2019 MANY Conference Series Episode 1

Episode 125

podcast photo thumbnail
We recently attended the 2019 Museum Association of New York annual conference and spoke with attendees from all over New York State representing all types of museums and cultural institutions. I talked with folks from 21 different museums and cultural institutions about how they are creating inclusive environments, attracting new audiences and fitting within the tourism fabric of their community. We used these great insights to create another Museum Series (see last year’s series here) with five episodes filled with knowledge. Through this series, I hope you will find a new perspective on this important segment of the tourism industry. In this episode, I share my conversations with:

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How and why the Russian History Museum came to be found in the unlikely setting of Jordanville, NY, and what valuable cultural purpose it serves
  • How the Phelps Mansion, built in 1870 in Binghamton, NY, was established as a museum in 2005 in an effort to preserve the last home of its kind on what was at one time referred to as “Mansion Row”
  • Why Don Papson and his wife founded the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm, NY to honor and preserve the history of the Underground Railroads after a chance conversation in a grocery store
  • How the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron, NY is helping preserve and promote the important historic and economic impact of the New York State canals

The Russian History Museum

Michael Perekrestov discusses the 1930 founding of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, by religious and political refugees from the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution. Michael explains why the Monastery became a center of Russian history and culture within the United States, and he shares how the Russian History Museum came about in an effort to preserve the wealth of Russian artifacts that were kept at the Monastery. He explains how the museum is working to raise awareness and shares the initiatives the museum is taking to expand their audience through partnerships with other museums nationally and internationally. He outlines the opportunities he sees for the museum to engage with the local tourism industry in a mutually beneficial way, and he shares his plans for the future of the museum, including efforts to utilize social media as a way to bring the museum to a “virtual audience” all over the world.

The Phelps Mansion Museum

Toby Manker shares the unique history of the Phelps Mansion in Binghamton, New York, and discusses the challenge and opportunity of turning a relatively small home into a thriving museum. Toby discusses how population and income decline in Binghamton have been an obstacle in bringing in new visitors, and she shares how a wide variety of program offerings has helped work around this problem. She expresses her views on inclusivity and shares how the museum has been able to accomplish a lot on a small budget and with a staff of two. She discusses audience outreach initiatives and talks about how the museum’s primary audience is out-of-town visitors brought to the museum by way of TripAdvisor, and she shares how the museum interacts with the Path Through History Weekend to connect to other tourism drivers. Toby discusses working with university students and partnering with the university’s music department.

The North Star Underground Railroad Museum

Don Papson discusses the founding of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm, New York, after a chance conversation in a grocery store. He shares why he believes in preserving the history of the Underground Railroad, and he discusses the importance of having a diverse organization. He shares the profound story of a six-year-old visitor from a biracial family who was deeply appreciative of her visit to the museum. He discusses the untold history of the Chinese Underground Railroad and the work his museum has done to create an exhibit telling the forgotten story and its historical significance. He shares how the historical context of the Underground Railroads is echoed in the divisive political climate of today. Don discusses the efforts his museum is taking to promote itself and reach out to young people, and he shares how the museum is coordinating efforts with the local tourism industry for cross-promotion.

The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park

Mary Riley discusses the unique partnership with the state that is supporting the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron, New York, and she shares the park’s mission to help educate visitors and preserve the vital history of the Old Erie Canal and other canals throughout New York. She discusses the pilot program the park is involved in to demonstrate how states can work directly with historic sites. Mary shares how the park promotes inclusivity through making their sites handicap-accessible, designating the park as dog-friendly and providing treats and water for canine visitors, offering printed guide books for hearing-impaired people who are unable to take the audio tour and providing wheelchair-accessible picnic tables for visitors. Mary shares how roadside visitors account for many of their first-time guests, and she discusses working with local tourism destinations to be an addition to visitors’ trips. She discusses future opportunities for growth and expansion of the park.


Through each of these interviews, a common theme has been the importance of inclusivity efforts and outreach programs as a way to bring the message of these museums and historical sites to as many people as possible. For smaller or more out-of-the-way locations, social media and the internet can be an especially valuable way to get the word out. Likewise, partnerships with other destinations and local tourism hotspots can help generate new visitors and bring in new audiences. These four unique organizations have truly demonstrated that when travel and tourism destinations work together, everyone benefits.


Speaker 1: 00:00:22 Hello listeners, welcome to another episode of destination on the left. I am passionate about travel and tourism and love talking to professionals in the industry. That is why I’m so excited to share today’s special episode from our museum series with you. We recently attended the 2019 Museum Association of New York’s annual conference and spoke with attendees from all over New York state representing all types of museums and cultural institutions. I talked with folks from 21 different museums and cultural attractions about how they are creating inclusive environments, attracting new audiences and fitting within the tourism fabric of their community. Through this series, I hope you will find new perspective on this important segment of the tourism industry. Let’s dive into this week’s episode and my conversations with Michael Para Crusta, executive director of the Russian History Museum, Toby Moncur, executive director of the Phelps Mansion Museum, done pepsin co founder and past president of the North Star underground railroad museum and Mary Riley, park manager of Port Byron, old Erie Canal Heritage Park. We will start with Michael. Let’s listen in.

Speaker 3: 00:01:32 Thank you for joining me. Michael, could you tell me a little bit about your organization? So the way I’d like to introduce my organization is by taking a little drive. So let’s get into a car and we are driving in upstate New York and we’re driving through beautiful, let’s call it cal country because there’s lots of cows in the pasture, there’s barns, there’s silos, rolling hills, beautiful scenery, and all of a sudden you’re rounding a corner and you see this exotic architecture that’s popping up. It’s a beautiful church and bell tower with gold domes. And for a moment there, you’re doing a double take because you don’t, you were just driving through central New York, and now all of a sudden you’re in Russia. And the site that we have just arrived at his holy Trinity Monastery in Jordan from New York. Um, this monastery was founded in 1930 by people who came in the beginning of the 20th century, after the revolution, the Russian revolution and the Second World War.

