If James Duane had his way, Duanesburg would have become the capital of New York; not Kingston, not New York City and certainly not Albany.
It didn’t work out that way, but while the western-most town in Schenectady County didn’t develop into the thriving metropolis Duane was hoping for, it has retained its rural charm and it does have a fascinating history. Thanks to the dedication of its townspeople who make up the Duanesburg Historical Society, particularly Leonard and Pat Van Buren, all that history will have a safe home inside the four walls of the brand new Duanesburg Historical Society Research and Archive Center at 450 Quaker Lane in Quaker Street.
A grand opening celebrating the new history center will be held Monday between 4 and 8 p.m., with a special dedication ceremony at 6 p.m.
“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time starting back in the 1950s,” said Pat Van Buren, who in the past has shared the title of co-president with her husband, Leonard, and is now a member of the board. “It kind of picked up some steam in 2001 when we had a board of directors that had some vision and began focusing on what had to be done. When my husband and I became co-president back then this was our vision.”
There were plenty of others who shared that vision according to Van Buren, including past president Norm Collins and his wife, Ruth.
“Ruth had deep roots in Duanesburg, so she and Norm were a real driving force behind this,” said Van Buren. “We originally were looking at older buildings that we could use, but we began realizing that with older buildings come a lot of issues.”
So, the Duanesburg Historical Society decided to erect its own building, and in 2016 a fund drive to pay for the new structure began.
“We had a very successful fund drive,” said Leonard Van Buren, who grew up in Mariaville in the northern part of the town. “We have a lot of folks behind us and many generous people in the community, and this project never would have happened without them.”
The Van Burens hope that the research center will eventually have regular hours, but for now visitors will have to make an appointment to do research.
“We have a great staff of volunteers that will make themselves available when they can, and we need to do some training about how to best care for archival material,” said Leonard Van Buren. “For now, people will have to make an appointment, but that could change as things evolve. We’re going to see how things go.”
Howard Ohlhous is the official town of Duanesburg historian, and is also treasurer of the Duanesburg Historical Society.
“The Van Buren’s strong leadership has brought us to where we are,” said Ohlhous. “As the town historian, I see myself almost as a reference librarian. I can always call on sources within our town because I don’t know all the answers. There’s a great support group that the society has that I can go to and get all the answers.”
The research center building was designed to match the appearance of two much older buildings in Duanesburg, the Abrahams House and the Hawes House, both on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The building has three floors and the third floor will not be open to the public,” said Leonard Van Buren. “The main floor will have a research room, which is the central room, and an archival room where the items and artifacts will be stored and other appropriate material. We’ll have a kitchen, a handicap-accessable bathroom, and a space to put up some exhibits.”
Van Buren said a new building was definitely a better idea than finding a historical structure.
“My wife and I have had two older houses ourselves, so we know they will keep you constantly at work,” he said. “The new building was the way to go. It’s been 18 years since we got involved, and it’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work. And now we finally have something to show for it.”
“It’s meant for research, so the plan was never meant for it to be a museum,” said Pat Van Buren. “We do have a few things to show off, but it’s more for people to come and look into their own family history or Duanesburg history.”
‘Duanesburg Historical Society’
WHAT: A grand opening of the Duanesburg Historical Research and Archive Center
WHEN: 4-8 p.m. Monday; ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 p.m.
WHERE: 450 Quaker Lane, Quaker St., Quaker Street, N.Y.
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.duanesburghistorical.com