By JESSICA ARSENAULT RIVENBURG
HERKIMER – Herkimer County has a rich history involving Revolutionary War battles, the perfection and production of countless goods, the invention of basketball and the last woman hanged in New York. It has been the home of famous authors, inventors, politicians, athletes, astronauts, war heroes and murderers. And Chris Connolly, new executive director of the Herkimer County Historical Society, wants to make sure everyone knows it.
“A lot has happened here and there are many big names from this area,” Connolly said. “There are hundreds of cool little pieces of history that few even know. I want the world to know. I want to put us on the map.”
Connolly took over as executive director in January, after retiring from a career as a history teacher and coach in Clinton and Dolgeville, and selling Ole Sal’s Café and Creamery in Little Falls in 2019.
Taking an early retirement package, Connolly wasn’t quite ready to give up working completely and picked up odd construction and maintenance jobs in the area while keeping an eye on local opportunities. When he saw the listing for executive director at the historical society, it seemed like an obvious fit.
“As a teacher and coach you do a lot of research and fundraising, and that’s a lot of what this is,” Connolly said. “But this is ten times more of a business than I thought. It’s a 501C3, of course, and there is a bottom line you have to meet.”
Connolly’s 11 years running Ole Sal’s prepared him for that side of things, he said.
Among his ideas for letting the world know about Herkimer County are acquiring a high-tech scanner for digitizing books and documents, collaborating with county historians and revamping the society’s museum on North Main Street in Herkimer.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of history and information and research material here,” Connolly said. “I had no idea just how much there was. And a lot of these things, this is the only copy in existence. We need to start scanning these books into a computer if for no other reason than to help preserve them.”
Digitizing documents would also make them more accessible to the public, and the scanner Connolly hopes to acquire will play a role in his next goal of collaborating with area historians.
“Every township and most villages in the county have a historian for that town or village,” he explained. “At any one time, there are multiple people working on writing a book about one thing or another, for example. Instead of each individual looking for a publisher, we could get them all together and approach a publisher with three books instead of one.
“If we can get a scanner, I would invite other local historians to come use it to preserve their documents,” Connolly continued. “Maybe we could even pack it up and bring it to them to use for a time.”
He suggested starting this collaboration by instituting a regular meeting of historians to discuss ideas.
As for revamping the museum, Connolly has some end goals in mind, involving moving some current displays to uncover architecture such as a fireplace, and adding some new displays to showcase some of the hundreds of artifacts currently in storage.