BALLSTON SPA — Education and history meet at the Saratoga County History Center’s Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa, where the exhibits explore the county’s legacy, and partnerships with area schools inspire future generations.
“Saratoga County: Our Home” opened on May 20. Visitors can explore the 400-year timeline of an immersive, artifact-rich journey through Saratoga life, business and nature. The exhibit is divided into themes such as First Nations, Defense, Water, Farmers and Woodsmen (an homage to the lumber industry).
“We have included tourists and millworkers,” said Director of Education Anne Clothier. “As well as the African-American history. We have the history of gambling, travelers, and popular culture. It ends with ‘Looking Forward.’”
Guests are invited to time-travel through Saratoga history as they view objects from the Brookside Museum’s collections. Artifacts include a Bible printed in Amsterdam in 1718, an 1804 tin chandelier from the present Medbery Inn, a windowpane etched by Washington Irving during his Ballston visit, a section of the 1832 railroad track from Schenectady to Saratoga, and a roulette wheel seized in a 1950 police raid.
“With the ‘Saratoga County: Our Home’ exhibit, we made a very strong effort to ensure that some of the forgotten areas of the county are included,” said Clothier.
Through photographs, family trees, and artifacts, “A Saratoga Family Tale” uses genealogical information and materials donated to the History Center to tell the interwoven stories of soldiers, prominent individuals, and family connections. The exhibit follows the Medbery, Clark and Betts families from their various Colonial settlements to their eventual settlement in Saratoga and Rensselaer counties.
One notable artifact is Col. James C. Clark’s uniform. Clark served as an officer in the Corps D’Afrique, a unit of black soldiers, and was stationed in Louisiana around the time of the siege on Port Hudson. His wife, Sara Betts Clark, recorded her life after his death from illness in 1864 in diary entries that will be on display.
The exhibition “Dining Out in Saratoga County” provides information on the early hotels and restaurants in Saratoga County, spanning over the past two centuries, with artifacts that reflect the development of the county.
“Civil War Letters,” “Our Community Now And Then,” “Sheep to Shawl,” “Manners Matter Tea Party,” “Saratoga County Water Works,” “Native New York,” and “Digging up the Past: Archeology at Brookside,” are some of programs designed to connect students with history at the Brookside Museum through school field trips and other outings.
“The student programs are something that there is a long history of here at the museum. We love seeing students here, and we also love seeing students bring their families back after the field trip is done, and they get to show around their families and be the experts because they’ve been here and already they’ve gotten to learn a lot of the information,” said Clothier.
From preschoolers to college students, each program attempts to resonate with those students’ unique interests.
The “Sheep to Shawl” program in the springtime is one of the most popular. Students see a sheep sheared and try spinning and weaving wool. In the fall, the “Native New York” program focuses on the history of Native Americans in the area.
More than 100 letters from a Civil War soldier in the Schuylerville area are part of the “Civil War Letters” program, which has been presented to area students for more than a decade.
“It’s hands-on activities with replicas and historical evidence, like a living museum. They get to try on the uniform, see and feel the cooking equipment, and everything else that the actual soldier used in real time. They get hands-on experience. That’s the best thing about it. They get a real, deeper connection with that,” said David Zeh, a seventh grade history teacher at Maple Avenue Middle School in Saratoga Springs whose students took part in the program in June.
“The seventh graders got to work on transcriptions of the soldier’s letters and also work with original artifacts and modern replicas, having a deep dive into learning about everyday life in the Civil War, both on the front and on the home front,” said Clothier.
Over the past several semesters, Siena College has been partnering with Brookside Museum.
“They’ve adopted archival items to transcribe for us and to develop additional information on those documents for us,” said Clothier. “That includes lesson plans and information on all sorts of topics. Last semester, they focused on an autograph album from the 1830s.”
While some students focused on the biographical information and DNA, others focused on more of a literature and poetry aspect, trying to find out if the rhymes and poems included had come from newspapers or books from that era.
“We also had a couple of students come up with lesson plans, comparing this autograph book to the way students use yearbooks today,” said Clothier. “We were happy to see all the things that these Siena students were able to develop, and we look forward to utilizing those in the future.”
“Whatever streams are funding this, it’s important they continue, because it’s important to be able to have highly qualified people going around to present these things,” said Zeh. “It is helping educate local youth on what happened in the area they lived in during certain periods of history, especially during the Civil War. It’s important to have these museums.”
This story appeared on page 3 of the August 2nd, 2023 of the print edition of the Spot