Why Save It?

March 19th, 2013

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

One aspect of the historical society is presenting exhibits and public programs. Another is serving as a repository for Geneva’s history. People ask, “What do you do with all that stuff?” and the short answer is, “Save it.”

When we accept a photo, a diary, or a Tarr’s Dairy milk bottle, we agree to preserve that item in perpetuity. We may not display an object or a photograph for years but it doesn’t diminish the importance of preserving it. When people do come looking for an image or piece of information, and reach a dead end, they may ask, “Why don’t you have it?!” Again with a short answer, “Because no one gave it to us.”

Metal shelving with various items on each shelf like signs, beer cans, wooden containers, and boxes.

One section of our collections storage area; this has items used at or produced by local factories.

The first step in the museum food chain is someone must acquire something; second, they must save it. I really want to see a photo of the Carrolls hamburger joint that was on Hamilton Street around 1970 (it became Burger King a few years later, which is now gone as well), and I can’t find one. Maybe no one thought it was worth photographing; if they did have a shot of their friends in front of Carrolls, maybe they threw it away 30 years later. (When I ask for things from the 1970s and 80s, people say, “Why? That stuff’s not old!” I always reply, “It will be if you hang onto it long enough.”)

Two photos of buildings taped together. Shows 1970s cars parked out front of JW Smith's, Keilty's, Stanley's and CVS.

This homemade panorama from the 1970s isn’t sophisticated but it effectively documents a section of Seneca Street.

The third step is for folks to donate stuff to us. Occasionally we purchase items at auctions, antique stores, or yard sales, but we don’t have the budget to pay for everything. We don’t have time to go door-to-door asking if people have things that we would like, and we don’t have authority to seize possessions in the name of the historical society (and that’s a good thing).

Given these three factors, it surprises me that we have as much material as we do. I’m reminded of this tenuous chain every time I can’t find something I want to know: the photo no one took, the name that wasn’t written on the back of a photo, the huge historical event that wasn’t mentioned in a diary. If you have Geneva history (defined as anything relating to Geneva, including current events), please consider sharing it with us. If your family doesn’t have an interest in your history, we’re happy to preserve it; if they do, we can make copies and leave the originals with you. If you don’t save local and family history, now is the time to start –fifty years from now someone will be glad you did.

Please call John Marks, curator of collections, at 789-5151, if you are interested in donating or loaning items to the historical society.

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