LAKE PLACID - The Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society recently opened a new office at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Annex on Saranac Avenue, making the organization more accessible.
The society operates The History Museum at the Lake Placid train station from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day but has not had year-round office space until now.
"Historically, the directors always just worked from home in the off season part time and then full time in the summer," said Jennifer Tufano, director of the historical society who moved into the Annex in October. "What we found is that the work in the off season has become just as busy as during the summer season. Even though the museum is closed, we're still writing grants and working on collections."
Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society Director Jennifer Tufano sits in her new office in the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Annex building, located on Saranac Avenue. (Photo — Andy Flynn)
The public - media, donors, researchers, etc. - is seeking out the director more than ever.
"We found that a home just isn't conducive to that," Tufano said.
Last winter, Tufano shared an office in the North Elba Town Hall with Conni Cross in the beautification office.
"That worked out great, but still we needed something that was just ours because I was moving computer equipment every six months to set up a new office," Tufano said. "And that wasn't going to be sustainable."
The solution is a five-year lease at the LPCA Annex, which also contains a dance studio and office space for the Lake Placid Sinfonietta. Tufano's office overlooks Saranac Avenue, and it was made possible by support from the Lake Placid Education Foundation and the Uihlein Foundation. There is also a small exhibit room next to her office that is currently being used for meetings.
"It's easier for people to just drop in and see me," Tufano said. "I've had more people come in to see me here in the past few months than I might see people at the History Museum in the course of a summer."
Although Tufano will work at the Annex year round, the historical society has not given up its museum or storage space at the train station property.
"We're still going to have The History Museum. It's still going to open in the summer," Tufano said. "We're going to have docents cover that. I'm usually there one day a week, but primarily this is going to be the hub of our workspace."
Historical society officials have a minimum of five years to figure out their next move. The Annex office, Tufano said, is a temporary fix.
"We'd like to have all our things in one spot," Tufano said. "That might mean renovating the freight house and making that winterized or year round. It might mean putting an addition on to the train station building. We are in the process of evaluating all those different opportunities."
Eventually, the goal is to have the entire historical society operation at the train station property.
Tufano recently upgraded her work schedule from 30 to 40 hours a week, paid for by two grants, so she can organize and digitize the historical society's glass-plate negative collection. In 2011, the group purchased between 8,000 and 10,000 glass-plate negatives from the LPCA.
"Our goal is to digitize the images and load them on to an online portal called newyorkheritage.org," Tufano said. "It is a portal supported by the Northern New York Library Network, which is where some of our grant funding has come from."
There are thousands of plates cleaned and organized in acid-free boxes, but there are still 3,000 to 4,000 negatives packed in cardboard boxes in the LPCA's crawl space that need to be cleaned before they are digitized. Many of the cleaned negatives are being stored at the Lake Placid Public Library.
One grant, through the Northern New york Library Network, is a partnership grant through the Lake Placid Public Library to clean, organize and digitize the plates. The other is a $6,711 "Arrangement and Description Grant" through the New York State Archives Documentary Heritage Program.
"It's a little different focus," Tufano said of the second grant. "They look at categorical organization."
In the end, Tufano will have created a physical document so researchers can find photographs.
"So if you wanted to come in and find all of our glass plates on structures between 1910 and 1940, you should be able to look at our finding aid and find the plates on a particular shelf," Tufano said.
The grants won't pay for everything, so the historical society will be raising more funds to take care of the glass plates. In September, the historical society was offered a matching challenge grant for $5,000 from the Pickett Charitable Trust to preserve and protect the collection and is now trying to raise $1,000 through the Adirondack Foundation's crowd-funding website, Adirondack Gives, to go toward the challenge. The Adirondack Gives campaign ends Feb. 11.
Dating to the late 1800s, the glass plates originated at the Lake Placid Club and were taken by two staff photographers: Chester D. Moses, who came to Lake Placid in 1898 and was the club's first official photographer, and his successor, Irving L. Stedman, who became the club's photographer by 1914. Stedman used glass-plate negatives until the 1930s, when he switched to film negatives.
"We refer to it as the Stedman and Moses collection of glass-plate negatives," Tufano said.
When Stedman left, he gave all the negatives to Jim Barry, who had worked with him from 1935 to the early 1960s. For many years the plates were known as the Barry Collection. They were stored at the Lake Placid Club until the buildings were being cleaned out so they could be torn down. The negatives were loaded in the back of a pickup truck in the fall of 1977 to be thrown out at the landfill before a local doctor saved them and handed them to the LPCA's predecessor, the Center for Music, Drama and Art.
"Dr. George Hart recognized what they were and said, 'You can't do this,'" Tufano said. "So he talked to the arts center. It seemed the logical place for them to go."
Most of the images are from the Lake Placid Club, and some were taken elsewhere in the region.
For more information about the historical society, call 518-523-1608 or visit online at lakeplacidhistory.com. To donate to the glass-plate negative collection, visit online at adirondackgives.org.