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Tupper museum needs renovation

On display at the Tupper Lake Heritage Museum is sheet music for “Beautiful Tupper Lake: A Song of the Adirondacks,” set up on an early 1900s pump organ that was taken from the Piercefield church before it was demolished. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — The building housing this town’s history is in need of repairs.

The Tupper Lake Heritage Museum is a free, donation-funded collection of Tupper Lake tools, toys and treasures, but the building holding it at 54 Pine St. has railing-less stairs, wiring not up to code and tripping hazards, according to village code enforcement officer Peter Edwards.

Town council members discussed the future of the museum Thursday, pitching ideas about moving the collection or restoring the building.

“It’s going to be a hard decision we’re going to have to do, I think very shortly,” town Councilman Mike Dechene said.

With a tight town budget and only $8,000 in the museum reserves, either decision will need some outside money to fund the project.

A film movie projector is among the artifacts on display in the Tupper Lake Heritage Museum. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Museum history

The museum was started by undertaker Art Richer in his brother Mike’s Stetson Road home 15 years ago, according to museum Secretary Dianne Connor. Since then, the collection of photos, logging tools and household artifacts has filled the former Azar’s Funeral Home on Water Street, as well as downstairs at the Goff Nelson Library and the Beth Joseph Synagogue.

For the past five years the collection, now curated by Fleurette Rolley, has been displayed at the old Junction fire station, a town-owned building on Pine Street that also houses the local snowmobile club’s equipment.

Last fall, during a severe rain, the basement sump pump failed, causing the subterranean floor to flood with 3 to 4 feet of water and covering nearly half of the electric panel box. Eric Shaheen drained the basement with hoses for over 24 hours and repaired the wiring, for the most part. There is still a light that does not turn on when its switch is flipped.

Water damage and temperature changes have also caused the wood-over-concrete floors in the garage to heave. Though this garage is where the snowmobile equipment is stored, not part of the actual museum, people have to walk through it to get between the bottom and top floors where the collection is housed.

The heaves cause the entire walkway to be uneven, creating serious tripping hazards.

Town Councilwoman Mary Fontana said she had received an email from the town’s insurance carrier, advising the building not be opened to the public due to the liability it poses.

There is a second outdoor staircase, but it is long and not up to code, and the indoor staircase has a stair lift chair.

Low attendance

Connor said the museum saw around 80 to 90 visitors last year, but none from Tupper Lake.

“They were all from out of town,” said Connor, a self-described “implant.”

In fact, when Dechene and town Supervisor Patti Littlefield visited to survey the damage, it was their first time seeing the collection. Dechene said both he and Littlefield were awestruck at the amount of photos, artifacts and memories stored in the small building.

Walking into the bottom floor of the museum is to step back in time and visit the home of a Tupper Laker from the 1920s, ’40s or maybe ’70s. In this personal space there are records, military uniforms and dozens of paintings of the scenic Tupper Lake landscape.

Some things you cannot find anywhere else in town any longer. A cigarette machine from P-2’s pub looms on one end of the room, ribbed Orange Crush soda bottles line the shelves, and a Santa-red Coca-Cola vending machine beckons, “Drink Coca-Cola in bottles.”

Some things look much different than they do today. Kitchen grinders sport massive gears instead of tiny motors, cash registers, looking like they weigh 100 pounds, show off dozens of punch-buttons, and a mannequin decked out in a long, brown dress, frilly blouse and even frilly-er hat from the 19th century.

Upstairs is the community history of Tupper Lake, showing off the tools, people and ideas that built the town. Rusty saws and picks for cutting through trees and ice fill the tables, and photos of construction, gatherings and everyday life show early Tupper Lakers smiling, looking stern and goofing around.

Sections are dedicated to Sunmount, the Holy Ghost Academy, the hospital and the schools, institutions that became the backbone of Tupper Lake for decades.

Large photo albums with thousands of pictures show boat races, high school shenanigans, funerals and railroad construction.

Connor said the museum relies on donations of artifacts from residents. When it moved to Pine Street, she said the collection was messy, like a garage sale. But in the years since, the 10 volunteers who run the museum have organized and displayed artifacts in a more comprehensive format.

The Tupper Lake Heritage Museum will open in July and stay open until August, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday.

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