Speaker 3: 00:02:40 And they founded this monastery as a place where they could practice their religion in peace of fleeing, religious and political persecution, the Soviet Union. And, uh, with time, this monastery became not only a spiritual center for the Russian diaspora, for those people who settled in the United, um, but also a cultural and historical center. And, um, people who had come out of Russia during the 20th century began to see the Montessori as a place where they could safely preserve items that they had to taken out of Russia with care because these items were being destroyed by the Bolsheviks, by the communists. So with time, um, there was an idea to create a museum, um, uh, about Russian history, about the Russian immigrant experience. And this is where the Russian history museum comes in. So the museum itself, um, officially was opened in the 1980s, but it’s only in 2014 that we opened really to the public on a regular basis and opened up the museum, uh, to the general public on a, uh, six days a week where people can actually go and just see the museums. So we’re really excited about this opportunity to share this wealth of, um, this, this gem of a museum, this gem of a collection and fantastic material, um, that is in Jordan Ville, New York of all places.

Speaker 4: 00:04:08 It sounds amazing and I love how you told that story of, you know, what, what you see cresting over those farms as you turned the corner. And I think that sounds really, really awesome and, and we’ll definitely have to get there. Um, so Michael, can you tell me a little bit about how your creating inclusive environments in the museum?

Speaker 3: 00:04:26 Sure. Initially the museum was created more for the community that was at the monastery and for those people who would come to the monastery to visit, and that was a very small segment of the population, there wasn’t really an outward reach to bring people in from the outside. So that’s what we’ve been really focusing on in general with the museum. So first of all, making it accessible and opening it up to people and having regular open hours is a huge step in that direction. So there are various audiences I think that we are trying to reach out to in order to make it more inclusive and to make the museum more accessible and to share these collections. So first of all, I would mention that original community, which uh, of Russian emigres or their descendants simply by telling them about the museum, uh, is very important because many people know about the monastery but they don’t even know about the existence of the museum.

Speaker 3: 00:05:24 The second group that I would like to mention is our local population here outside of the monastery community. People who have lived here for 40, 50 years and are within five miles of, uh, of the museum, don’t know about its existence. So, and Teres in recent years, we’ve made a push to advertise to the local so that they know about the museum. They come visit and they are aware of this fantastic resource that’s right in their backyard. Um, the other audience that I would like to point out is, um, an international, national and international audience. So one of the things that we do is lend pieces to other museums and we’ve been doing that actively over the past few years because we are located in something of a remote area. Uh, we try to as much as possible share our collections with broader audiences and with people who don’t have an opportunity to come to Jordan, Bill.

Speaker 3: 00:06:27 Um, it’s a bit out of the way. So we’ve had pieces on display in Minneapolis, uh, in Washington DC, in central Massachusetts. So we have these partnerships and with other museums and lend pieces to them so that their constituencies, their audiences have a chance to see these items that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience. Uh, we also work with internationally with international museums. So over the past two years I’ve traveled to Frankfurt in Germany. I’ve traveled to Moscow and London in England just for the purpose of, um, bringing objects to venues in those areas. So ironically, even though we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, people in London and Moscow and Frankford know about us, and that was part of the reason why I want, I want it to include the local population because people in London know about us, but people in Richfield springs or Herkimer don’t. Um, and then the last group is, um, shall we call them a virtual audience, um, on people on social media. We’ve really ramped up our social media presence. Uh, we have a Facebook page and Instagram and I hope we can develop that. So we have people who are interested in, in our collections who are in South America or Australia or Europe. Um, all over the place. So we are able to provide access to our collections virtually through social media. That’s amazing.

Speaker 4: 00:07:57 Um, I think that’s just fantastic how you’ve thought through all of these different audiences that you’re, that you’re reaching too. And I’m curious about the local population or are there things that you’re doing there? I would imagine living there locally, you can’t help but see this beautiful architecture right in town. And what kinds of things are you doing to kind of stir interest?

Speaker 3: 00:08:18 We want to make sure that it’s not a place that you drive by and, and um, just drop your jaw in awe and then just, you know, move past because it’s so exotic and so for beating in, in many ways, um, we want it to be a destination. We want people to stop and actually explore with the Montessori and the museum has to offer. So in order to make that possible, we have been organizing events, so mainly lectures, the lecture series associated with exhibitions that we have going on. So this way people have a reason to stop and come in and explore the entire campus and to explore the museum’s so they don’t feel like they’re intruding in any way because the Montessori is still an active monastic community. And I think that just the uniqueness of the architecture and just the fact that it’s so different from what the average American experiences on a daily basis can be a bit off putting. And A, and providing those instances, those, this opportunities to invite people in is a crucial part of how we bring people into the museum.

Speaker 4: 00:09:26 Yeah, that’s really great point in, in events are a really great way to bring people in, right. To give them that reason to stop in. So Michael, I’m wondering, um, as you’re, you know, evolving this museum and really getting the word out, how do you think about the museum and how it fits in the tourism fabric for your community?

