N.Y. Feed Mill Preserved as Ag Museum

3/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant N.Y. Correspondent

CLYDE, N.Y. — Many old-time grain mills have fallen into disrepair or have been razed to make way for new construction. However, the A.R. Ketchum & Son mill building in Clyde, N.Y., has been preserved for its value in antiquity and for use as an agricultural museum.

The village of Clyde can boast roots dating back to 1722, when a blockhouse was built on the site of the present village as an outpost for the fur trade in the central New York wilderness. A replica of the blockhouse built in the 1970s stands near its former site. The village names, Blockhouse and Lauraville, were later scrapped and the village was incorporated as Clyde in 1835.

A.R. Ketchum founded a mill and retail business there in 1910. He ground grain crops and sold supplies and equipment that the rural community needed: Sherwin Williams paint, animal feed, coal, and other things a farmer would drive into town to purchase.

George Roe Ketchum, the son of A.R. Ketchum, was born and educated in Clyde. After completing college, he returned to Clyde and continued operating the company until the early 1970s.

In 1976, the Galen Historical Society formed, partly to observe America’s bicentennial and partly to help preserve Clyde and Galen history. George Ketchum was a charter board member of the Galen Historical Society.

“My dad loved Clyde,” said Dan Ketchum, grandson of the late A.R. Ketchum. “He was a big Clyde booster.”

Dan Ketchum winters in Clyde at the Ketchum family homestead and lives in Bendersville, Pa., the rest of the year.

In 1977, a few years after George Ketchum retired, he donated the business’ building to the historical society to serve as its headquarters and museum.

“A lot of the original stuff is still there,” Dan Ketchum said. “It’s great that they have that for the museum.”

The building had sat vacant for several years and had been home to rodents and birds, recalled Lois and Art Benning of Clyde, now in their 70s, who were charter members of the Galen Historical Society.

“We worked with our son, William, cleaning the building out,” Lois recalled. “There were mice and birds and pigeon mess that had to be cleaned out. It was his Eagle Scout project with troop 172. It was a big job.”

Art said that he could not even count the number of bags of pigeon droppings they removed. The scout troop scrubbed the floors and walls a few times over a couple of days before the former mill office could be occupied. They also updated a restroom. Not much else changed in the building to help preserve its original look. The milling equipment remains intact, for example.

Once the building was ready, the group started collecting vintage things. After the society placed an advertisement in the newspaper requesting donated items, artifacts poured in from all over the township and were added to the existing furniture and equipment in the mill.

“It took years to get it ready to open, because we had no money,” Art recalled. “It took that long to collect everything.”

As the collection grew, the group cleaned other areas of the mill and expanded the displays. Eventually, a new roof was added to the mill building.

As older society members passed away, their willed donations of funds and artifacts helped the museum grow.

“We started offering individual, family or corporate memberships, so we got money that came in through that,” Lois said.

In 2000, with funding from contributors, the group also purchased a circa-1833 brick building that originally housed Clyde Baptist Church. The 12-inch brick walls and hand-hewn trusses evidence the era’s workmanship. Until it was purchased by the Galen Historical Society, the building had served as the Galen Free Library, from 1955 through 1995.

The following year, the society refurbished what would become the Brick Church Museum with help from fundraising and grants. The Brick Church Museum includes displays representing local businesses, churches and other groups and modes of transportation of yesteryear.

But the Mill Museum’s displays focus on agriculture and sports, the latter representing the local high school’s achievements and memories.

To the Bennings and many others, preserving the mill is important because it preserves the Clyde-Galen heritage. Farmland frames the small town perched on the Erie Canal, and even today, area farmers drive into town to buy supplies at the Clyde Hardware Store that operates three blocks from the former mill.

“Clyde is an agricultural community,” Art said. “It was built on agriculture, and agriculture is still important.”

Lois added, “It’s not a fancy museum ... “

“ ... but it’s realistic,” Art finished gracefully, as the long-married couple’s thoughts seemed to intertwine. “The old feed grinder and feed mixer are still there,” he said.

“And they have some household things, too,” Lois said. “It’s the history of the town. The Ketchums are well-known in the town. We are from the original board. There aren’t many of us left. We like that the museum does continue.”

“A lot of people think milk comes from the grocery store,” Lois said. “Kids don’t know that milk comes from cows. That is part of what the museum is about, showing the agricultural equipment and life. It’s important, because the kids don’t see this stuff anymore. It’s nice to look at the exhibits of the printing presses and household things, too.”

The museum is open through appointment only. The historical society can be reached at Galenhistoricals<\@>aol.com or 315-923-7150.

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