•1,632 file folders labeled, filled, organized, and alphabetized
•1,009 books organized and placed in archival sleeves and on shelves
•About 1,500 pictures, some labeled, some displayed, some stored
•About 200 bound historic newspaper books sleeved and organized chronologically
Currently setting up displays

Plan to visit
The Emily L. Knapp Museum at 49 State Street in Brockport is open every Wednesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A special Grand Opening event will be held on Saturday, July 5, as part of Old Home Week, part of the Town of Sweden’s 200th anniversary. Savard says there is a rumor that Jane Seymour and possibly the ghost of Helen Seymour will be there that day.

 

The Mary Jane Holmes room contains a complete collection of her novels and several pieces of furniture from her very large home which she referred to as her “Little Brown Cottage.”

The Mary Jane Holmes room contains a complete collection of her novels and several pieces of furniture from her very large home which she referred to as her “Little Brown Cottage.”

A devoted leader with diverse interests
Sue Savard was a business education teacher at Brockport High School for a number of years and eventually taught at Albion High School until she left teaching in 1988. She then taught computer applications for IBM and the State Education Department.

At age 76, Savard is a dynamo involved in the museum and many other activities. She estimates she puts in a total of 35 hours a week at the museum and at home working on the collection. At home she types labels for files and for pictures.  She has transcribed “four huge diaries from the 1800s, all over 100 pages” turning script into typewritten pages. She is on the Brockport Community Museum board as well as the Emily L. Knapp Museum committee. She meets with a writing group weekly, travels, bikes, and skis downhill and cross country. She sews, quilts, baby sits grandchildren, and takes care of her home and garden by herself.   Her husband, Jim, taught eighth grade social studies at Brockport’s Middle School from 1963 until 1989. He died on April 17, 2010.

Photos by Dianne Hickerson

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