Speaker 3: 00:09:46 To be quite honest, we’re not very much a part of the tourist industry in the, in these parts. And that I think is a huge opportunity for us because we’re located within 18 miles of Cooperstown, which of course as you know, is a huge tourist destination with the beast, all of theme with some wonderful museums in this area with the Glimmerglass opera. And so that’s an opportunity that we haven’t really exploited to the fullest extent. And so I’m really excited about having this opportunity to engage with organizations in this area with a local area businesses and getting that a crucial word of mouth marketing so that people drive that extra 25 minutes to Jordan Ville and see the museum. Because if they’ve driven from Boston or Washington DC or whatever, you know, another 15, 20 minutes is not going to be that much of a, of a hike for them. So just raising awareness is, is very important. And, uh, I would hope that this summer we’re going to make a much more concerted effort to reach those audiences that are going to be coming here during the warmer months.

Speaker 4: 00:10:53 Yes. That’s really great. Uh, and I love that you point out like your proximity to other, you know, attractions and where they’re already our visitors coming. And, and certainly those partnerships will definitely help when you’re trying to reach into those visiting our markets. So, Michael, um, our last question for, for this conversation, when you think about the next three to five years, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for your organization?

Speaker 3: 00:11:19 I think the opportunities are limitless. There’s just, I’m very excited about what the next few years are going to bring because we are kind of just starting out and, uh, with social media there’s so many opportunities. I think that’s one of the things that I am excited about because, um, until recently I’ve thought of social media as kind of just an obligatory thing that you do because you have to nowadays. But, um, recently my outlook has changed and I think that can be really a powerful tool to reach out to people because again, of our, the remoteness of our location, uh, it’s sometimes a challenge for people to come here or visit on a regular basis. So if we’re sharing our collections virtually and there’s just so much to share, um, we can really reach audiences on a daily basis. Uh, people can interact with us anytime of day and I have the privilege of working in this fantastic museum and encountering materials that are just amazing and I want to share that story with people right away and having that immediacy of just pulling out your smartphone, taking a photo and posting it to Instagram or Facebook, um, is, is a perfect way to do that because you don’t have to have a special exhibition that you’re going to be waiting for you in order to display those materials.

Speaker 3: 00:12:38 They might be in your storage area, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share them right away with people. Um, I’m excited about other opportunities like Facebook live or doing something with video or podcasting or youtube, um, opportunities like that to really engage with our audiences. And there hasn’t been a fantastic response. Um, since, uh, since January of this year, we’ve grown our audience by about 50% just by having daily posts and we’d be pushing the message out there and making that a crucial part of what we do. Uh, so social media is one thing. The other opportunities, thinking about again, how we can be become part of this tour, uh, tourist fabric of a, of our area and how to leverage the unique qualities of our museum and of our location. Um, it’s not everyday that you experience to a Russian Orthodox monastery and see totally something totally out of the ordinary and something that’s definitely going to leave a mark if you come, come and visit.

Speaker 3: 00:13:38 So how do we bring people in? How do we work with area partners to collaborate on various projects, to raise awareness and to bring people in. I think that’s, that’s a huge part of, um, what we, I’m looking forward to do. Uh, and the, the last thing would be exhibitions. We have so many interesting materials and having a revolving, having temporary exhibitions, um, is going to be a big part of drawing people to the museum. And getting them back again, visiting them, having them visit again, getting that again, crucial word of mouth marketing that we want. Just a side note, I’ve noticed we started tracking how people find out about the museum and I, I’d say 80% is word of mouth. So you want people to tell their friends, oh, there’s this wonderful and strange place with fantastic things that belonged to czars, um, in Jordan for the New York of all places.

Speaker 3: 00:14:37 So you don’t have to travel to Moscow, Saint Petersburg to see things that belonged to Tsar Nicholas the second. So, so these temporary exhibitions will get people coming if they come to Cooperstown on a regular basis every year, let’s say, they’ll make that side shipped to join to see that new exhibition that we have going on. So for instance, this year, uh, we, um, we have kind of like a semi permanent exhibitions since 2014 until last year. So of course we had attendance dwindling because people have had already seen it and they didn’t really want to come back. If there’s nothing new to see. Uh, the most recent exhibition, which opened in July of last year is about, it’s called last days of the last star. And it’s about, um, the final days of Tsar Nicholas, the second and his family who were murdered in 1918 in, in Siberia. And our collection, we have probably one of the most comprehensive groups of items that were collected, um, that belonged to the imperial family.

Speaker 3: 00:15:39 And that was collected at the site of their murder. And it ended up here, uh, you know, through a very searching futurists route and other collections, private collections have contributed items that were also belonged to czar Nicholas and his family. And so this is a really compelling exhibition people have found about it and come from Rhode Island, from Washington DC, from, um, Toronto, you know, made that drive. So if we can leverage of these collections and, and provide really engaging exhibitions, that’s something that I’m sure we’ll get people, uh, to, to, to come for the first time and we’ll, they’ll keep coming.

Speaker 4: 00:16:18 Absolutely. Well, that is a fantastic, and that’s a great, great vision. I love how you talked about, um, you know, social media being important for you, a tourism and, and these, uh, these very unique exhibitions. And I think that it all ties together really because you have such a unique story to tell, really unique content to share, you know, um, objects and things to share. So we’ll look forward to following you and hearing how it goes.

Speaker 3: 00:16:46 Thank you. And I look forward to some pointers. Maybe you can provide some advice.

Speaker 4: 00:16:51 Okay, one more comment. Thanks. I’m like, oh, great. It was very good.

Speaker 1: 00:16:56 What a great conversation with Michael. I really loved how Michael talked about extending the reach of the museum to a virtual audience through social media. Now let’s listen in on the conversation with Toby.

