LAKE PLACID — The Lake Placid North Elba Historical Society History Museum, a century-old train depot on Station Street, is cold and dark, still boarded up from the winter months.
But just across the street in a small office, Jennifer Tufano, the museum’s registrar, is hard at work, sifting through old photographs, books and manuscripts, slowly cataloguing artifacts into a database and piecing together the stories of Lake Placid’s history.
“It’s a lot of work ... incredibly time intensive” Tufano said. “But for all of this history to have an impact it has to be accessible and organized.”
She wore a white glove on her right hand, holding an old photograph and stood over a computer installed with the latest version of PastPerfect Museum Software.
“Having the program makes my life much easier,” Tufano said. “Everything we have gets assigned a number. Then we enter it into the system with any information we have — where it came from, what we know about it — and then I take photographs to show significant details.”
Across the room an old spinning wheel sits next to an enormous pair of metal tongs, once used to drag blocks of ice from the lake when household refrigerators were not a common convenience.
“I can’t even imagine people using these,” Tufano said, picking up the tongs. “They must weigh 30 or 40 pounds, just by themselves.”
The ice tongs had come into the collections care office a day prior, donated by a Lake Placid resident, and Tufano stressed the importance people from the community being involved with the museum. Aside from donating artifacts she said the most important thing is for people to donate their time.
“Volunteers help make this all possible,” Tufano said. “We’re always in need of more help.”
Museum on a mission
The decision to catalogue the museum’s collection, also called accessioning — the formal, legal process of accepting an object into a museum — came in 2006 when a meeting was held by the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society planning committee.
“We got together and asked ourselves, ‘what do we want to be when we grow up,’” said Peter Roland Jr., chair of the committee. “We came up with some clear goals and one of them was accessioning our collection.”
Officially called the Collections Management Program, the goal is to gain a thorough knowledge of what artifacts and archives are owned by the Society in order to develop future exhibits. The historical society also owns a large building behind the train depot, called the freight house, which is filled with artifacts that have not yet been accessioned.
“People don’t always realize that museums only put about 20 percent of their collection on exhibit,” Roland said. “The same is true for us.”
According to Roland, they are about half way through the collection.
“Our eventual goal is to have the complete collection digitized to provide a research tool for the public,” Roland said. “It’s a long time away, but we’re getting there.”
The collections management project was greatly assisted by grants from the Lake Placid Education Foundation and the Henry and Mildred Uihlein Foundation who offered $40,000 each and asked that the historical society come up with the same amount.
With donations from community members that goal was accomplished last June.
This past year, the LPNEHS received an additional grant of $2,700 to help update their strategic plan for the years 2010-12, which came from the New York State Council of the Arts. The funding will enable the Historical Society to work with consultant Anne Ackerson of the Museum Association of New York to update their plan for the History Museum and other programming.
The program has also recently adopted a new collections policy to help them determine what historical items they will accept into their collection.
“It makes exhibit development much easier,” Roland said. “This allows us to determine our story lines — what we want to uncover.”
Having recently completed updating their strategic plan, the historical society has a slate of activities to continue to grow the organization’s impact in the community. Among them, according to administrative director Patricia Kelly, is making the museum more appealing to children.
“Kids don’t want to read through lot’s of stuff,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to come up with activities that will engage them ... lighten things up a little.”
According to Kelly, one of the Historical Society’s goals is to work with other organizations in the area. She also said a long-term goal was to create a collection that would be portable to take around to schools in the area. But in the end, it all comes down to the involvement of the community.
“What will really make this project a success are the volunteers,” Kelly said. “People who can come in and help us identify old photographs and artifacts. People who care about the history of the area.”
A carraige that is on display at the Lake Placid North Elba Historical Society History Museum.
Image courtesy of the Lake Placid/North Elba Historic society
Fact BoxTo learn more about upcoming exhibits, becoming a member and opportunities to volunteer visit: http://lakeplacidhistory.com/Welcome.html
May 28: Lake Placid Institute Photo Opening at the History Museum
May 29: Museum officially open; first train scheduled
July 17: Heritage Day — all day event including music, vendors and activities for children.
Aug. 19: Members’ reception and train ride
Aug. 26: Annual board meeting — all members invited to attend