When Ken Jones and Sandy Farah graduated from third grade and said goodbye to the one-room schoolhouse in Esperance, they never thought a half-century later they'd still be so connected to the place.
As it turns out, the building that was once home to young schoolchildren at 123 Church St. on the Esperance Village Commons now houses the Esperance Historical Museum, home to the Esperance Historical Museum and Society. Jones, a board member and the town historian, and Farah, a volunteer curator, have spent a busy week getting the place ready for a special Christmas open house Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The event is one of several activities taking place throughout the village Saturday to help commemorate Esperance's 200th anniversary.
The museum will have a number of exhibits on display, along with a small carriage house in back that holds a variety of 19th-century agricultural equipment. When you're done experiencing Esperance's fascinating history, you can go next door to the Old Stone Presbyterian Church to enjoy Christmas hymns and the organ-playing of Andrea Oliver, who also happens to be a volunteer curator at the museum.
"Our building was the original one-room schoolhouse in Esperance, built in 1878, and when it closed in 1968 it still had kids in kindergarten through third grade," said Jones. "The town historian at the time, Archie Montanye, thought it'd be a good idea to turn the place into a museum and the town allowed him to do it. But it was all volunteers who opened up the building in 1970."
And it's remained an all-volunteer operation. Farah and Oliver are the two part-time curators, and Laurel Berbach is the volunteer librarian. The museum is usually open Memorial Day through Labor Day on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm. Admission is free.
Farah, who like Jones went to the one-room schoolhouse through third grade before heading off to Schoharie, has played a big role in the museum's exhibits since getting involved again in 2012.
"Several years ago my parents died and I had to sell the house," said Farah, an Esperance native who now lives in Cohoes. "I had to clean out an eight-room house with two barns, and I told Ken to come and take what he wanted for the museum. I was spending a lot of time here cleaning up the house and he mentioned to me how they could use some volunteers at the museum. I have so many nice memories from going to school here before I got bused to Schoharie, I decided to get involved."
Farah is a retired state Department of Transportation employee, and it is she and Oliver who share the curatorial duties at the museum. Berbach, a former school librarian in the Duanesburg school district, is also retired and volunteers her time in the museum's small library, while other key museum volunteers are Karen Bruhn and Janet Fritz. And if there's some history that needs explaining, they know who to turn to.
"Ken is an amazing encyclopedia of knowledge," Farah said of Jones, who has been the town of Esperance historian since 1981. "If any one of us has a question, the response is, 'Go find Ken and ask him.' He's a very valuable person to have with the society. He's very important to us and we're so glad we have him."
Farah enjoys telling the story of the Esperance Witch, a poor woman living on the banks of the Schoharie Creek, shot by a village man named Rector sometime before 1845. For much of the rest of Esperance's history, Farah usually sends people to Jones.
"Esperance was originally part of the Ten Eyck patent and part of Schoharie, but the property that contained the village was sold to William North," said Jones. "He was the son-in-law of James Duane, the founder of Duanesburg, and he was a general during the American Revolution. He was a politician, a friend of Alexander Hamilton and he was a very powerful man in New York. He's responsible for the village springing up where it did in the 1790s."
Jones, who is semi-retired after a long career working in the purchasing department at the University at Albany, has been fascinated by Epserance history since he was a young boy.
"I grew up in Esperance and I had elderly neighbors, both farmers, who had lived here all their life," said Jones. "They would tell me stories. I listened. I always found history interesting."
Along with an exhibit on the Esperance Witch and a display about the Civil War history of some of the town's citizens, the Esperance Museum includes a wall of paintings by local artists, a history of baseball in the area and a collection of toy miniatures made by former Esperance historian Gus Lamonica.
Christmas at the Fort
The Fort Plain Museum's Christmas at the Fort will also be held Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Liaisons Plaisantes will provide Colonial-era music from 1-2 p.m., and from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. area authors will be signing books. Fort Plain Museum Chairman Norm Bollen recently published "George Washington and the Mohawk Frontier," while other authors include Jim Morrison, Jim Richmond, Sandy Nellis Lane and Heidi Sprouse.
The Pruyn House at 207 Old Niskayuna Road in Latham will hold its open house from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The house, built in 1825, will be decorated for the holidays by the Blue Creek Garden Club. The American Recorder Society's Mohawk-Hudson Chapter will provide music and mulled cider will be served.
Five facts about Esperance:
1 - The village of Esperance dates back to 1818, and the town was incorporated in 1846.
2 - William North, the son-in-law of Duanesburg founder James Duane, chose Esperance as the village's name because his daughter was taking French lessons and Esperance in French means hope.
3 - During the 19th century when stagecoach travel was the norm, travelers heading from Albany to Cherry Valley would spend the night in Esperance because it was the halfway mark. There was enough business that the small village had five hotels.
4 - The first bridge built by the state of New York was in 1793 and it carried people over the Schoharie Creek at what is now Esperance.
5 - For many visitors to Esperance, the Eastman Cheese House on Main Street was the primary attraction between 1945 and 2004, when it closed.
'Esperance Historical Museum Open House'
WHERE: Esperance Historical Museum, 123 Church St., Esperance
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: Visit www.esperancehistory.com
'Christmas at the Fort'
WHERE: Fort Plain Museum, 389 Canal St., Fort Plain
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: Visit www.fortplainmuseum.com
'Pruyn House Open House'
WHERE: Pruyn House, 207 Old Niskayuna Road, Latham
WHEN: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: Visit www.pruynhouse.org