Whenever the Schenectady County Historical Society blends history with the holidays, the result is almost always a resounding success.
In 2007, then curator Kathryn Weller — now at the New York State Museum —thought it would be a great idea to partner with SCHS’s neighbor in the Stockade, the YWCA of Northeastern NY, and co-host a festival of trees to serve as a fundraiser for both organizations. The idea, to put it mildly, was well received, and both groups loved the opportunity to show off their facilities.
In 2020, however, COVID-19 threatened to put an end to the event. Mary Zawacki, now executive director at the historical society, wondered if holding the festival was the proper thing to do considering the circumstances, and if they were to host an event, would the public participate in creating the Christmas trees as they have done so enthusiastically in the past. That last question has been answered, and as a result the public can take a look at what’s inside society headquarters (the Dora Jackson Home) on 32 Washington Ave. and the YWCA next door throughout the month beginning Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
“We’re thrilled to have such incredible community participation this year, and I’m astounded by the positivity and creativity that local organizations have brought to our galleries,” said Zawacki. “Community participation is the heart and soul of this event, and they’ve certainly transformed our buildings.”
It was during the summer when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced museums could be open to the public that Zawacki contacted her neighbors at the
YWCA to see what they were thinking about December 2020.
“We were allowed to be open, so we were always hopeful that we could do this,” she said. “When we talked to the YWCA they said they were all in so we decided to go ahead. We just knew that we had to be very careful about limiting how many people could be in the museum at the same time, and it’s not like it’s a huge event with a lot of people crowded inside at the same time. People are looking at an exhibition and will be spread out. People will be wearing masks and will be social distancing.”
More than 50 organizations have contributed to decorating the trees, including Albany Medical Center, Northeastern Ballet Company, Myers Ballet School, Sunmark, the Schenectady Rotary and Living Resources, as well as numerous local schools and churches.
“This comes at a time when we need all the cheer that’s out there,” said Zawacki. “Being able to safely host this annual event is something I’ve hoped for all year, and I look forward to welcoming the community through the doors, ushering them into such a festive space. And the feedback we’ve received has all been positive. I hope it brings lightness and some sense of togetherness into these dark times.”
A $6 admission fee gets visitors into both the historical society and the YWCA, while children under 12 are free. The
festival is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Dec. 30.
Ten Broeck Mansion events
At the Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany, the Albany County Historical Association will hold a series of special events on Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 5:30 p.m. beginning this Saturday and running through Dec. 20.
Along with being decorated for the holidays and offering timed tours of the facility, the mansion will also offer Sinterklaus Photo Ops and its Pop-up Porch Sale, featuring wreaths designed and made by local garden clubs and artisans.
The decision to open up the building for the Christmas season was well thought out according to ACHA Executive Director Kathyn Kosto.
“Our holiday house committee and myself have been studying this issue, keeping abreast of the latest health regulations,” said Kosto. “We reconfigured the Ten Broeck Mansion over the summer to comply with New York State health guidelines for museums, so adapting for this winter season was not such a change. We worked with local garden clubs to ensure there was plenty of room for visitors to walk safely, and we have timed tickets by reservation only, so a group of five or less is walking through at any given time.”
Some of the activity at Ten Broeck will be held outdoors.
“We have a new educational kiosk in our gardens with free kits for kids to pick up and make at home,” said Kosto. “We also have our outdoor porch sale, and our annual Sinterklaus tradition of photo ops will be held on our east porch.”
In Ballston Spa, Brookside Museum is once again hosting its annual Artisan’s Market. Home to the Saratoga County Historical Society, Brookside’s Christmas fundraiser has been running since last Saturday and will continue on Thursdays from noon-4 p.m., Fridays 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m.-4 p.m., through Dec. 24.
While the Brookside Museum has remained closed during the pandemic and the library open by appointment only, visitors will gain access to the building for this special event.
“The Artisan’s Market is a retail store subject to much more lenient rules than a museum for COVID-19,” said Jere Blackwelder, president of Brookside’s board of directors. “But all visitors will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. If they don’t come with a mask, we will provide one or they will be asked politely to leave.”
Blackwelder added that there will be no more than five visitors in the gallery area at the same time, while hand sanitizers and gloves will also be available.
Historical societies in Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie Counties will all remain closed during the holidays, but the non-profit groups are always looking for financial help, particularly this holiday season.
Websites for the local county historical societies
Here are the websites for the six county historical societies included in the Gazette’s circulation area.
— Schenectady County Historical Society (Dora Jackson Home, 32 Washington Ave. Schenectady), schenectadyhistorical.org.
— Albany County Historical Association (Ten Broeck Mansion, 9 Ten Broeck Place, Albany), tenbroeckmansion.org.
— Saratoga County Historical Society (Brookside Museum, 6 Charlton St., Ballston Spa), brooksidemuseum.org.
— Fulton County Historical Society (Kingsboro School Museum, 237 Kingsboro Ave., Gloversville): fultoncountyhistoricalsociety.org.
— Montgomery County Historical Society (Old Fort Johnson, 2 Mergner Rd., Fort Johnson), oldfortjohnson.org.
— Schoharie County Historical Society (Old Stone Fort Museum, 145 Fort Rd., Schoharie), theoldstonefort.org.
— Bill Buell