Speaker 5: 00:17:07 Tommy, thank you for joining me. Can you tell us a little bit about your organization? Yes. Oh yes. Um, we’re a very small historic house museum. We’re rather new in the museum field because we just became a museum in 2005. Before that we were private ladies club, but our house was built in 1874 prominent businessmen in the Binghamton. So it’s fairly local, but it’s also designed by the architect Isaac Perry, who’s done a lot of buildings throughout the state of New York and Pennsylvania and other places. It’s an integral part, I think of the local history of Binghamton, improved count. So, um, it’s been a long haul. It isn’t easy to turn a house, which is quite elegant and beautiful, but not particularly large into a thriving historic house museum. That’s where we are. I can imagine. Well that sounds like a great, like a wonderful project and for the community.

Speaker 5: 00:18:17 Yes. And um, I looked for NC right. Hearing a little bit more. Um, so when you’re thinking about your museum, how are you creating inclusive environments there? Well, I had to think about that quite a bit. Not being in a big city, helping an area, being in an area where people have generally been there for generations and people coming in because we lost our major industries like IBM, General Electric. It was the home of IBM, that area. So we’ve suffered a decline in population and also an income. So people are not moving there in droves to find work or anything. Uh, so we’re dealing with the populations that we’re generally there. Uh, early on, Italians came to work in the shoe factory and lots of Polish people in came to work there and settled around the, around the early 19 hundreds. So they’ve been assimilated bridgewell too.

Speaker 5: 00:19:26 I’m trying to say the, to think about working a real inclusive thing. It’s kind of already been done. You can’t tell what one person says, whether it’s a pretty homogeneous sort of worker. Um, but I will say I’ve thought about this and like we do not discriminate that I can say for sure, which sounds like just a capo, but our programs have enough variety to appeal to all kinds of love as a people in the community. So we have a classical music series of research and a lot of the older population that’s been there for a long time. We have first Friday events where we invite, usually we have artists display or we have a newsletter teachers, they do their recital stare, so they bring in various people. So I think that we, um, they reach different levels and different types and there’s only two of us as staff.

Speaker 5: 00:20:45 And I, I have to commend the person is my partner, um, because he’s in charge of the volunteers and he’s kind and works with everybody. We’ve had young people who have handicapped in various ways, autistic and whatever. We find little tasks for them. I don’t know if that explains it well actually I think it really doesn’t, and I like how you pointed out that through your programming and your events is one way that you accomplish this. Um, but I also really like about this question is it makes us think about it, right? I did like the question for the men and I said to myself, what would I say? Do we discriminate? I really think we don’t and would not. Um, and I don’t like to single out and populations that we might, but it’s probably because we’re so busy doing programming that would appeal to nearly everyone that maybe we’ve overlooked something.

Speaker 5: 00:21:48 But it is, I thought about this about yesterday when I attended the session. Inclusiveness. It’s hugely important. Absolutely. Yeah. I thought that session was, um, was really thought provoking and engaging. Yes. Lots of them. I think a lot of us with these questions and I said, you know, we’re so small, it might not be sensible for me to go and talk about these things. Uh, because I heard museums yesterday talking about, you know, the things they do and they have massive amounts of money on our budget is like less than 150,000. You know, we do it a lot with volunteers. Do a lot with when you do big things with what we do. Yeah, we’ll let them, we do a lot of trouble breathing. I’m very proud of that. But, and I’m also concerned that we never reached that over $150 of level, but we also had a history of being an exclusive ladies or for a few years, I think was a branding handicap.

Speaker 5: 00:22:57 And so that exclusive nature hung on. And so I guess that’s probably factors in to that. Right. So, um, you’ve talked about this a little bit already, but can you talk a little bit about how you’re attracting new audiences? I think that’s a perfect kind of segue into thinking about how you’re reaching audiences. Yes, of course. I’ve already answered that in some way. It’s in our programming and we charged for some things. Some things are free. We have different levels. We also have school tours, um, major audience Audley that we attract for tours of our house on historic tours are from out of town. We’re at the primary destination on TripAdvisor and we give about an hour tour and people who are passing through stuff. That’s about, I say that’s over 90% of our tours and maybe I was straight already from your question. No, not at all.

Speaker 5: 00:24:08 It’s perfect. I think TripAdvisor is, that’s a really great example of the power of TripAdvisor and Oh, we learned that rather quickly. All since you know, at first of course, because you see people would come to our events and they say things are local. People would say, we didn’t even know you could come in here, which was a very heartbreaking, but they couldn’t for a hundred years unless they were a member or friend of a member. And so that took a little while, but then we stuck, we got onto the trip advisor thing and we played it and we gave them little cards and said if you would. And so we enjoy giving them choice. They are generally, they come from everywhere. We thought a map where we put on little pins on. Oh, that’s fun, isn’t it? It’s terrific. Yeah. So that actually does lead into a little bit about how your museum fits into the tourism fabric and your community because you are getting so many visitors.

Speaker 5: 00:25:12 Well, or they do it that way through TripAdvisor. The only other thing I can say we do, we do participate in the past, their history weekend and we were small. We’re not, you know, you can talk thought that was yesterday when we heard about all those big destinations and like the baseball hall of fame, we’re never going to be dead. So we capitalize with doing what we can. We always have something special for that day, for the path through history, weekends during the year. And that’s about all we’re able to concentrate on to be truthful. As far as the tourism. Yeah. Well that path through history weekend though, it does give you a really good, it does no way to connect with touring them and to get some of that free promotion from the stadium always had speakers, you know, um, from the local preservation society and from other things. And we had the thing up in university student doing a history of some of the things. So know we try to have something as special as we can and you, you can’t tell what your audience is going to be because it is still a kind of dropping. Yeah.

