Historical Site Doubles as Community Magnet

Its goal is to preserve and interpret the past, but the Newark Valley Historical Society (NVHS) also plays a vital role in the present-day life of northern Tioga County. The NVHS offers more than 70 events a year, held mainly at its Bement-Billings Farmstead Museum and the Train Depot Museum. Local residents use parts of these properties for everything from youth soccer games to meetings and wedding receptions.

The Farmstead—built on the home site of one of Newark Valley’s first European settlers—offers tours, demonstrations and events such as the annual Apple Festival and summer folk arts workshops. The property includes a barn, a blacksmith’s shop, nature trails and a shooting range for muzzleloaders.

A recent roof repair project pointed to the need for further renovations at the Farmstead, plus a strategy for future development. “An appropriate place to start was to seek support and an inspection by a preservation architect,” says Ross McGraw, chairman of the NVHS board. The Community Foundation provided $5,234 to pay for that professional assistance.

Once the board chose its top-priority projects—including repairs to a bridge on the property, and renovations to the barn and blacksmith’s shop—the architect also helped NVHS estimate costs and seek contractors.

A second grant from the Foundation, for $2,787, helped to build a stage in the 1870s-era Depot building.

NVHS has used the Depot for public programs since it took the property over more than a dozen years ago. First came historical presentations, then band concerts. “Now we have a program every Friday night from June to September,” says Marcia Kiechle, the Depot’s program director. In 2015, the building hosted 32 events in all.

A couple of years ago, Kiechle proposed adding dramatic productions. But with the Depot’s flat floor, people sitting at the back wouldn’t be able to see the action. A stage would elevate performers, providing a better view.

The Foundation’s grant paid for materials. Three weeks after volunteers finished the construction, including sound and lighting systems supported by other grants, the Depot hosted a Civil War play by a local writer. Plans are already in place to stage an old-time, radio-style variety show in the summer of 2016.

Other than churches, the Depot is one of the only places in northern Tioga County where people can get together for entertainment and socializing, Kiechle says. “It’s become very important to the social fabric of the community.” With the stage in place, residents will find even more occasions to come together.

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