Brockport’s Emily L. Knapp Museum undergoes revival Lingering problems and possible solutions defined

By on May 11, 2014
The Helen Hasting’s area in the third-floor garret has been designed as an art studio and writing desk to commemorate her work as an author and local historian. She became well known for her research on Old Houses of Monroe County.

The Helen Hasting’s area in the third-floor garret has been designed as an art studio and writing desk to commemorate her work as an author and local historian. She became well known for her research on Old Houses of Monroe County.

A previous issue of Suburban News, Hamlin-Clarkson Herald presented the work of Sue Savard and her helpers restoring order and appeal to the Emily L. Knapp Museum collection located at 49 State Street in Brockport. What prompted the project was Savard’s visit to the museum a year-and-a-half ago to do research and finding “materials spilling over from filing cabinets, drawers, and shelves.” Lacking public awareness and interest for years, the museum has been revived and welcomes the community to return to the showcase of Brockport’s historic treasures. (See “Emily L. Knapp Museum: A community invested in organizing, cleaning, and filing to revive Brockport’s showcase of historic treasures” in the Archives).

There remain persistent problems with the museum: uncontrolled collection contributions, no comprehensive filing system data base, poor accessibility, lack of climate control, lack of long-term financial footing, and exclusive residency requirements for governing committee membership. With more detail, and highlighting possible remedies, are considered here:

Deb Talley (left) and Sue Savard spent many hours organizing the Victorian Parlor in the Emily Knapp Museum.

Deb Talley (left) and Sue Savard spent many hours organizing the Victorian Parlor in the Emily Knapp Museum.

Collection contributions. How did the museum get so cluttered over the years? “What happens is that people clean out grampa’s attic and decide we should have it,” Savard said about items brought from all around the area that have not been refused. She explained there is no accession policy which would state the original intention that a donated item can come only from the village of Brockport. “That would make it easier to say, as a matter of policy, ‘Thank you for thinking of us, but it is not from Brockport and we can’t accept it.’ ” A deaccession policy is also needed, she added, which enables releasing unwanted collection items under specified terms, such as selling them on eBay.

Climate Control. There is no climate control, neither heat in the winter nor cooling in the summer, except for two rooms with window air conditioners. That causes slow deterioration to the clothing, paper, furniture and other items in the collection. It also causes discomfort for visitors on warm summer days, and lack of heating has necessitated closing during the winter.

Accessibility. Another problem is the museum location on a second and third floor accessible only by long stairways. That creates handicap inaccessibility and discomfort for any with physical limitations. Visually, the upstairs museum remains hidden from public view, lacking a welcoming walk-in entrance.

On the third floor visitors will see the completely equipped dental office of Dr. Moore, who practiced on Main Street in Brockport from 1931 until 1958.

On the third floor visitors will see the completely equipped dental office of Dr. Moore, who practiced on Main Street in Brockport from 1931 until 1958.

The problems of climate control, and especially accessibility, seem solvable only by a move to a new facility. At present, the former Fowler Funeral Home at number 52, across State Street from the museum, could be an option. “It’s perfect,” Sue Savard said, adding it does need some work. Such a move might call for a capital campaign or other funding. The purchase and maintenance costs could not come from the village general fund (see financial item below).

Database directory. “Although Sue Savard has established a comprehensive filing system,” Mayor Margay Blackman said, “the museum needs a full comprehensive computer data base of its collection accessible on site or on line.”

Savard and her team have organized about 1,150 books; she has typed a list with their locations in the museum. They also organized documents in over 1,600 file folders so far in 32 file drawers; Savard has typed a list of their file drawer locations. Each typed list is about 70 pages.

Students from the Museum Studies* (see note) program at the College at Brockport have been digitally documenting parts of the collection for three years. “They choose their own projects from the museum’s collection, focusing on selected artifacts,” Blackman said, “so documentation of the entire collection is spotty. When and how it will be complete and accessible for the museum is not known.” They use the college’s own licensed PastPerfect software, “probably the software that would be recommended for the museum to document its collection,” she said.

On the third floor visitors will see the completely equipped dental office of Dr. Moore, who practiced on Main Street in Brockport from 1931 until 1958.

On the third floor visitors will see the completely equipped dental office of Dr. Moore, who practiced on Main Street in Brockport from 1931 until 1958.

A first step in creating comprehensive filing systems would be to make the college data base available to the museum. And, there is need to merge that computer data with data in the new hard files. Currently, according to Mayor Blackman, two grants are being applied for by the village. One is a local records management grant to provide for protection and storage of records. A “Get Ready” grant will provide expertise to suggest the first step in determining the direction and future of the museum. “The latter grant will probably recommend a comprehensive database,” Mayor Blackman said.

Financial footing. The village is not spending any money on the museum, Mayor Blackman said, because it is not a line item on the village’s budget. In its present condition, “It costs very little to run,” she said, adding that $2,500 was approved this year from the Shafer Trust Fund. The sum has been used by Sue Savard for things like a new toilet, carpet cleaning, preservation materials, and supplies. Jackie Morris serves in the dual role of Museum Director and Village Historian, receiving a stipend of $100 per month from the same trust monies.

The reviving museum can thrive only with continuing maintenance, supplies, services, and a data base to maintain the museum’s high quality.  Regarding long-term financial footing, “I personally don’t think the museum will end up as part of the village general fund,” the mayor said. “We need to look for other ways to make the museum self-sustaining.”

Governance. A policy passed by the Brockport Village Board on January 6, 2014, states that only village residents on the museum’s Executive Committee may vote. There are divided views on the residency requirement. Some justify the policy by the fact that the mission cites “the heritage and history of Brockport,” and it is in the purview of the village government. Yet, the policy implies only legal village residents have the insight, wisdom and dedication to guide the mission of the museum. There are citizens community-wide interested in and committed to the museum, and qualified to vote on its guiding policies. For example, only two members of Savard’s working team of 13 are village residents.

Regarding who should be entrusted with voting power to guide the museum, Blackman says the Village Board should revisit the January policy that “may have been passed without a thorough review of the residency requirements.”

Grand Opening planned
A special Grand Opening event will be held 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 5, as part of Old Home Week, in the Town of Sweden’s 200th anniversary celebration. Savard says there is a rumor that some historic personalities will be present: James Seymour (Ron White), Helen Seymour Sylvester (Sue Savard), Helen Hastings (Mary Lynn Turner), Jimmy Costigan (Skip Perry), Harold Gardner Dobson (Bill Nielsen), Dr. Kenneth Wayne Moore (Joe Quaranto), Leah Covell (Marion Dilger), Hosea Covell, (Scot Galliford), Visiting Violinist (Nancy Rhodes). Punch, plus cookies taken from recipes of old cookbooks found in the museum.
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.

*The college’s Museum Studies program combines the anthropology and history departments. Margay Blackman, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita of the anthropology department.

Note: Brockport Village Clerk Leslie Ann Morelli aided the research of this article.

Photos by Dianne Hickerson