Speaker 5: 00:26:31 So I, Toby, when you’re thinking about the next three to five years for your museum, when do you think the biggest opportunity is for, for you? Well, it may sound repetitious. Um, because of the decline in population, the only population that we really haven’t reached I think as much as we could is the university because we were a little late and coming in museums, some are, you know, some places already have an intern program and we have, we have Robertson Museum there. It’s a much larger museum with a lot more facility. Um, we have already been attracting as tour guides. A large number of units are small.

Speaker 5: 00:27:24 It’s a small number of people, but we have, uh, we have several history majors, graduate students who serve as tour guides, which was very helpful and they’re very knowledgeable. Uh, let me see if I can think about this. Um, we have a phd candidate on our board and one of the vice presidents of the university, which is the first time we ended to make that kind of connection. Finding board members for us. It’s not necessarily easy, not a co, not really effective board members connections. And then, um, let’s see. Along that same line, we partner with the university music department, our mission statement, the reason we’re busy and also has, um, something that was a carry over from the early days of the Monday afternoon club. It was the woman formed it as a kind of learning experience if he’s scoring before 1900. So, uh, they had programs in music, mostly classical, there, speakers that were quite famous come through and they did programs in the arts and they themselves would be presenting programs about really pretty educational subjects.

Speaker 5: 00:28:52 So our charter, uh, tells us names us as we are to do programs in music history and the arts, which makes it humanities in my mind. So we sort of tailor our program that direction. That’s great. And uh, it isn’t just the weekend show the history of our house and give tours just about that. We can also do that because we have on in 1905, the women built on what we now call our ballroom, but she’s our only performance space. It’s perfect for performances. So we use that. That’s wonderful. Um, I love how you’re talking about these connections and partnerships within the community and specifically with university. I think that’s really, um, great example of, you know, being part of the community and reaching out and um, well the university has a expanded a lot of housing to downtown thing that may be a trend in my opinion, that might be overdone, every vacant space.

Speaker 5: 00:29:59 But he just buying and making money from students. But we’re close to downtown and that’s a godsend for us because they didn’t often travel from campus just to go to someplace like I was off place. But it has helped. And I do think, um, but along with them we’ve partnered with some theater groups. We have a kind of innovative theater group that formed itself. It’s called southern tier actors read and they do plays that I only read, but they’re fine actors. So they do a great job. We don’t have to set up big sets and things that we draw a pretty good audience for those. And we’ve had some small theater groups. I’m kind of working on a subset of music. Things that, um, are, are classical music programs. A lot of the performance come from outside, but many have local connections and they’re professional musicians.

Speaker 5: 00:31:01 Um, I’m just amazed at the roster of people that we can get who are actually professional performers. We have a tenor who’s coming, who’s been doing opera in Europe and he’s won lots of competitions, but he was born in Bingington, so he has connections there. Uh, so we do the, and that’s a level that’s probably our highest level that we paid more for. But then there’s a lot of local musicians who, uh, we don’t get into a lot of contemporary stuff that maybe a failing, but right now of being an has had a filler monic orchestra and an opera company and they’re both kind of struggling because of the economy. So I try to, I think we’re trying to partner more with what they’re doing. Uh, and there are ways to do that, surprisingly. And so that’s another thing I think we’re building on at the moment.

Speaker 5: 00:32:01 Well that’s, I actually love this work. I love programming. I should not be executive director. I should be right here. But you know, I’m hired, I was hired as an intro, but they sort of kept me on and they have not really searched and it’s not, I love the organization. I was a public school teacher. I taught high school, but I also realize I would have loved museum board. So this is quite unhappy with it and actually proud of the organization. And I think it’s a beautiful house with saving. And share it. No, that’s excellent.

Speaker 4: 00:32:40 Thank you so much Toby, for sharing with us today. Thank you.

Speaker 1: 00:32:44 So interesting how TripAdvisor is really having an impact on the Phelps Mansion, a museum. She’ll be offered. Great insights. Let’s listen in on my conversation with Don and the story of the northstar underground railroad.

Speaker 4: 00:32:57 Dan, thank you for joining me today. Can you tell us a little bit about your work?

Speaker 6: 00:33:01 They Huntley, underground railroad, historical associates, and then the association works, the North Star underground railroad museum, also her, which was just north of [inaudible].

Speaker 4: 00:33:22 Wonderful. And you said that you and your wife, uh, founded the museum. Went, when did it start?

Speaker 6: 00:33:29 I rather doing research on 2000 number one cause of liberty on run into somebody in the store was on the organizing committee for the commemoration. Forgot little plastic black men in the battle. And the second no definitive no. So I’d been at the store or a history major in college and decided to start doing some research and I found there was a lot of African American history in order. Oreo, nobody was doing anything about it. So, um, I was amazed of what are uncovered. And then, um, we got her involved in the integration of the battle of Plattsburgh, small shirt up in American soldier and a sailor or done partner, my research to involvement of two African American men. And we heard that the governor Pataki was interested in preserving the history of the underground railroad. And I got involved in that because I found that there was slavery in Plattsburgh or at the time of the worksheets in quality and then just developed into a lot of research which continues now and the Mr Governor Brown road.

Speaker 4: 00:34:48 That’s fabulous. And I love how your organization’s started from a quick conversation at the grocery store. That’s amazing. Well, I think you’ll be a natural for answering this next question then, because, um, you know, at this conferences, you know, inclusivity is one of the themes that we’ve been talking about. And so we’re wondering, how are you creating inclusive environments within your organization?

