By Donna Thompson
The Herkimer County Historical Society’s Suiter building on North Main Street in Herkimer needs a new major exhibit, according to Executive Director Cassandra Castle.
The society’s last long-term exhibit, “All in a Day’s Work,” opened in the Suiter building in 1990 and while there have been other exhibits since then, covering topics such as the county’s role in World War I and in the women’s suffrage movement, Castle thinks it’s time to bring in something new.
Toward that goal, the society has taken apart the old exhibit and changed its schedule for the next few months, with the research library and gift shop in the Eckler building closed on Mondays and Fridays so staff and volunteers can work to prepare the Suiter building for a spring reopening. The Eckler building is still open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, with no appointments needed.
What the completed exhibit will look like has yet to be determined, but Castle plans to have the space cleaned up and some displays in place in May.
“Step one is to get something new in there,” she said. “In the future, we’ll do something bigger and more professional.”
The next step now will be to go to the society’s building and maintenance committee to discuss the basic repairs that will be needed. “The walls need to be spruced up and the flooring replaced,” she said.
The work done so far has included taking down walls that were in place for the previous exhibit, a move that has opened up two hidden fireplaces, a plaque honoring Col. James Suiter, and more of the woodwork. This was done in time to decorate the space for Christmas and invite people in for a cookie sale, pictures with Santa, and a “Christmas Through the Years” display.
Now the Suiter building is closed until May.
The society recently hosted a brainstorming session, inviting those interested to offer ideas on what they’d like to see in a new exhibit.
“We’ve got some ideas,” said Castle. “We’re in the figuring-out stage.”
She would like to see a portion of the interior reflect the late 19th to early 20th century time period in which the Queen Anne-style mansion was built and provided space for an office, waiting room, and library for Dr. A. Walter Suiter.
“It was never lived in as a home, but it was still a beautiful house,” said Castle.
Dr. Suiter willed his building to the Herkimer County Historical Society in memory of his parents, James A. and Catherine Suiter.
The county’s connection to sports is among the ideas being considered for a new exhibit. For example, the Herkimer 9 project is looking to document the role of Lambert Will and the village of Herkimer in the origin of the game of basketball.
“Whether or not they’re successful, Lambert Will was clearly an important figure,” Castle said. Pioneering Black professional baseball player Bud Fowler, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022, is buried in Frankfort, and Herkimer boxer Lou Ambers is another famous sports figure from the area.
The importance of the county’s connection to the Underground Railroad and the women’s movement, as well as anniversaries, such as that of the Erie Canal, are among the ideas under consideration. Anyone with ideas for the new exhibit is asked to contact the historical society.
“We want to be inclusive of women, Native people, and enslaved and free people of color,” Castle said.
A new exhibit could also take advantage of electronic capabilities, perhaps having sound bites to provide information about artifacts instead of relying entirely on printed labels.
An inventory is currently underway to determine what artifacts are available to display and what would be needed to augment the collection.
Castle comes from an educational background, having worked as a kindergarten teacher.
She began volunteering at the society in January 2022 and, in May, was hired as executive director after former director Christopher Connolly accepted another position.
“My love for genealogy triggered my love for history,” Castle said. She wanted to know what was going on during the periods her ancestors lived that made them want or be able to do the things they did.