November 29, 2021

A look at CNY Living History Center

Photos by Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Jim Nadge of Homer remembers the day in 1960 when four firemen drove their 1925 Brockway fire truck from Boca, Argentina, into Cortland.

“They had quite a welcome, a parade in the city,” he said. “It really had a carnival atmosphere … like a fireman’s field days.”

Cortland people came out in droves. Brockway was the premiere manufacturing plant in the area — “Cream of the crop in Cortland,” Nadge said. “Here’s a picture on Main Street. These gentlemen were promised by Brockway Truck Company, if they brought the truck to Cortland, they would give them a new chassis. These gentlemen thought it would take two, three months to get to Cortland. It took two years.”

Nadge, a volunteer tour guide at the CNY Living History Museum in Cortlandville, was telling the story next to the 1925 Brockway fire truck, which was signed by people in Utica, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, New York City, from all the towns in several countries.

The museum, located on Route 11, is spacious and open, looking at its eighth year, with hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. There is a fee to get in. People can safely distance. Wear a mask, get a temperature check and give contact information for covid.

BACK TO BOCA & CORTLAND

“This truck traveled 17,000 miles,” Nadge said.

“Here’s the reason why,” Nadge said, pointing to black and white photos next to the truck. “They had to build a raft to come across a swollen river,” he said.

The truck would break down in villages and people would help the men. A tire would blow. It would need oil.

“People through South America, up through Mexico and the United States would help them to get them here in one piece.”

People fed them, gave them housing, bought them tires. Once they hit Cortland, it was a big to-do of three days of ceremony, Nadge said.

In the end, the men donated the truck to the Cortland Fire Department and Brockway shipped them a chassis by boat to Boca. The men returned via airplane.

And the truck sat in the city of Cortland’s Armory until it was loaned to the Brockway Truck Museum for like, 100 years, Nadge said.

“This truck, why I think it’s one of the mainstays of the Brockway Truck Preservation Association, it still runs. You can still drive it.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Cortland threw a parade for Argentinean firefighters when they appeared in 1960, after driving their truck to Cortland for a repair. Seen in a photo at the CNY Living History Museum.


Monsters in the Museum

Oct. 31, CNY Living History Museum, Route 11, Cortlandville. Call to reserve at 607-299-4185. See cnylivinghistory.org to find out more. Wear a mask. Covid-19 safety measures in place at spacious museum.


TRUCKS ON LOAN

The museum owns several Brockways, but Brockway truck owners from all across the country, and Canada, lend the museum their truck for a year to display, so every year, there is a new show of trucks.

On display now is a 1947 Brockway donated by the Cortland County Highway Department.

This is especially exciting to Nadge: It has a chassis made by Brockway, metal hood and other parts made by Championship Sheet Metal of Cortland and wood rack, tool box and interior made by Robinson Wood Shop of Cortland. It’s got a new version of the rack and tool box, made exactly like the original, said Nadge, who worked at Saulsbury Fire Truck factory, where he made, restored and sold fire trucks for 30 years.

The highway department truck was restored by the museum’s volunteers, who during the Covid-19 pandemic of the last seven months, are 25 in number. Non Covid, there’s double the amount, Nadge said.

Only Cindy Stoker, executive director of the CNY Living History Museum, is paid at the museum.

“Most of our volunteers are my age, 80, or mid to high 70,” said Nadge. “We have a few members who are college age … A lot of our older people are concerned. I am too. But we have to keep going.”

Stoker said the museum could shut down temporarily due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s orders, if coronavirus rears its head. But it will keep operating past this epidemic, she said.

Nadge said when Brockway went out of business in the mid 70s, it didn’t just affect its employees. Championship Sheet Metal went out of business. on’s Upholstery on Grant Street went out of business. Robinson went down for a while, but resurfaced, Nadge said. “Half the bars and restaurants in Cortland closed.”

“Brockway was one of the best employers this city saw and will ever see.”

The approximate 250 members of the Brockway Truck Preservation Association pays dues to the museum, $40 a year, that help it stay in business.

HISTORIAN KNOWS THE DEAL

Anita Wright of Cortland said the Brockway Truck museum is beyond compare.

The Cortland woman, a retired research associate at the Cortland County Historical Society for 37 years, was a volunteer for about five years at the CNY Living History Center, up until Covid.

“I would love to go there. Cov d is keeping me from going out in public too much.”

While Nadge says people don’t know about the collection, Stoker says the vast majority of Cortland County haven’t been there. Wright knows why.

People don’t visit their local museums because they figure they can go there any time.

“You will spend $100s of dollars to go to New York City, to see the Statue of Liberty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see a baseball game.”

But if you live in Cortland County, you figure you can go to the CNY Living History Center, say, any time.

“You just don’t,” said Wright. “You don’t see what’s in your back yard.”

But museums are the way people get to know their community, she said. “It brings you the past, and the present and the future of what a community is like,” she said.

‘SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE’

“There really is something for everyone,” said Meghan Lawton, director of the Cortland County Convention and isitor’s Bureau. “My favorite thing there is actually the old clock from the Clocktower. I was going to SUNY Cortland when the fire happened (April, 2006). I grew up here and remember seeing the clock in the building.”

The huge clock that graced the former Clocktower at Main and Tompkins streets has been restored and sits in the museum, ticking away.

Lawton remembers being “dragged” to Gettsyburg on a family vacation in the third grade. Two days on the battlefield of the Civil War and visits to museums there gave her a respect for history. She says the Homeville Museum is so rich in Civil War memorabilia.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Jim Nadge of Homer and the 1925 Brockway truck Argentineans drove to Cortland to get a new chassis from Brockway Truck Company.


If you go

What: CNY Living History Museum

Where: Route 11, Cortlandville

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Why: Brockway Truck Museum, Homeville Museum, Tractors of Yesteryear

Covid-19: Mask, temperature checks, give contact info.


HOMEVILLE MUSEUM

Nadge showed off one display in the Homeville Museum that is special. He gave his nephew a tour there. Afterward, the nephew said he had a great grandfather in the Civil War. He wanted to donate a bayonet with scabbard, a belt with U.S. buckle, cartridge box and more to the museum. His great grandfather, George Fredenburg, and his brother, avid, lived in Marathon and the two served, and survived, the Civil War from 1862 to 1865, in the 5th Artillery Regiment in New York. And copies of their military papers were donated as well.

“This is special to me. This is a relation down through the years … It’s unreal and extremely rare that anyone donates an original weapon that was used from the Civil War era, said Nadge.

The Homeville Museum has one of the best Civil War collections in New York State, he said.

Stoker said there is over 10,000 pieces in that section, stemming from the late Ken Eaton’s war memorabilia and other historic items donated by his Homer family, alone.

Stoker estimates some 20,000 items are among all three museums.

Wright said she can’t possibly pinpoint one favorite object at the CNY Living History Museum.

“There is something there for every human being.. The Homeville Museum has Civil War, military, railroad items and there is something there for little kids, the model trains Ken Eaton used to enjoy. And if you are a farmer in this community … you will want to see Tractors of Yesteryear … You not only have tractors but Grandmother’s Kitchen. Back in the early 1900s, you worked on a wood stove, not on a coal or gas stove … You listened to music on a gramophone …. I love that its there, and people should see it,” said Wright.