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VISITING THE PAST: Adirondack History Center Museum holds relics from Essex County’s past

November 9, 2009
HEATHER SACKETT, News Staff Writer
     ELIZABETHTOWN — The Adirondack History Center Museum is a link between Essex County’s past and the present. The building on Court Street in Elizabethtown houses farm equipment and tools from the Champlain Valley’s agrarian past, and photos and furs from the heyday of the Adirondack guide. The museum building, once a local school, itself is a relic. With echoing hallways, a multitude of doorways and creaking hardwood floors, it’s easy to imagine the place is haunted with the spirits of students.

    The bottom floor of the museum is a showroom for early transportation antiques: carriages, buckboards, a peddler’s wagon, a stagecoach, a bobsled from the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games and a primitive fire truck. The next floor up holds a large interactive map of Essex County. When visitors press a button, a corresponding light shows where that particular attraction or geographic feature is found on the map. Elizabethtown shows up as a red dot in a valley between vast green mountain ranges.

    The main level of the museum has a room of artwork by local artist Edward Cornell, of Wadhams. Cornell’s exhibit, new this year, is called “Inside the Landscape.” Cornell also created a work of art on the front lawn outside the museum using old farm equipment and machinery.

    “He makes this link between the past and the present,” said museum director Margaret Gibbs. “They show that contemporary art can reflect the past, present and future.”

    Another room on the main level is devoted to the western half of Essex County and the mountain men that once inhabited it. Orson “Old Mountain” Phelps, Bill Nye and famed hermit of Cold River Noah John Rondeau are all featured in an exhibit about Adirondack guides. A guideboat, lean-to and photos of lumberjacks and log drives round out this room.

    A third room contains farm equipment from days of yore. Old plows, a bellows and a threshing machine are unrecognizable anachronisms to the children who visit the museum today, Gibbs said.

    “We are looking at upgrading our agriculture exhibit,” she said. “There are people who have a connection with farming in the area, but school kids are not familiar with it. We are seeing what we can do to appeal to people with experience with farms and also appeal to school kids.”

    The upstairs rooms are filled with antique dolls, an old printing press, a circa 1920s stage curtain advertising area businesses. A glass display case also contains one of the more grisly and fascinating pieces of Essex County history. Henry Debosnys was the second and last person to be hanged in Essex County. He was executed in 1883 for the murder of his wife. Before his death, he made an agreement with a local doctor to give his body to science in exchange for a new suit to be hung in. His bones were made into a skeleton, which was used for educational purposes in the Westport school. Debosnys’s skull, the noose that killed him, as well as sketches he made while in jail are all on display in the Adirondack History Center Museum.

    “Part of people’s fascination with this person was that he was fluent in five or six languages,” Gibbs said. “While he was in the jail, he drew pictures and wrote poems that convey he was an odd person and very intelligent and uncommon in many ways.”

    Another popular museum feature is a 58-foot-tall fire observation tower that invites climbers four at a time. One of the highest points in town, the tower offers views of the surrounding landscape and Hurricane Mountain to the west. Gibbs said the tower was assembled from pieces of two towers that were taken down and brought to the museum in the 1980s.

    “So many (fire towers) are being taken down now, it’s truly becoming an artifact,” she said. “It seems to be one of the most popular things here.”




Article Photos

Above, a stagecoach from the 1880s is the centerpiece of the downstairs transportation exhibit.

Photos/Heather Sackett/Lake Placid News



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