A new arts venue will soon be coming to Cortland County, thanks to the efforts of Beth MacRae.
MacRae, a former kindergarten teacher at McGraw Elementary School and English literature instructor at Tompkins Cortland Community College, recently bought an 1874 Victorian home adjacent to the Heritage Hall of the Cincinnatus Area Heritage Society.
This old house, she said, will be the site of a new community arts center, which will be called the Alice’s Dowry for the Arts.
The building got its name because it was once given as a dowry in 1876 by Peleg Holmes to his daughter Alice, MacRae said. In the 20th century the house was owned by the Brown family, and it was converted into a bed and breakfast in the 1990s, which operated under the name Alice’s Dowry.
MacRae, who lives in Taylor but grew up in Cincinnatus, seeks to use the building as a venue for musical and theater performances and arts classes and a host for student internships. In particular, she would like to see theater performed in-the-round, which the building is perfectly suited for. There’s also a lot of space — 18 rooms.
“This building has got possibilities,” she said.
Sharon Pesesky, co-chairwoman along with MacRae of the Cincinnatus Area Heritage Society, said she hopes the new center will help “engage the youth here” by hosting theatrical and musical performances as well as art shows by students.
MacRae bought the house in early August. It needs a little bit of work, but nothing too drastic; the roof will have to be replaced, but most of the repairs will be cosmetic, she said.
“It retains a lot of its beauty, which is nice,” she said.
She has held one community day in which volunteers showed up to help with yard work — the gardens are a bit overgrown — and with repairs around the house; the day ended with a concert.
Some of the property’s “mammoth trees,” she said, will also likely have to come down.
She hopes to host another community day “before it gets too cold,” she said. One of the biggest projects has already been accomplished: unearthing and disposing of old oil tanks that were buried in the yard.
MacRae said she might seek non-profit status for the center in the future, but in the meantime she’ll run it as a private entity that she owns.
Proceeds from any event at the center, she said, will be donated to the Cincinnatus Area Heritage Society.
The new center will also provide another benefit for the next-door Cincinnatus Area Heritage Society: hot water.
The Heritage Hall, located in a former Congregational Church built in 1932, has never had running hot water, so volunteers have always brought hot water with them in buckets and thermoses, MacRae said.
But now, because the two building are “just a hop skip and a jump” from each other, “we can just walk out the door and walk across the lawn and walk in the other door,” she said.