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Southeast Museum Educates, Protects Area Roots

Thousands of people—one of whom called the institution 'priceless'—visit annually.

For residents of Brewster, Southeast and Putnam County at large, the Southeast Museum isn’t just somewhere to start learning about local history.

With more than 8,000 unique artifacts, it’s the place to go to gain a real sense of the area’s past. The museum is home to everything from an 1870 hand-colored, panoramic photograph of the Village of Brewster, to a 130-year-old birch bark canoe, to a cucumber that first sprouted in 1887—and now sits in a jar of alcohol.

““We can only accept artifacts that fit within our mission, which is preserving the history of the Town Southeast and Putnam County,” Director Amy Campanaro said.

The institution was established in 1962, as a way to celebrate 150 years of the county’s existence. A year later, following positive feedback and tons of support from residents, the museum became a permanent fixture.

Nowadays, the museum, which is located on Main Street in Brewster, is open five days a week, April through December. Special in-house exhibits change yearly, while nine virtual displays are available on the museum’s site.

Organizers are currently showcasing about 200 of the 8,000 artifacts.

“We have five ongoing exhibits with the basic history of Brewster and Southeast,” Campanaro said.

Many of the pieces are acquired through donations. This year, the museum received a collection of pre-historic artifacts from the Peach Lake archaeological dig. Campanaro and museum staff members follow a certain procedure whenever someone is looking to donate.

“Once an artifact is received, the donor is given a gift form — giving ownership of the item to the museum,” she said. “Once the gift form is executed, we then clean the item if it needs to be cleaned.”

The cleaning and preservation processes depend on the material of the item. Often times, as was the case with the , a special regiment is required.

“The quilts were gently vacuumed using a special filter, they are folded with archival sheets and placed in an archival/acid free box and stored on steel shelving in our climate controlled storage facility,” Campanaro said.

After the cleaning phase, the staff attempts to determine the item’s age. If staff members cannot determine the age, they enlist the help of curators from other museums. Once the age is collected, the staff and board members figure out the best fit for the item, in terms of an exhibit.

Those exhibits attract more than 4,500 visitors—including school children, seniors, special needs groups and avid fans—each year.

Betsy Ryder has been a fan of the museum since she moved to Putnam County in 1978.

“The museum gives us a sense of where our roots are,” she told Patch. “Having a museum is not about just storing [artifacts], it is about exhibiting them to the public.”

Ryder has donated pieces to the museum—including a family heirloom that told the story about what it was like to be a young girl in the area 80 years ago.

“[It’s] a great way to help understand the history of Putnam County through objects,” said Danielle Cylich, chair of the Town of Southeast Historic Sites Commission. “This type of learning is a lot more engaging for children and in return, it is a family bonding process.”

Cylich served as the museum’s executive director from 1996 to 2000. Out of all the artifacts, Cylich believes one of the most beautiful pieces is the museum itself.

“It is priceless.”

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