ALLEGANY COUNTY MUSEUM TOPIC AT BELMONT
By George Questa
Unknown Newspaper Source
Transcribed by Kathy S. Bentley
Completing his first year as Allegany County historian, William C. Greene Jr. of Belmont plans to meet tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 3) with the like-minded to talk some more about establishing a county museum.
Subject of desultory talks for months if not years, the idea is one Mr. Greene hopes to bring to a head at 7:30 o’clock tonight in the Belmont Court House with town historians, representatives of community historical societies, and others interested.
As it now stands, the idea is to form a county historical society to oversee the project, like the agricultural society looks after the county fair. Then, bolstered by a $7,000 fund-drive, to acquire a suitable building and renovate it for county museum purposes.
Several such buildings are being discussed, but the one Mr. Greene leans toward would cost $12,000 and need $3,000 for fixing up. Based on the $7,000 to be subscribed locally, the balance, hopefully, might come from Albany through some kind of matching fund or grant.
The museum would be the place where the best of the thousands and thousands of documents and books of historical interest of Allegany County now in scattered and hidden locations would be filed, catalogued, indexed and displayed.
It would also provide the springboard for proper recognition of such figures as Moses Van Campen, too little known outside historical circles; and Narcissa Prentice, who married the famed missionary, Marcus Whitman of Oregon fame.
While Fred Van Daacke of the state historian’s office likes the idea. Mr. Greene says, it’s clear that the project has to be organized and funded on the local level first.
The Planning and Historical Committee of the Board of Supervisors, headed by Supervisor Raymond J. Kopler of Hume, has been made aware of the project. The supervisors’ general sympathy with the aims and work of the county historian is indicated, Mr. Greene feels, by the fact that the 1969 county budget allocated $1,200 under the “county historian” account, up from the 1968 appropriation of only $300. The historian, as such, gets no pay; the money is put down under “supplies and materials,” $600; and “other expenses,” another $600.
But, just because money is earmarked doesn’t mean it will actually be spent, because the expenditure for the county historian in 1967 was $278.41. One of the reasons for supervisors’ interest in such possible projects as a county museum probably goes along with heightened appreciation of the usefulness of selling the county and pointing up its attractions with an eye to tourists and the recreation-minded. After all, a considerable attraction at Letchworth State Park is its Museum of Indian and Pioneer History.
Mr. Greene said Mr. Van Daacke agrees that in Moses Van Campen in the county has a historical figure of importance – a frontiersman equal to Daniel Boone, a better surveyor than George Washington, and a statesman approaching Thomas Jefferson, at least in a local-regional sense.
As for Narcissa Prentice, she married Marcus Whitman in Angelica in the mid 1800s after having heard him preach in Belmont, and accompanied him Westward and an epic mission to Oregon, where the medical missionary was the victim of an Indian massacre.
Getting back to Moses Van Campen, Mr. Greene has become quite an authority on the life and work of the pioneer figure. Last June, for the Pomona Grange, he exhibited a map reconstructing the survey Moses Van Campen made back in the 1800s of a tract now including the Town of West Almond. Mr. Greene did the plotting himself, drawing on his experience as a surveyor. The Van Campen “field notes” were among historic papers the county historian’s office has preserved.
Mr. Greene has a Van Campen “surveying chain” among effects of the pioneer, and those would be properly displayed in the proposed county museum.
On top of all that “a principal function” of such a museum, Mr. Greene feels, would be to act as a clearing house for genealogical data based on old cemetery records. Some such information is in the keeping of most town historians, he explains, but the museum would provide a central location for the information, hopefully to be organized in some such form as a card index.
Moses Van Campen died in 1894 at the age of nearly 93, and is buried in Angelica’s “Until the Day Dawn’s” Cemetery, Mr. Greene says, with the four-foot gravestone still standing, but with its heroic epitaph largely obliterated by weathering.
Moses Van Campen played a role in the Revolutionary War, had enough adventures among the Indians to shame a TV series, is associated with such historic names and sites as Caneadea, Angelica and Almond, and became surveyor for Philip Church.
He became a leading public figure in the early days of the county, having served as common pleas judge, and county treasurer and deputy county clerk.
The museum might also reflect Caneadea’s Indian background. The Senecas inhabited a tract there until 1825, migrating to the Buffalo area. Their reservation was bounded on the south of the Harland W. Hale farm, on the north by the community of Wiscoy and was two miles wide, running east and west straddling the Genesee River.
Not to forget the old Genesee Valley Canal.