Visits to Museums
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NSG Visit August 17, 1996
A Country Museum
The Call Homestead
Hartsville Historical Society Museum, Andover
Imagine, if you can, saving almost everything that comes into your house. Imagine, too, saving all that material accumulated from twelve families for over three generations. Now, try to imagine accepting the donations from friends, neighbors and even strangers to add to the collection. Add to that the philosophy of never selling or discarding anything and the result is nothing less than staggering. That's the basis of the Call Museum.
Located on Post Road just off Steuben County Route 28, a narrow twisting lane running southwest along Purdy Creek, about eight miles from Route 248 that runs south out of Canisteo from NY Route 36 from Hornell and farther north, is Call Hill Farm. Here, on R. D. 2 near Andover, New York, Richard Call opened his remarkable collection for public display in 1971. Officially known as the Hartsville Historical Society Museum, it contains an awesome assortment of items. They range from hundreds of assorted household memorabilia, scores of historical objects, dozens of ceramic art works and thousands of miscellaneous artifacts.
The museum's contents aren't exhibited in quite the manner seen in many modern museums. Here almost everything is displayed in a somewhat random fashion. The placement of the collections however, makes for a visually stimulating experience and one, we'll venture, that is never forgotten by the visitor.
Even Mr. Call, its sixty-five-year-plus curator, began his life in Hartsville being "collected" by Isabelle and William Call, a warm-hearted couple, who adopted him from the "Orphan Train" in 1929. The unique "cargo" aboard this rare train was tiny orphaned tykes from New York City's Brace Orphanage being transported westward to receptive couples. As strange as that concept may be by today's standards it did work and it was an acceptable solution to a timeless problem involving over 150,000 infants and children.
A cousin of the Calls, Randolph O. Webb, moved in 1975 to the Call homestead and brought with him all of his family antiques. These had filled a ten-room house, and dated from the time of his great grandfather. Randy Webb taught for many years at Alfred University and was named "Potter of the Year" in 1949.
We arrived in the museum's front yard, after a few missed turns, with Shane Hayes, the full-time caretaker, directing us to our parking spot. Entering the home's glassed-in porch we deposited a two dollar admission fee in a large gallon jar. That's where one encounters the museum's first artifacts. Above us were displayed a vast collection of baseball and other sports cards that had long been tacked to the rafters. Shane directed us through a kitchen and then on into the first of a series of long corridors, many a hundred or more feet long. These long passages circled the property, connecting with the barn and eventually returning the visitor to the house.
Within the first wide corridor several long tables had been placed to accommodate visitors wishing to have their lunch within the facility. All through the museum we passed chairs, plain wood and over-stuffed, in which we could have paused for a rest or conversation. Going along we observed thirty plus vintage washing, sewing, and butter churning machines, carved wooden duck and pheasant decoys, a cache of soda and medicine bottles, a line of tobacco cans, cigar boxes and many, many advertising signs and homey signs. One proclaimed, "I wonder why somebody didn't do something—Then I realized that I'm the somebody!" Overhead the rafters were adorned with keys, locks, tools, cloth caps, license plates, metal and plastic lunch pails and enough other fanciful detritus to fill a good-sized flea market.
A long stretch of wall bore beer cans and wine bottles. Then we came to some truly antique items: a collection of corn and potato planters, some circa 1860, an 1889 dog-powered "slosh" churn, and 1890's "foot sauna," a variety of telephones including the 1917 switchboard with plug-in "drops" from the village of Greenwood, and twenty-two wheel chairs!
The corridor finally reached the barn. Dick Call, our gracious tour leader, informed us that until 1940 the unusual structure with internal "A" framing had held sixty cows and provided a home for 10,000 chickens. Now we thought we had seen almost everything, however, the barn's seven levels held ever more exotic fixtures. Rafters were lined with reed baskets and lady's hats. A portion of wall held a framed Civil War discharge certificate. Next to it hung an 1860's Civil War musket and a drum and bugle that once belonging to Philip Webb.
Seventeen organs and pianos were displayed in various locations along with two surreys, a 1900 Oliver typewriter, twenty wedding dresses, a 1930 bathing suit and the complete contents of a blacksmith's shop from the Hartsville area. In a gallery on another level, rows of flourescent lights illuminated many of master ceramicist Randolph Webb's vases and paintings he'd created while teaching at Alfred University. There is a collection in the museum of Glidden pottery made in Alfred and Andover china made in Andover.
On lower levels of the barn were wool carding machines, old milk coolers, vintage film projectors, sad and electric flat irons from many generations, plus three cases of Indian arrow heads. over three thousand in all. Those interested in early farming equipment might well be impressed with the 1908 wooden threshing machine that still sports its bright red paint and yellow trim, a metal Case thresher dating back to 1920, a peg-toothed drag made in Greenwood, a huckleberry rake, a "potato hiller," and other farm machinery we didn't recognize.
A chapel-like section of the barn held wooden church pews while a "school room" had been created complete with student's desks still bearing their ink wells, maps, globes, and a high teacher's desk. A nearby cabinet held a model of Fort Sumpter, a model log cabin and dozens of books. These books, we were told by Mr. Call, had been banned by the local library. Among the volumes was a copy of the now politically incorrect "Little Black Sambo."
Oh, did we mention the Martha and Jenny Lynd beds, the children's wooden sleds, unicycle, assembly of carpenter's tools, concrete burial vault maker, or the folding potato crate dating from the 1850'? Or the lock from a chest that came over on the Mayflower—Or the 1932 Chevy truck, purchased in 1931 by William W. Call and still in running condition, one of just six thousand of that particular model ever manufactured.
After a three-hour tour we ate lunch under the "Shane" pavilion and visited Call Pond. Shane was on hand feeding great wads of bread to some very hungry bull heads. The acre-size "lake" is fed by two springs, its eighteen-foot depth making it unusual for a farm pond. Shane recounted times when he's watched his tom cat land young bull heads from the pond's edge with one swift flip ofhis paw.
Following our pond visit, Richard Call handed us a steaming cup of coffee and invited us to see his library. We wound our way through several living rooms, all bearing a mish-mash of styles and decorations, some with lamps whose shades were fashioned from colored, foam-plastic egg cartons. The "Edison Room" was particularly interesting, containing a wonderful, one-of-a-kind, wooden Stromberg-Carlson radio appearing to be one of their first models. Nearby an Edison roll phonograph complete with its enormous horn speaker, was on display. A floor-to-ceiling glass cabinet in another room held a whole flock of rare stuffed birds, the background crafted with elaborate Victorian flair.
This room led to a narrow stairway leading to the library. Here, Dick Call smiled proudly as he explained that it contained over 20,000 volumes and that he'd acquired over 600 audio-taped histories of local residents, some from folks who had passed away over a quarter century ago.
© 1996, Donovan A. Shilling