Library Complements Archaeological Treasure House
Before 2008, if you wanted to see a fine collection of Native American artifacts from south-central New York or northern Pennsylvania, you’d have had to pay a social call. In Dick Cowles’s basement, you’d have found three rooms packed with stone tools and other items collected by his father, the late Ellsworth Cowles. Ted Keir--like Cowles, an avocational archaeologist--maintained a private museum in his home.
Today, both of those collections, plus more than 30 others, fill the exhibit hall of the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC) in Waverly. And if you stop by, you’ll find Dick Cowles, Ted Keir or another expert volunteer ready to give you a tour.
The SRAC got its start after a local conference about Spanish Hill, an archaeological site in South Waverly, Pa., sparked a lively exchange among professional and avocational archaeologists and historians. The region clearly needed a venue where those scholars could continue to share information, and a place where they could gain easy access to artifacts from local sites.
“The collections were so large that no local museum would take them,” says Debra Twigg, co-founder and executive director of the SRAC.
The former warehouse where those artifacts now stand on display is more than a museum: it’s an interactive educational resource. “Every day, when you walk in the door, we have somebody who will take you through the collections,” says Twigg. Besides allowing visitors to enjoy the extensive permanent collection, the SRAC also hosts lectures and occasional traveling exhibits.
While the exhibit hall provides an outstanding home for the artifacts, until recently, researchers looking for books, maps and other published works still had to drive from place to place, visiting collectors’ homes.
That changed in 2012, when Twigg bought the former Waverly Village Hall, just across from the exhibit hall. With help from a $2,500 grant from the Community Foundation, the SRAC has turned a room in that historic building into a research library.
The room boasts beautiful woodwork, a walk-in safe and two wraparound benches that are perfect for accommodating library tables, Twigg says. The renovations included fresh paint, new carpeting, new furniture and a computer and copier.
Combined with the exhibit hall, the new library offers an important resource for researchers who study the Native American cultures of our region, says Twigg. “It’s going to give them a one-stop shop that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”