Flood fails to sink Amsterdam museum

AMSTERDAM?- After spending more than two years recovering from the destruction caused by Hurricane Irene, the Walter Elwood Museum will open at its new location Saturday.

Ann Peconie, executive director of the museum, said there will be a free grand opening for the public at 100 Church St., in the industrial building that was once home to the Bigelow-Sanford carpet mills and the Noteworthy Complex.

“I want people to visit and be intrigued,” she said. “This museum is rich in local history and I want visitors to be as excited about it as I am. Learning about our history not only links us to our past but our future as well.”

Walter Elwood, an educator in the Greater Amsterdam School District during the 1900s, started the museum in 1938. Elwood started the museum to showcase his collection of ethnographic materials and natural history items he acquired all over the world.

Originally, the museum was located in the 5th Ward Amsterdam elementary school. In 1966, the museum moved to the Guy Park Avenue School for more space.

However, the museum was forced to close in 1981 due to budgetary issues. The Mohawk Valley Heritage Association was formed to save the museum. However, in 2001 the museum was forced to close again and the MVHA took over its management.

In 2009, after more than 40 years in the elementary school, the museum moved to Guy Park Manor, the residence of Guy Johnson during the Revolutionary era. However, when Hurricane Irene struck in 2011, the manor was severely damaged from flooding and the museum was forced to move out.

“We were cleaning things, washing a lot of mud off and storing things. I didn’t know what would happen,” Peconie said about the aftermath of the flood.

The museum found a recovery site – at the former Fuccillo car dealership on Division Street – where items were stored until the museum finally moved into 100 Church St. in February.

“Finding a new building, moving, taking care of all this has been a lot of work,” she said. “It’s been a ton of work, but it’s gratifying and worth it in the end.”

The museum inhabits about half of the complex with six themed exhibit rooms – carpets, military, local artists, children’s toys, natural history and local culture – a gift shop, a library, a Native American room and large display cases for other items.

The museum is filled with small and large items visitors can curiously examine for hours. These range from a mounted, stuffed head of a walrus with 30-inch tusks to a miniature children’s iron stove from the 1800s.

Only 20 percent of the museum’s items are actually from Elwood, as the size of the collection has increased over the years. For example, most of the larger animals in the natural history room aren’t from Elwood. The butterflies, seashells and birds came from Elwood, but Robert Frothingham – a Fonda businessman, hunter and world traveler – had a trophy room that was given to Elwood by Frothingham’s widow.

Peconie said visitors usually love the toy room the most, which includes Mickey Mouse and Barbie toys and Victorian-era games.

“[Visitors] love to come in here and check out these knick knacks closely. It makes them realize how the times have changed just based on toys,” she said.