Volunteers transform historical societies for holidays
CAPITAL REGION Ask for help decorating a beautiful old home for the holidays and there’s a good chance you’ll be overrun with volunteers.
At county historical societies throughout the Capital Region this time of year, the appeal for assistance is always heard and heeded, and as a result a wonderful 19th- or 18th-century piece of architecture always looks its finest during the month of December.
Albany County Historical Society
“We have four different garden clubs and usually they’ll each take a room and decorate it,” said Wendy Burch, executive director of the Albany County Historical Society, which is housed in the Ten Broeck Mansion at 9 Ten Broeck Place in Albany. “Every room will have a tree that they decorate, usually using a lot of fresh greens where they can. We also have an interior decorator who will do the main hallway. Most of what we used is provided by the garden clubs. Very little of it is our own.”
Ten Broeck Mansion and its decorations will be on display throughout the month of December as the Albany County Historical Society will host a series of events concluding with the Twelfth Night Dinner on Jan. 8. The mansion, built in 1797-98, will have an open house from noon-3 p.m. on Saturday.
Rensselaer County Historical Society
In Troy, the Rensselaer County Historical Society is housed in the 1827 Hart-Cluett House, which for the past 54 years now has been decorated for the holidays by the Van Rensselaer Garden Club.
“They usually decorate with a different theme each year, and this year we’re doing a Dickens Christmas,” said Stacy Pomeroy, interim executive director at the society. “It’s a partnership between us and the garden club, and they usually supply all the flowers and fresh greens, and then they might take advantage of our large collection of ornaments.”
The Hart-Cluett House is only seriously decorated for four days, from Thursday to Sunday to coincide with Troy’s Victorian Stroll on Sunday.
Schenectady County Historical Society
In Schenectady, the 1895 Dora Jackson House, home to the Schenectady County Historical Society, has been getting special attention from the Hugh Platt Garden Club for more than 40 Christmases.
“They do have a Festival of Trees which we’re not connected to, but we take care of all of their other Christmas decorations throughout the house and the library,” said Wilma Corcoran, president of the Hugh Platt Garden Club. “We do our best to make it look festive, and we try to keep the theme to what they might have used in the house itself. They didn’t use too many colors in those days, so we bring in a lot of greens to put up on the doors and the mantels and other places. There’s nothing artificial, and we also use white candles because that’s all they would have had back then.”
Visitors to the SCHS can view the decorations and the Festival of Trees celebration for a $5 fee through Dec. 5 from noon to 5 p.m., and a special open house will be held Wednesday from 6-9 p.m.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
At Old Fort Johnson, which houses the Montgomery County Historical Society, the former home of Sir William Johnson will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
“Typically, we do more of a Colonial theme, but they didn’t really celebrate that much so it gets kind of minimalistic,” said Alessa Wylie, museum coordinator at Old Fort Johnson. “This year we’re going a little more whimsical and decorating our rooms to match a Christmas carol. The rooms will have themes, like ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ ‘Deck the Halls’ and ‘Silent Night.’ So, we’re kicking it up a notch over previous years, and we have a bunch of groups and volunteers who come together to help us. People love decorating the place.”
Saratoga County Historical Society
In Ballston Spa, Brookside, home to the Saratoga County Historical Society, will be busy throughout the month of December. Built in 1792, Brookside will be decorated, although not in any particular style, according to executive director Joy Houle.
“We decorate and we have a collection of ornaments, but they’re not collectible antiques, and we don’t really have any theme,” said Houle. “What we do have is our holiday shop, which is an entire room of 20 vendors selling hand-crafted items. We’re going to have items on sale seven days a week right up until 2 p.m. Christmas Eve.”
Brookside, like its counterparts throughout the region, does have an enthusiastic number of volunteers eager to help.
“Our ornaments are ones donated over the years by our volunteers,” said Houle, “and I’m happy to say that we do have volunteers crawling out of the woodwork this year. We just had our volunteer luncheon and we were commenting on how many people we had. The number has really increased this year.”
The Schoharie County Historical Society (the 1772 Old Stone Fort) and the Fulton County Historical Society (the 1831 Kingsboro Academy) are both closed for the winter season.
The Washington County Historical Society, meanwhile, located at the 1815 Wing-Northup House in Fort Edward, remains open two days a week (Wednesday and Friday) and will hold a special winter fundraiser Sunday at the Rice Mansion in Cambridge.