When the Historical Society of Woodstock (HSW) was founded in 1929, its goal was to preserve the stories of the town. Members wrote essays and gathered in people’s homes on Sundays to read their stories aloud over tea and cookies. Over time, townspeople started giving historical items to the Society. “Because of Woodstock’s history, our collection is unusual,” commented Richard Heppner, the current town historian. “It’s about a little mountain town and an artists’ colony and how they blend.”
The collection of artifacts and writings has lived in a series of local buildings, settling in the Eames House on the Comeau Property in the 1980s. The HSW is seeking to raise $60,000 to upgrade the historic building by putting in a much-needed ground-floor bathroom, a small kitchen, and other improvements. An outreach letter to members and local businesses has already gleaned a third of the required monies. The fundraising drive will continue over the next few months with a series of events, including a wine-tasting at Oriole9 on May 2.
“We’d like to break ground in the spring,” said Heppner. Approvals are already in place from the town board, planning board, Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee, and Woodstock Land Conservancy, but more money is needed.
“The overarching problem is the bathroom,” said Janine Mower, chair of the fundraising committee. Visitors must climb 18 steps to get to the facilities, walking through the archive storage areas. “It’s a barrier to people to come and learn about Woodstock history,” she noted. “It’s inhospitable to someone in a wheelchair or a person who has arthritis and can’t climb the stairs. You’re also coming into the archive space, so it requires an escort to make sure the archives stay where they are. And we don’t want water near the archives, in case there’s a leak.”
A 12-foot by 16-foot one-story addition will include a handicapped-accessible bathroom and a small kitchen for preparing snacks to be served during openings and other events. The exterior of the addition will be clad in the same style as the rest of the building. Other improvements will include updating the electrical system, installing better lighting in the exhibition room, and shoring up the foundation, which has had water issues.
The last building upgrade was done ten years ago, when insulation, new windows, and a heating system made the structure usable year-round for research and events. The new changes will enable the Society to expand programming, particularly for children. “We had a children’s club at one point,” noted HSW president Deborah Heppner. “We did a building project where each child picked a building in Woodstock and made a model of it and researched its history. We also did a garden project with them, and one on roads. But kids need to have a proper bathroom.”
The all-volunteer board and members have already conducted grassroots funding efforts, including cemetery walks, bake sales, handmade items sold for the holidays, and the production of a picture book entitled Legendary Locals. The next round of fundraising events will begin on Saturday, April 4, as wilderness guide Dave Holden leads a hike at California Quarry. Hikers will meet at the Andy Lee Field parking lot, by the Community Center on Rock City Road, at 10 a.m. The $10 donation will go to the building fund.
The May 2 wine-tasting will be conducted by two experts, Dr. David Baggett and Tina Grill, who met in 1972 while working at a summer camp on Sawkill Road. Baggett taught wine evaluation at Modesto College in California, produced and judged commercial wines, and established and managed the college’s 14-acre vineyard. Grill, a retired art teacher, was a sensory analyst at E & J Gallo Winery in Modesto. The couple currently live in Woodstock.
“Dr. Baggett is in a wheelchair, so he’s excited about helping to make our building handicapped-accessible,” said Deborah. Baggett will lecture on the wines offered for tasting, and hors d’oeuvres will be prepared to go with the selected wines. The event will be sponsored by New York City attorney Kathy Crost, who grew up in Woodstock and has become involved in the HSW. Attendees will receive a wine glass with the Society’s logo. The wine-tasting will be held from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at Oriole 9, 17 Tinker Street, and will cost $30.
Ars Choralis, the highly praised Woodstock choir, will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary with a concert at the Eames House on Saturday, May 23, at 2 p.m. “Merry Madrigals in May,” honoring the choir’s past as a madrigal society, will feature roving minstrels and a display of Ars Choralis memorabilia.
On Friday, June 12, at 7 p.m., HSW will open its summer exhibit, “Living Large,” about Woodstock artists Nan Mason and Wilna Hervey. Over six feet tall, Hervey was a silent film star who appeared in shorts based on the Toonerville Trolley comic strips. She had studied at the Art Students League in Manhattan and in Woodstock. After meeting Mason, a painter and the daughter of her co-star, Hervey gave up her screen career to live with Mason in Woodstock. On Saturday, June 13, at 2 p.m., there will be a book-signing by Joseph P. Eckhardt, author of a book about Mason and Hervey, also entitledLiving Large.
The fall exhibit will present seldom-seen photos of old Woodstock from slides and glass negatives. HSW members are restoring the pictures, now that technology is available to print them easily. Other events in the works include Sunday afternoon lectures at the Eames House and concerts at the former Art Students League building, now the Christian Science church.
“Every year we grow a little bit,” said Deborah. “Last year, we had 600 visitors. The Comeau Property has beautiful new signs that will make it easier to find us. We’re hoping that through these renovations, we’ll be able to serve even more people.”
By the way, many of the essays written by those early HSW members were published as booklets and have been kept in print by the present Society. Mower and the Heppners are among the members who continue to research and write volumes on Woodstock history, all of them available for purchase at the Eames House.
The Historical Society of Woodstock museum, located at 20 Comeau Drive, is open to the public on weekends in summer and fall and during scheduled events year-round. The archives are open to researchers by appointment. For information, or to make a donation to the building fund, see http://www.historicalsocietyofwoodstock.org or contact Richard and Deborah Heppner at 845-679-2143. Checks may be mailed to PO Box 841, Woodstock, NY 12498.
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