November 30, 2021

Timely connections

Historical group unveils new reading program

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Cortland County Historical Society Collections and Research Assistant Sophie Clough reads children’s story “Sophie’s Squash” to 9-year-old Micah Quinlan as part of the first episode of the society’s Time Travel read-aloud activity program. The program aims to connect children with history through stories and art activities.

Micah Quinlan, 9, drew a happy face on a small pumpkin with glitter, ready to take home her new gourd friend.

Visiting the Cortland County Historical Society read-aloud program Saturday morning, she listened to a children’s story about squashes and gourds — something her own family’s garden is filled with — but she didn’t expect to learn the history of the plants or their importance in local agriculture.

Although Quinlan was the first kid to experience the historical society’s new Time Travel read-aloud activity program, which aims to engage young readers in a great understanding of how local history fits into the bigger picture of American history, she said she hopes to come back every month.

“I really like history, we’re learning about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in school right now,” Quinlan said. Next month, she wants to bring her friends along. “I don’t know if they enjoy school that much, but they might like this.”

The Time Travel program is the first Saturday each month, featuring a children’s story and activity while the kids learn how the story connects with local history.

This month’s book was “Sophie’s Squash,” a story about a little girl named Sophie who picks out a squash at the farmers market, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice and brings it everywhere, despite her parents’ gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot.

The story ends with Sophie planting Bernice’s seeds and beginning her own squash garden.

Horticulture educator Claudia Hitt, from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, attended the Time Travel event to teach the kids about the importance of harvest in their hometown.

“When the first settlers came to America, the Native Americans were already growing squash and pumpkins and soon taught the earlier settlers how to grow them,” Hitt said. “Now, squash and pumpkins are a food crop we grow in New York State and it’s a big product in our economy and it’s great to feed people and animals, too.”

The November episode of the Time Travel program will take a closer look at Native American history and animal origin stories, featuring arts and crafts activities to make landscape collages with wild animals. In December, the historical society hopes to have gathered stories from residents about their favorite memories growing up in Cortland County.

“It’s about understanding your family better — your parents, your grandparents,” said Susan Weitz, organizer of the program. “We don’t actually have much interaction with the past, and we’re losing out on great stories and an understanding that where we are right now is because of our family. That’s the reason for this program.”

“There are so many cool things that have happened here in the past and continue to happen,” said historical society Director Tabitha Scoville.

Scoville hopes that as kids learn about their family history and the history of Cortland County, they’ll want to stay in the area rather than move away.

“It’s more than just family ties, but it’s all the connections made between family, friends, businesses and just the everyday things that improve your life, that makes you proud to live here,” she said.