Like a graceful, genteel old lady, Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa shimmers in the sunlight, sporting a new coat of white paint like a new white dress.
But also like that genteel lady, the museum has seen better days and is in need of a “facelift.” That overhaul will come in the form of a partnership offered by the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce that will involve the museum, the chamber and local schools.
The Brookside Museum has a long history that dates back to its construction in 1792 as a hotel. Since then, it has had many uses, including a school, a sanitarium and most recently as an apartment building.
The Saratoga County Historical Society purchased the building in 1970 and made every effort to preserve as much of the history of the building as possible, including exposing the wood floors and retaining original lead windows. The front façade of the building is original and looks like it did in 1792.
“It was in very, rough shape,” said museum Director Joy Houle.
Recently, chamber President Pete Bardunias approached the museum to form a partnership akin to the chamber’s successful effort at the Historic Lock 19 in Vischer Ferry. Eighty Shenendehowa High School students were aided by engineers from GE, Momentive and Turner Construction to design a bridge which was then built using donated materials from Curtis Lumber.
“As the home of the county’s Historical Society, this museum is a treasure which should be preserved,” Bardunias said. “The museum houses the genealogies of many early settlers to our area, so it’s natural that a new project should involve collection of more historical data as it is happening right here in Saratoga County today.”
The extent of the upgrades will depend on how much material and time is made available. The project will also include an educational component to involve students at the Ballston Spa and Shenendehowa school districts. Participating students will be asked to conduct interviews with newcomers (perhaps family members or other people they know) who have come to the region within the last few years from other countries.
“This modern-day genealogy project will complement the Museum’s original function which had collected historical information on the early inhabitants of Saratoga County and recorded the story of how they arrived here,” said Bardunias
Houle is happy with the chamber’s involvement and agreed with Bardunias about the partnership.
“It is still in the very early stages,” said Houle. “The idea is to give it a “facelift” that will attract more visitors.”
Houle said there would be no structural changes to the building. Any decision on major needs would be made by the museum’s board, but Houlse said her greatest wish would be to make the museum’s second floor wheelchair accessible.
“It’s really about improving what is already here,” she said.
Milton Supervisor Dan Lewza said he has high hopes for the project.
“I think Brookside Museum offers an educational opportunity for not only Milton residents but also for all residents in Saratoga County,” he said. “I believe that with this upgrade to the building, it will benefit and give the residents a better quality and experience of the museum. I think every resident, no matter what their disability, should have the opportunity to visit the museum.”
This initiative comes during hard times for the museum. The county’s funding towards the museum was cut in the 2013 budget, leading the museum to close for the month of January. Houle said she applied for a $400,000 matching grant last summer to the Regional Development Corporation and was turned down because of a lack of funding there. From every corner, public funding for nonprofits like Brookside is receding.
In spite of the difficulties, Houle is confident of a better future for the museum.
This building is a symbol of Saratoga County,” she said. “It represents different eras in Saratoga County and we need to look on this building as a symbol.”