This year, the Fulton County Historical Society celebrates its 70th anniversary.
Well, sort of.
In 1952, after a group of preservation-minded citizens got together and agreed to form a county historical society, an incorporation document, dated 1891, was discovered in the Gloversville Public Library. The March 21, 1891 edition of the Albany Argus reported that a historical society had formed at the library three days previously. Professor Aldolph L. Peck did all the preliminary work to form the company. Peck was the Gloversville Library’s first professional librarian; born in Vienna, he came to Gloversville in 1869 to work in – what else – the glove industry. However, this job did not suit him and he quickly became a teacher and began his tenure at the library in 1880, the year of its foundation.
This earlier version of the historical society had 13 founding members and nine board members, only one of whom was a woman. Electa Hildreth Fay was the widow of George W. Fay, a successful and wealthy businessman in the clothing trade and former member of the Fulton-Hamilton District Assembly. Electa was a philanthropic socialite who devoted much of her time and money to local organizations. When she died in 1898, she left the library $25,000, which they used to establish the Fay Legacy Fund.
It seems that in the 1930s the first historical society stopped meeting and was mostly completely forgotten. It wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the Fulton County Historical Society, as it exists today, was formed. A new constitution was drafted and officers elected. Reverend Harold P. Kaulfuss of Trinity Church was elected president; Mrs. Arthur Lathers as Vice President; Alice B. Cook as Secretary; and Vern Steele as Treasurer. There were 77 founding members. Later presidents included county historian Dr. Robert Palmer, Vern Steele, Harold Smith, Ellsworth S. VanDerVeer, and another county historian, Lew Decker, who was the youngest man to hold the presidential title when he took office. took office in 1966.
Without a permanent home, the historical society met at Gloversville High School. They were always very active, hosting speakers and programs that included Ulysses S. Grant III, Curator of Valley Forge, Superintendent of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, and others. Once a year, the group met with the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at Burk Tavern in Johnstown. The FCHS revived the tradition of holding an annual memorial dinner for the Battle of Johnstown in 1966; the first dinner took place in 1928 and ended soon after.
The historical society received its provisional charter from the NYS Board of Regents in November 1967. If a museum or state historical society wishes to have a physical collection, the charter is an important step in the process. Incorporation is a prerequisite for applying for 501(c)3 status; it protects the organization’s collections; and it gives them the recognition of being a member of the University of the State of New York. FCHS’ provisional charter was valid for three years and would now allow the organization to begin fundraising. The company received a cabinet in a room in the Gloversville library that housed items they had collected over the past year, including an old bottle, a Herkimer diamond from the bottom of Lake George recovered by the Albany Skin and Scuba.
Diving club, and an interesting pigeon’s nest made with no. 16 link wires from the Dunn Memorial Bridge (spanning the Hudson and connecting Albany and Rensselaer).
The FCHS received its absolute charter from the NYS Regents on April 28, 1972. Now that the historical society had begun collecting, the need for a permanent museum became apparent. The council created a committee to explore the idea. As early as 1971, it was suggested that the former Nathan Littauer Hospital be transformed into a museum and cultural center. This never happened, of course, and the hospital was flattened.
But in 1972, three Gloversville elementary schools closed and consolidated: McKinley, built in 1892 on McKinley Pl.; Columbia, built in 1893 on N. Main St.; and Kingsboro, built in 1900, on Kingsboro Ave. The three buildings were nearly identical, and in their combined 221 years of operation, 6,900 students passed through their doors. By the early 1970s, the buildings were considered obsolete. There were no playgrounds, the gymnasiums were in the basements and there just wasn’t enough space – the 2nd floor hallway served as Kingsboro’s library as they had nowhere where to put the books.
A new Kingsboro Elementary School was built on W. 11th Ave. and opened in 1972, with Don Williams as manager. The three oldest buildings have been closed. Columbia was deeded to the city’s Recreation Commission. There was no plan for McKinley. But the question of what to do with Kingsboro would bring mild controversy to the town.
Two parties were interested in the building: the Fulton County Historical Society and Delking Realty, who also owned the building that housed the Fulton County Silk Mill next to the old schoolhouse. In March 1972, it was announced that the Board of Education was tentatively planning to give the building to the historical society for use as a museum, provided it had the funding to run it and it do so in accordance with state education law. There were also other requirements, including that the FCHS verify its existence as a body incorporated under the NYS Regents and eligible to receive property and demonstrate its fiscal capacity to support the museum for one year. The deed also included a return clause, stating that if the building ceased to be used as a museum, it would revert to the school district.
The controversy arose over whether the BOE had the power to make the decision on its own without consulting taxpayers — particularly because the organization would not pay property tax as a 510(c)3. Although the community, town council and board of trustees were generally supportive of the idea and saw the benefits of having a museum, there were still those who disagreed with the way the situation was managed. “Controversy around the old Kingsboro Avenue school. . . reached the floor of the Communal Council during its meeting last night at the Hôtel de Ville,” reads the May 24, 1972, issue of the Chief-Herald. The board approved a 9-2 resolution to donate the building to FCHS and authorized a contribution of $1,000 to the historical society for museum expenses.
5th District Alderman Frederick Chatterton felt that there should have been a referendum for the public vote to determine the fate of the building. City attorney Angelo Lomanto explained that the Silk Mill had an improper use zoning designation that could not be extended – it was legally almost unheard of and would require the property to be rezoned. school, creating a “serious stumbling block” for the silk factory to take over the building. Chatterton and 4th Ward Alderman Albert Hoggins were the two opposing votes. The alderman of the 2nd district, Margaret Ambrosino, was absent.
The museum opened to the public on February 3, 1973. It was established by the Explorer-Yorkers Post 1776, for which Lew Decker was responsible. The first special exhibit was “Crime and Punishment in Fulton County”. It was manned by uniformed State Police and included items on loan from the Fulton County Sheriff, State Police, and Gloversville and Johnstown Police Departments. The neighborhood children were interested in the events and helped convert the building into a museum.
Over the past 70 years, the Fulton County Historical Society has grown steadily. The organization was mostly run by volunteers until June 2019, when the company hired its first full-time executive director (really yours truly). Exhibits, displays, programs and events over the years have been carefully designed by dedicated community members who understood the importance of preserving local history in order to better understand and shape our future.
As everywhere, the pandemic has hit the FCHS hard, closing the doors of the museum for a year and putting all the initiatives and plans of the organization on hold. Our 70th anniversary seems like the perfect time to revive and encourage renewed interest in the company. In honor of this commemoration, CFHS has launched its 70 for 70 campaign with the goal of raising $70,000 by June 2023.
If you haven’t visited us recently – or ever – please stop by. We are open Thursday-Sunday 12-4pm through Labor Day and Saturday-Sunday 12-4pm Labor Day through Columbus Day. There are no admission fees. We offer a number of programs and events for all ages throughout the year. If you cannot come during our opening hours, we are also open for visits by appointment. You can find all the information on our website at fultoncountyhistoricalsociety.org. You can also learn more about FCHS membership and the 70 for 70 campaign and how to donate. Hope to see you soon at the museum.