Old County Museum/Board of Elections Building
There has been much discussion recently regarding the building in Little Valley that once housed the County Museum.
Let me review some of the available information regarding this building.
The original “seed” funds for this building was about $500 left over from the Cattaraugus County Centennial of 1908.
Local Veterans groups indicated they wanted to use this money to build a veterans memorial in Little Valley. Veterans groups agreed to raise the money for this facility. After a number of years such groups were not able to raise the full amount of money needed. As time went on the veteran’s population of the county began to question whether a building or memorial should be built.
Cattaraugus County provided the funding needed to complete the project. On December 6, 1911, the Cattaraugus County Board of Supervisors authorized $10,000 of County monies to complete this project by a vote of 28 (ayes) to 3 (noes).
The octagon shaped building was dedicated in 1914 with a large glass dome and an elaborate facade.
By 1922, the dome was removed because it was leaking. Sometime during this period the original façade of the building was also removed.
In the 1940’s, the windows on the building were covered because the sunlight was destroying artifacts housed in the building.
Sometime around this time another building was added onto the original building. This is a 1 story building and the utilities for this building are located in the adjacent Museum Building. The new structure is three sided, sharing a wall with the then Museum Building. As time would tell, this building was not built especially well, by today’s standards. This new building would eventually become the Board of Elections.
In June, 1970 a three-ply smooth build up roof was applied over the existing roof to address leaks. During the roof application existing copper edges were straightened, where necessary, and new roofing installed to the copper edge. Additionally, three breather vents were installed in the roof.
The condition of this building as well as existing water leakage issues with the Museum Building has promoted a series of repeated and ongoing efforts to fix these leaks. Ventilation issues have also been problematic over time. Most recently were those efforts done in 1981, 1988, 1997 and 2009. Again, this moist atmosphere in the Museum building was deteriorating some of the collections maintained by the Museum.
Throughout this period there have been repeated problems with water related damage. On more than one occasion, black mold has been found and cleaned up in the old museum. Both buildings, in general, are very moist which contributes to mold growth. Further, when the Museum Building was built there were not the concerns we now have with asbestos. There is asbestos throughout at least the basement area of this building.
In 2004, the County bonded to provide funds to demolish both buildings. Demolition was not completed at that time.
Starting on September 20, 2004, the Museum operation was moved to the oldest County Building, that of the Stone House in Machias, which was renovated at a cost of over a $1 million. This is where the County Museum is currently located. This move allowed the Museum to have access to areas better suited to maintaining their collections, updated and larger spaces.
In 1988 Habitera Associates completed a space study that listed the Museum in Little Valley as having 1,000 square feet of exhibit area, 400 square feet of general office space and 200 square feet of work room. The office and work room space were used as the genealogy and historical research area. The total usable, excluding the basement was 1,600 square feet. The basement area, not accessible to the public, was listed as 1,300 square feet.
The current Museum in Machias has 2,100 square feet for exhibits, 714 square feet in the lobby/entry area, 400 square feet in the archives room and 1,000 square feet in the research/office/additional archives room. All of these areas are on the first floor plus there is a handicapped accessible bathroom. Additional storage is available in the basement of this building.
When the Museum moved from Little Valley to Machias, the Mueseum’s Board of directors authorized the Historian/Museum Curator to place on eBay certain items that were not deemed to be directly part of Cattaraugus County’s story of its people and history. This was approved through the Legislature and each item was reviewed by the museum board members. It was felt that even though all history is significant, we wanted to use our resources to highlight and research the County’s population and life experiences. In the end little was sold and the profit barely covered the expenses associated with the sales.
Several efforts were evaluated to look at alternate spaces for the Cattaraugus County Board of Elections. This office, by State Law must be located within the geographic boundary of the County Seat. After several unsuccessful prospects were explored, it was decided that the Board of Elections would move into newly renovated space in the Little Valley School Building. This move occurred in September-October, 2013.
Currently, the Old Museum Building and the attached Board of Elections Building are vacant.
Much has changed since the corner stone was laid on the Old Museum Building. The building is now functionally obsolete, it does not meet current standards (like the Americans with Disabilities Act and NYS Building Codes), it continues to be damp, and it has been repeatedly modified over time.
Prior to formally moving forward with the proposed demolition, we reached out to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) for their review and opinion on this matter. In a letter dated June 10, 2013 from the OPRHP, Ruth L. Pierpoint, the Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation notes “based upon this review, it is the OPRHP’s opinion that your project will have No Impact upon cultural resources in or eligible for inclusion in the State and National Register of Historic Places”.
The land on which these buildings are located is on a parcel deeded to the County for specific purposes. In large measure, the physical location of these buildings on this original parcel, are in a park, owned and maintained by the County with at least one memorial area already designated. Currently, there are no plans to use this space, once the buildings are demolished, for anything but park land. This and future decisions regarding the use of this land, however, remains with the governing Board of the County, the County Legislature.
Hearing and acknowledging the input from various decedents of Civil War Veterans, most from out of state, the County is carefully evaluating whether some of the existing design elements can be incorporated into a new memorial, become part of the Museum collections and/or be reused as component parts of new construction efforts in the future. These options are currently being explored.
Below are pictures of some of the items referenced above. Attached is a copy of a photograph showing the structure of the building on the day of dedication. Attached also is a picture of how the building looks today. Also attached are pictures from the interior of this building. Finally, I am including a copy of the letter from OPRHP referenced above.