Speaker 6: 00:35:13 Well, it’s kind of interesting because I thought about those during the night and I realized that from the very offset, we’ve been inclusive, um, South African American. And so from the very beginning or board was composed of white and black Americans and our current president as it was African American. And so the composition of our organization from the very beginning wasn’t inclusive. The fact that we, have you ever seen him? The promises on the underground railroad means that we’re, no, we’re dealing with a history that affected Oh, white on black Americans. Just two days ago, we were shared a wonderful story by grandmother, what was her friend of hers. And she, uh, sent to my wife. She said, you know what, I was thinking about writing to your, um, about something that happened and I just never got around to it. But I have biracial Randolph and when she was three years old, she was touching her father’s hand and her mother’s hand.

Speaker 6: 00:36:30 And she notices that they weren’t out the sound. And she wanted to know why I’m saw days explained biracial racial families. Three years later when she was six years old, my mother brought her to our museum and she was so excited and she said to her grandmother, they look just like me. And before they left to go home, she asked her grandmother, when we come back, can we go back to the museum? And I realized that this was a six year old child at our Museum of Dr Bergey. Please. Uh, we had one woman who was in Vermont in Burlington and she hurts, somebody mentioned art museum, African American woman. And she made a point of coming across lake Champlain with isn’t Romeo Romeo’s African American. Those hitters are amazed that there is such a place as ours in the north country because no other museum is telling.

Speaker 4: 00:37:36 That’s beautiful. That’s a beautiful story actually. And I think a really good example of, um, you know, how, how you can touch people and also that whole idea of being inclusive and showing, you know, that type of a history. Yeah.

Speaker 6: 00:37:51 Well the check into the, uh, to another stop also. And that is that, um, in my research on the history of the underground railroad that African American people, I have found articles about the Chinese on the ground railroad. Hmm. Well, I didn’t really research it. I learned a couple of years ago where they don’t, our were those a day in the Essex County historical museum. And I noticed a ledger book from Chinese underground railroad and like irons and handcuffs, Annabella club. So I got in touch with the historian at the top of Moriah, um, and she gave us permission issue rather than a cigarette with her artifacts on the Chinese underground railroad on. That’s why we’re up at this conference today because this morning I’m on a panel and we’re going to be sharing, um, the history of all of these luxury box. And I was told by the historian in maternal viremia that uh, there wasn’t a descendant of one of them them in, in one of these luxury box.

Speaker 6: 00:38:57 So I got in touch with her, Amy and Amy was able to get people together, uh, to calm and digitize the two ledger books. And now she’s able to help everybody who was searching for around sisters who all came through on that underground railroad to find these are the oldest structure of second people have our grandfathers. And that whole history, you all, because of the Chinese exclusion act of 1882 people were being lynched in California, Chinese people over lunch from California, Oakland, California, Virginia. I had no idea that was happening. So they went to Canada and across Canada and back on the illness in the United States. Those that got us the law now because Congress had passed this law. Uh, and so they were interrogated and if they could say convincing later to the hearing officer that they were born in and out of the states, then they were released.

Speaker 6: 00:39:56 If not, then there would be recorded. So there was a subtle jail in Port Henry and they kept luxury box there were thrown in a dumpster and the historians, uncle found them in the dumpster and that’s how they so much so. So, um, this is another underground railroad. So I don’t talk about the one underground rock singer of over anymore. I talk about underground railroads because cartilage, uh, since the last presidential election, we’ve had thousands of people. I’m a room sleep in of the states and going into Canada, there’s one route that is very close to one of our old, a hundred round room or garage. So that’s the new underground railroad.

Speaker 4: 00:40:39 It’s a fascinating, and I hadn’t thought about it like that, but I think that’s such a great eye opening, um, you know, description of, it’s not just the underground railroad that we think of only think of Harriet Tubman and in that time period that there’s so much more of it happening. And, and I, I’m, I’m really interested in how you just brought that right to the, you know, current times and what is happening now.

Speaker 6: 00:41:03 Well, any time people are oppressed, some of those people will risk their lives to find a place to be for not story. We need to addresses what’s happening on the southern border.

Speaker 4: 00:41:21 Absolutely. Yeah. So done. Um, when you’re talking about your, um, your museum and you’ve told us some stories of some of the visitors that have, you know, found, um, how are you positioning your museum or how are you finding those new audiences are attracting those people?

Speaker 6: 00:41:44 Well, one thing, we’re doing those work. We have a volunteer those Suny Plattsburgh, that’s one of the weaknesses of almost all historical societies there, a lack of young people. So, um, uh, she is developing program. What’s the history department? She was involving interns and one of the notion, no, she wants to have us get involved in it as doing something for a woman software. Sure. That’ll groceries coming up next year at a horse. That movement evolved out of Slavery Movement so we can tie into it and she all, I’ll also, I was working on the class that, uh, the teacher’s grant writer. So there were several teams of students who are evolving ideas and one of her most to have a panel discussion on, on another theme. And that is that freedom is universal to try on a lot of different stories of people seeking freedom.

Speaker 4: 00:43:00 Uh, that sounds wonderful. And Yeah, there is a big focus on women’s suffrage coming up in 2020 so I think that that’s her, that’s a really great idea to think of some ways that you can tie in. That kind of leads me to this whole idea of your museum being part of the tourism fabric and your community. Can you talk a little bit about how

Speaker 6: 00:43:23 well we’re, we’re very, very fortunate to be an ox to awesome. Okay. One of the big draws them a rough ground for thousands and thousands of people every year. Our home originally was on by a man who was the superintendent at the horse snail for that used to be a worthy cause. So we got a lot of people from uh, who was at the castle. We also on the people who come just visit our museum, I wonder to there, then they go down with the cows on. We also have, you know, groups that come from local schools and they call them and they will go out and do all day. They won’t visit our museum and also go to 1000 wide Champlain on program. How special programs for teachers. So they spend time on the cows and they also was a garden museum and there were a couple of our teachers from our local school and she a small elementary school.

