Down the River and Back

Flooded history space to reopen
By Emily Cutts

Almost five years after Tropical Storm Irene took the Mount Tabor-Danby Historical Society down the Millbrook, the organization is set to open its doors.

The new space at the S.L. Griffith Library at 74 South Main St. will hold an open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

“We really reestablished ourselves more securely after the flood in Irene,” said Marjorie Abbott, society secretary. “We lost our building when it went down the river with the hurricane. Since then, we’ve become much more active.”

On display will be about 50 items including historic fire insurance company maps, a handbag belonging to Pearl Buck, a number of documents relating to her, and a recently purchased tiger and birdseye maple armoire which once belonged to Silas Griffith.

Light refreshments will be served and there will be a showing of “A Tale of Two Towns.”

A 25-year lease was signed between the private library and the society, according to Bradley Bender, president of the historical society. Using what funds the society had, the former gentleman’s reading room and an unfinished space were transformed into the historical society’s new home.

In addition to the efforts to find and renovate a new location, the society also undertook the task of creating website.

“We are a virtual historical society, so nothing can be lost to floor or fire,” Bender said.

The society was established in 1985 and functioned for more than a decade without a permanent home, according to Bender. Following that, a portion of Buck’s house served as the society’s headquarters.

Five years ago, the historical society had just helped ring in the town’s 250th anniversary in its new location at the Millbrook House, one of the buildings formerly owned by the town’s most famous resident, Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck, when it tipped into the brook during Tropical Storm Irene.

The building purchased for $45,000 10 months before the storm hit, featured a second-second-floor apartment that was used for rental income.

Bender said at the time that many people were so happy that the society finally had a building, they were willing to donate family heirlooms.

Among the items lost were a silver set and Bible owned by Micah Vail, one of the town’s earliest settlers. Other items included Griffith artifacts, Buck’s ceremonial desk, a display case from the Old Stone Store, an original pie shelf from Bonds Hotel, merchant William Pierce’s diaries, an account ledger from a blacksmith shop once located on Burrow Hill Road, photographs, postcards and documents. No value was estimated for the historic artifacts lost in the flood.

“We were only in that building for a little over six months,” Bender recalled Tuesday.

After the storm, members of the historical society and students from Burr and Burton Academy conducted a search-and-retrieve mission in the brook.

A Danby student from the academy found the building’s finial, severely damaged and crumpled like an accordion, in the brook, Bender recalled Tuesday.

“When they were combing the Millbrook just before it flows into Otter Creek, she came upon a little bit of a metal object showing, kept excavating, here it was—the finial,” Bender said.

The finial, originally atop the turret at the Griffith Mansion, was manufactured in Danby and signed by its creator William Smead in 1891, Bender said.

Also recovered was the blacksmith’s account ledger and the society’s safe.

“(We’d) like people to see what we have done with the space, encourage people to see what we do have on hand,” Bender said. “Hopefully people may be inclined to join the historical society.”