Orangetown Museum Opens New Exhibit

“What’s in Your Attic” runs through Nov. 16

BY ROBERT KNIGHT
CITY EDITOR
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

Several Orangetown families rummaged through their attics, basements and garages for the latest exhibit at the Orangetown Museum and Archives which opened last weekend, and the result is a glimpse into the ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary, lives of local residents over the past 150 years.

Four rooms in the historic DePew House, at Chief Bill Harris Way and Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg, are filled to the brims with everything from scrap books and albums to housewares and clothing and just about anything else you could think of that a family may have admired and used for a while and then just packed away into a hidden corner of their home, never to be seen again until re-discovered by a child or grandchild decades later.

Scores of residents and officials attended the grand opening of the Museum’s latest exhibit, for museum members and town leaders on Saturday and for the general public on Sunday.

The universal reaction, aside from the typical “oohs and ahs” of the brilliant displays, were gasps of recognition whenever an object from their own children was observed, and the immediate reaction was either “I remember them” or “I had one of those.”

The objects came from families both prominent and obscure, and visitors also seemed to take delight in recalling how many of the donor families they knew personally, or at least recognized.

And the objects on display ran the gamut as well from genuine antiques from the mid to late 19th century all the way up to a display of family photos by the Pucci family of Pearl River, featuring their daughter Josephine who participated in the international Olympics in Sochi, Russia earlier this year, winning the silver medal in ice hockey.

Hosting the exhibit opening was Museum Director and Orangetown Historian Mary Cardenas and curator Elizabeth Skrabonja, along with volunteer staffers and members of the museum’s board of directors.

The DePew House is one of two 18th century Dutch sandstone homes owned by the town and operated by the museum, the other being the Salyer House on Blue Hill Road in Pearl River. The Salyer House contains the museum’s permanent exhibits on the history of Orangetown, while the DePew House has rotating exhibits each year on specialized topics of interest.

The current exhibit, on items donated or loaned by local families, will run through November16. The museum is open every Sunday and Tuesday from 12 noon to 4 p.m., and by special appointment on other days. It will be closed Easter Sunday.

Among the exhibits are beautiful black and white photographs of old Orangetown houses and other historic sites, compiled in 1976 as part of a national bicentennial project to document such structures while they still existed. Funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and photographed through the offices of the Historical Society of Rockland County and the Historians Roundtable, the photos formed the basis of a countywide project to create a master list of historic sites and structures throughout Rockland County. They were later used as the basis for naming Rockland as an official Certified Local Government, the first such county in New York State to achieve such a designation.

In another room there is a display of photographs of the family of Louis Conway, a local African-American who served in World War II in an all-black medical unit shipped to Europe through Camp Shanks. The photos, some displayed in frames and others in a rotating electronic display, portray Conway’s home life in Orangetown as well as his many assignments during the war. Significantly, Conway is smiling in virtually every photo.

In another room there are several photographs of Pearl River from about 1880 to 1960, taken by three generations of the Iserman family, who moved to that hamlet from Sweden and remained as employees of the Dexter Folder Company there for nearly a century. In addition to photos of the family at work and at play, there are some two dozen maps, posters, blueprints, catalogues and other memorabilia from the Dexter factory itself, located west of the railroad tracks between Central and Franklin Avenues in downtown Pearl River.

Other displays at the exhibit include post cards and brochures from the two New York Worlds Fairs of 1939 and 1964, autograph and photograph books, high school yearbooks, baby books, scrapbooks, post card views of local scenes, a collection of lace samples from a seamstress, a Victorian dollhouse filled with furniture and dolls of the day, jewelry, kitchen utensils and appliances, a collection of Dick and Jane books and other children’s literature from years past, a collection of bottles from local dairies, pharmacies, bars and other businesses and even a large traveling altarpiece in the Greco-Deco design of the 1930’s.

In another room are some original paintings and drawings by noted Rockland educator and artist Robert Burghardt.

In the lobby of the museum a plaque was unveiled on the fireplace mantle and dedicated to the memory of long-time museum trustee and benefactor Jeffrey Keahon of Pearl River who died recently. A big benefactor of the museum, he was perhaps best known for playing the costumed and wigged roles of prominent Orangetown residents of long ago from John Haring to George Washington to John Andre, and sometimes even their wives to the delight of thrilled audiences as the museum’s annual dinners.

Mrs. Cardenas also announced at the opening ceremonies that the museum’s 2014 annual dinner would be held on June 1 at the ’76 House Restaurant in Tappan. Tickets are $55 each, and can be obtained at the museum. The museum can be reached at 845-398-1304.