Speaker 6: 00:44:28 And I thought, wow, if I can turn these teachers off from Jesus, well you know, to our museum will not be great. Well, so one, one day in September, another museum, two teachers from gs one elementary come in and they say, we’ve adopted your music for our sixth grade honors program and we want our kids to it doesn’t it? You were saying, go on the underground railroad tour and do a special project for this new sale. So I’ve uncovered a story, which we didn’t have room for them when we opened our me to see him, about a man who escaped from Virginia and went to Vermont, these east codes, creative three incredible come sugar grams, you know, uh, from, from that story. So, um, no trust. And then recently, so building is being turned over to us by the town, which was all in with them.

Speaker 6: 00:45:20 And so we’re seeking a national historic register status or a golden, I’m the architect. We’re working with several real, ain’t no. The importance of this building. It Hubbard sts who had owned the house was a civil war back home. And I knew from other [inaudible] that you had kept a diary, but our cousin had thrown it away. I went online and he testified before a congressional committee, Amber Rudd, every parish from the star. So now we know his story so that it goes a whole nother layer, deeper layer to the significant civil on museum. I know someone wishes to at some point and we can do something special when the civil war, because not only how that story of this amount who lived in the house where our museum, he knows how he was involved in our central prison break from Salzburg. Oh, I can try to recap North Carolina how hundreds of men died of starvation. So Australia,

Speaker 4: 00:46:27 yeah. Treasure that you were able to uncover it in such a, you know, unexpecting please.

Speaker 6: 00:46:34 So all things happen, you know, when they’re supposed to. And you know, Architalx subtly really need to know that historic significance of this. Let me go back gun. I know so much. I’m promotional as online research shows so much easier than it was.

Speaker 4: 00:46:55 So Dan, I’m thinking about the next three to five years. What do you think you were, um, biggest opportunities are for the museum? Yeah,

Speaker 6: 00:47:03 biggest harbors, synovial sarcoma. This challenge, which was taking over the whole responsible. There’s also at the same time, they just want to find ways to expand because we’ve run out of room. So one thing we’re doing those, the one with the suffrage and so, but rather than up or put online because we have no place in that’s a, that’s a good opportunity. It would be with things. We want an APP for our tour that we come on Saturday, so people will come to actually go on, check the drawer themselves. Therefore we need an APP for our chickens so people can experience new salmon. We’re also developing, um, a north star or a depo for children because our grandparent, grandchildren. Um, so one of the weaknesses of our museum only open was he didn’t have enough petroleum. So, um, we have a larger table for the children.

Speaker 6: 00:48:11 Little kids come in and they just make a beeline for the table. They know exactly where to go. Now we have whatever this English word for that Coulson still working on how to involve the children, more addressing the fact that some people come to our museum children’s sometimes looking for a trend that’s under the ground. That’s the literal interpretation of underground railroad. So we have to explain, you know, it was on the train. I’d look around. We don’t have a trend. We’re going to have those Jubal engine as I can pretend like there area talking about how they’re conducted in the Balkans. Nevermind that sounds fantastic. Is, you know, how are we having the money that we need to take care of the building? We have an average. You had to be responsible for the measures that we’re rolling out. Also are raising the money to, uh, expound. That’s your challenge for us our time. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. Well, you’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me. What a legacy legacy that you get to in that part of the country. That’s us. Thank you so much.

Speaker 1: 00:49:28 Wow. I loved how John’s organization is shining a light on the underground railroad and carrying that history into the current time. Next I talked to Mary about the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park that is run by the New York State Canal society. Let’s listen in.

Speaker 7: 00:49:44 Mary, thank you for taking some time to talk with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about your organization? What Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park is a partnership or is a partnership between the two way 30 in the canals to save New York state? The park itself is an 18 acre property with five buildings right now and one is a brand new building. It was just put on the property that it’s an old block tender shanti. And uh, we have the lock remains from the large canal era and our focus is helping people understand the history of the canal, Erie Canal and other canals in New York state and the different eras and how they affected the communities and to state and the world. So that’s great. And it’s, it’s in a really good location because it’s right, you can get to it right from the New York state.

Speaker 7: 00:50:44 Throughway right. I think that’s pretty unique as well. Yes. It’s um, it’s a very unique partnership. It’s one of only two, um, and very few, um, federally that, um, can, we can go off a toll road, get out of your car, go onto private property and then go back on your cart and back on the toll road without paying a toll. Um, in New York state, there are two federally, there are very, very few, but we may be the only two in New York City. So, um, it’s sort of a pilot program. Both parks, uh, started out as a pilot program to show other states that you can work with historic sites as part of your folk states. Focus on tourism and history in the other states of enlisting or not. But it’s working very well with us. Terrific. So, um, thinking about your organization, what are you doing to help create an inclusive environment there?

Speaker 7: 00:51:51 Well, I was thinking about this. Did a ten one of the conference seminars, um, sessions about inclusiveness. We have tried very hard to be accessible to everyone. Um, are all of our sites are handicap accessible. We have an audio tour but have a book available, um, for someone that may be not, cannot use the auto tour because of deafness or hearing impaired. We have the book available that they can take and stuff. Same sites. We are dog friendly park. So anyone who has a dog, whether it’s a service animal or not can joint the dog, can join the visitor to enjoy the park. Um, both our visitor’s center and our museum has treats and a bowl waterboy because it can get hot as an 18 acre park. So by the time they get to the museum, they may be hot. So there’s a water dish for the dogs as well as treats in both places.

