Amsterdam’s Walter Elwood Museum (named after the schoolteacher who started it) deserves better than the fate that has befallen it the last few years — namely, dispossession and destruction. It deserves a permanent home of its own that will allow it to show off its existing, quality collection, and to grow. It now appears to have found that place in the old Bigelow-Sanford carpet mill complex on Church Street.
The problems began in 2008 when the school district decided to sell the museum’s longtime home, a former school on Guy Park Avenue, because it could no longer afford to maintain it. And they were exacerbated when last year’s floods devastated the museum’s temporary home, the state-owned Guy Park Manor historic site, forcing it to shut its doors and store its collection (most of which was saved, thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers) in a former auto dealership.
The old carpet mill, which the museum has signed a purchase agreement for, looks like a perfect site. Not only does it have things any museum needs — like lots of storage space, display shelves and a freight elevator — it’s located on the Chuctanunda Creek, whose waters powered gristmills, sawmills and, later, the looms that turned Amsterdam into an industrial powerhouse.
The mill, which dates from the 1800s, is a major part of the city’s rich industrial history — in fact, the museum already has artifacts from it, as well as exhibits telling the story of the mills and the Sanfords. And despite its age, it is in good shape, fixed up and taken good care of by the current occupant, the Noteworthy Company, which put it on the market earlier this year because it’s consolidating operations elsewhere in the city.
The company's owners have an appreciation for the creek, whose history encompasses Native Americans, European settlers and the Industrial Revolution. On its 25th anniversary in 1979, they published “A Pictorial Review of Amsterdam,” a 48-page booklet that begins with “The Historic Chuctanunda.” By selling the mill to the Elwood Museum, they can ensure that others, residents of Amsterdam and the entire region, have a chance to hear and appreciate the story of the creek and the city it spawned.