New look at history

TUPPER LAKE – Things are looking different inside the Tupper Lake Heritage Museum.

The museum is located inside of the firehouse on Pine Street, and it’s packed with mementos of Tupper Lake’s past. There are photos of bustling sidewalks, household items and old, metal logging tools that were once instrumental in fueling the multitude of hotels, shops and restaurants that seemed to radiate from the train station.

“I think people need to see where they came from,” museum Director Carol Poole said. “Tupper Lake was a booming place at one time. There were 500 people that were employed at OWD (the Oval Wood Dish factory). There were hundreds of people employed for the railroad. They had a major switching yard and repair station here. The center of the Adirondack railroads was here in Tupper Lake.”

Poole speaks from experience. She grew up in Tupper Lake and remembers how it was in the 1940s and ’50s, when hundreds of people came by train and residents did their holiday shopping locally, at shops like Ginsberg’s and LaRocque’s.

Those memories are now represented by the freshly organized look of the museum, which moved into the Park Street location in August 2008. Poole stepped into the role of museum director in May and made her first goal to organize the museum’s large collection of photographs and objects.

“There was stuff accumulated on the tables, the display tables were arranged face-to-face, and there were just wall-to-wall pictures,” Poole said.

The downstairs now houses the desk and typewriter used by Tupper Lake Free Press owner/editor and “Mostly Spruce and Hemlock” author Louis Simmons. In the next room is a display assembled to look like an old grocery store.

Upstairs, there is more. A lot more.

With the help of other museum volunteers, Poole started in a corner near the second floor door and worked her way around the large room, categorizing items as she went. Now there are sections devoted to things like OWD, grocery stores, churches and outdoor recreation.

Many of the objects are older yet recognizable versions of commonplace modern-day items, like calendars, mixers and skis.

Other things look like they belong on the set of a science fiction movie. The museum’s Sunmount section includes a medieval-looking leg brace and a suction pump used to remove fluid from a patient’s lungs, complete with wheels, tubes and jars. There is also a case of leather items crafted by Sunmount patients.

Relics of a more playful variety are present, too. In a nearby corner is a gold Winston drum set played by Doran Boushie in the swing band The Wash that sits silent but not dusty. Next to that is a section devoted to grocery stores that are long gone, but not forgotten.

“I would say we had 15 to 20 grocery stores in the area at one time,” Poole said, listing as many as she could remember: Black’s, Michael’s and Littlefield’s.

Poole explained that each small store occupied a specific neighborhood, and the grocer would fetch the items on the list for the customer. There are old milk bottles with World War II propaganda printed on them, bulky kitchen equipment and a hacksaw with a rusty blade labeled as a meat saw.

Next to that is a display of items from the Roman Catholic churches in the area, including a stunningly resonant brass bell once used by altar boys.

“We’d like to collect more items from other churches and denominations,” Poole said. “We’d like people to bring in whatever they can to add to our collection.”

Working her way around the back of the room, Poole pointed out the railroad exhibit and the wall devoted to the sportsmen and women who flocked to the area. Black and white photos adorn the walls and put faces to the people who used the bear traps and heavy, wooden sporting equipment.

Then there are the hundreds of photos – some in yearbooks, others loose – from Tupper Lake’s schools.

If Poole has her way, she’ll put names to all of the faces in those photos, as well as to the faces in the photographs that fill the three-ring binders on the table near the entryway. She encourages browsers to come help her identify people, and to help put a story to each display to explain the history behind each piece.

“I also want to set up a temporary exhibit for our World War II vets,” Poole said. “It could be the kind of exhibit that changes every year, to keep people coming back.”