Speaker 7: 00:52:57 We have picnic tables that are wheelchair accessible on site. So if someone, um, you know, family wants to have a picnic or snack at our site and it’s just someone in a wheelchair, they can use those picnic tables. So we’ve, we’ve tried very hard to be inclusive. Um, there’s two buildings, the blacksmith’s shop and the Mule Barn that possibly someone might not be able to step into the building, but the doors are so wide that they can look into the building and everyone, there’s very few people that actually ended up going into the buildings anyway. If you’ve watched the visitors there, we have the Wii. When the blacksmith’s shop or blacksmith comes on site, he does not go into the blacksmith shop. He is on regular sidewalk right in front of the blacksmith shop. So he’s accessible. Um, but the, um, those two buildings we had to build according to what historically was correct at the time, but they are accessible visually for people to see.

Speaker 7: 00:54:10 They don’t have to go inside the buildings to see them. So I would say that’s the only thing that would be difficult for someone. Yeah, that’s, um, that’s terrific. And so I, I like how you kind of described, you know, the experience and how you’ve made the experience more accessible. Um, I think that’s just wonderful. And so I’m wondering about, um, the visitors that you attract and what you’re doing to attract new visitors. Um, well because we are on the thruway because we are such a unique site, we get a lot of first time visitors that just by chance or going eastbound on the thruway or on route 31 coming into from Montezuma into port Byron and they see us and they pull over. We know we’re not a destination site, but we would like to be an addition to a destination. And by increasing the visibility on the thruway stuffs to the west of us and to the different historic sites in the county and an of a local county near counties.

Speaker 7: 00:55:25 Um, by having wreck cars and by having um, different ways of advertising that we are there, we’re hoping to get more of that addition to destination. So if we have, say a tour bus is coming, um, from Mackenzie childs or is coming from the village chapel or the sewer in house south of us, um, they will get on on, um, maybe exit 41 and make a point of stopping into our site off the thruway or go up straight up a route 38 and go onto 31 before getting onto the thruway and stuff. At our site. That’s what we would like, like to be an addition as well because every, almost every person that stops at our site is going somewhere and they could just use us to let the kids run for a little bit before they get to Massachusetts or they’re, you know, stuff for the dogs so the dog can get some exercise before they have to go to Vermont, you know, New York City or whatever it was.

Speaker 7: 00:56:40 So we can be added to their itinerary. That would be great. Yeah. And I think that’s good that you’re thinking about the journey and where people are coming from and where they’re going and kind of how you fit into that, into that trip I think is really good. When I look at it, you’ve sort of answered this a little bit already, but I’m curious about how your museum fits into the tourism fabric of your community. Definitely 80 so big. Um, so in the fabric of Cuba County, um, if there’s a lot of history connected to the canals in Qb county counties, west of us, the counties east of us. So we often will partner with other canal parks in having programs and things like that through the canal side, New York state. Um, we have uh, other places that we can can join, um, become partners with and that’s something that we can expand on in the future.

Speaker 7: 00:57:41 But we’re working on that this year, bringing a blacksmith and bringing in other people that will see our park and bring people in as well as something we need to work on. That’s wonderful. And then looking ahead three to five years, what do you think the biggest opportunities are for your first, because how opportunities would be, we want to continue to grow the park. Having the lock tenders. Shanti, they came from New Berlin two weeks ago. That was very exciting. We a historian and Jordan contacted the canal society asked how many lot tender Shanti’s, we’re still out there. They had one that they had restored. They didn’t know how many others were out there and they wanted to do a sort of publicity thing on their luck to understands you. So they wanted to have the correct information. So my husband and Craig Williams and other members of the can now say, took this project on, realize that there’s this shanti in a farm in new Berlin, contacted the owner of the owner of said yes, I’m ready to burn it because it actually belongs to Newark, but they haven’t come get it.

Speaker 7: 00:58:53 And it’s been sitting here for three years when retired to having it. So when it, if it’s still here in a week, it’s not going to be here. We’re going to destroy it. So Steve Wonder, and Craig Williams and Mike Riley, they all works together and um, our Dan wireless, our president, they all worked together to get the chance. He moved with a Mennonite family that works on moving sheds and within a week we had it moved onto our site. So this is an early 18 hundreds to understand too that you’d like to restore it and then put it did originally have a Latin [inaudible] shanti pictures of it. It was on the rock wall. And we would like to essentially once the, the chance to use are stored at that back on the wall for us. We have to have throughway authority permission and support to do that. We also have to do some work on the left wall itself so that the building can be income there, so expanding in that way.

Speaker 7: 00:59:58 Expanding so that visitors can actually go into the canal bed and experience being in the canal bed and the and large canal bed through the, because they can walk through the lack of means now, but they can’t really go into the canal bed because that’s considered a wetlands. But I would like to have is some type of walkway, whether it be a floating walkway or some other type of walkway with Conflint actually go into the canal bed and an experience that having a vote in the canal, bad of actual sites to be part of the experience of coming to the party. There are a lot of things we’re expanding our program with mod the doc promoting the fact that we’re a dog friendly park. Peter Fandango fills the tavern. The Erie House tavern had a dog named mark. Yeah. Pictures of mine for using those pictures to promote that we’re dog friendly and we’d like to expand on that. That’s all those, all those things sound very exciting and they thank you so much for taking some time out to share with us today. You’re welcome. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 01:01:07 It’s time to hit the road again. Visit destination on the left.com during your travels for more podcasts, show notes and fresh ideas.

We value your thoughts and feedback and would love to hear from you. Leave us a review on your favorite streaming platform to let us know what you want to hear more o​f. Here is a quick tutorial on how to leave us a rating and review on iTunes!

Related Podcasts