A History of Our Museum Building at 1 Harry Allen Park

(With a Nod to Our Schoolhouse)

By Bill Lane, January 2024


In 2023, I was asked to capture the history and development of the Honeoye Falls – Town of Mendon Historical Society’s Museum located at 1 Allen Park in Honeoye Falls.

The museum as it appears today.

My involvement with the Historical Society began when I volunteered for the Society’s Historic House Tours in 1993 & 1995. I began serving as President of the Society in 1996, holding that position through 2001. I then became a Trustee of the Society, a position, I still hold. In 2007, I began assisting Langdon (Lang) Cay, our museum Curator. Following Lang’s passing, I became the ‘Interim’ Curator of the museum. All told, I am now in my 29th year of service to the Society as either President or a Trustee. That period has been one of dynamic growth in the size of our collections and significant gains in our cataloguing and storage of the collections.

This is a three-part series, first looking at the history of the building, its uses over the years and its eventual use as our museum. The second part looks at the Society’s modifications to the building to create the museum and how it has evolved over the years. In the third part, we look at our collections, how they are stored, and recognize the people who have played a significant role during my tenure of service.

Part One: The History of our Museum Building

The building was built (in 1861?) as a stable / carriage shed behind the Falls Hotel. The Falls Hotel later became The Wilcox House (aka The Wilcox Hotel). The stable / carriage shed served the needs of the local population as well as travelers passing through the Village. One can envision it as the rent-a-car facility of its time, where visitors arriving in Honeoye Falls by train could rent a horse or horse and buggy to venture into the countryside to visit with their customers, relatives or friends.

Looking at the front of the building, you can still see evidence of its initial usage. There are two large doors on the upper level for passing hay and straw into the building. A set of double doors at ground level allowed for the entry of horses and carriages (and later for automobiles).

In 1923, Dr. E. G. Thompson, a Veterinarian, purchased the building.

*An undated photograph from the mid 1920s; the original structure had undergone modifications.*
An undated photograph from the mid 1920s as a garage; the original structure had undergone modifications.

The main building was extended about 25 feet towards the park. A shiny roof on the addition suggests the addition was relatively new. The photo also shows another structure between the present building and the creek. This second structure was used by Dr. Thompson as his veterinary.

The 1920s photo shows the main building occupied by the Sage and Horton Ford dealership (later moved to East Street). There are several large windows, three gasoline pumps (Sunoco and Amoco) and a Pennzoil oil tank in front of the building.

From 1932 to 1943, the Joseph Burns Auto Agency occupied the building. Burns was followed by the John Sargent Welding Garage from 1943 to 1951.

From 1954 to 1962, the building was occupied by a Red & White Grocery Store (which relocated to the site occupied today by Flaherty’s).

A Ruby & Greene Red & White advertisement from the period.

Dr. Thompson died in 1961. His veterinary clinic was demolished in 1966 to make room for more parking.

Ownership of the main building passed to the Village. In 1968, the Village advised the Town of Mendon Historical Society that the building at 1 Allen Park would be available to the Society for use as a museum and meeting place at no charge to the Society.

A portion of the January 24, 1968 letter granting the Society the use of the Thompson Building.

In March, 1968, the Town of Mendon Historical Society passed a motion to accept the Village’s offer. In November, 1968, the Town of Mendon Historical Society voted to accept the Thompson Building from the Village for use as a museum.

In April, 1969, the Honeoye Falls – Town of Mendon Historical Society opened its museum. As the museum’s collections grew, the Historical Society began to occupy larger portions of the building. It is interesting to note the change in the name of the Society at this time. Late in the 1990s the Village removed the last items stored in the upper level and turned the use of the building totally over to the Historical Society.

Part Two: Interior Upgrades

Part One traced the history of the museum building from its construction (in 1861?) through various uses ending with the Village of Honeoye Falls offering the Town of Mendon Historical Society use of the building for use as a museum.

On March 12, 1968, the Mendon Historical Society held a meeting at the Presbyterian Church (their normal meeting site at that time). A motion to accept the Village’s offer passed.

Members of the Society began working on the interior and exterior to convert the building from its former use as a grocery into a museum.

A January 16, 1969 Honeoye Falls Times article documents that the Mendon Historical Society began relocating mementos of the community’s past from various locations, including their previous museum located in the basement of the former library building on Monroe Street. Mementos relocated included an oil painting by Louisa Atwater and the 1880s parade banner of the Protective Hose Company No. 2. An appeal was made for chairs, filing cabinets display cases and donations of items “in viable condition.”

On January 23, 1969, 30 members of the Mendon Historical Society attended a business meeting in what was still called ”The Thompson Building” to view what had been accomplished so far. Obviously, the results were well received. The museum formally opened on April 13, 1969. Featured were special items on loan from local industries including an 1860 carriage made by Peter Cunningham in Rochester (The Cunningham Co. had relocated to Honeoye Falls on the appropriately named Carriage Street). Two hundred people attended the opening ceremony.

On November 19, 1969, the Honeoye Falls – Town of Mendon Historical Society applied to the Regents of the University of the State of New York to form a corporation under the Education Law. It is interesting to note the name change at this time from the previous Town of Mendon Historical Society to the Honeoye Falls – Town of Mendon Historical Society.

The museum was a work in progress. On February 19, 1978 the Society held an “Open House” to show the recently renovated Honeoye Falls – Town of Mendon Historical Society building. Anne Bullock, then President of the Society, sent an announcement stating “We are extremely proud of the financial efforts and cooperation put forth by the village and town fathers and ask that our fellow residents be present to offer these august bodies their thanks and congratulations.”

Work continued. A floor of concrete was poured, modifications were made to the heating system, a drop ceiling insulated the ceiling insulated with 6” of fiberglass, and the walls with 3 ½”. Members of the Word of Work Program at the Rush Campus of BOCES No.1 spent 3 months during the summer of 1979 re-siding the exterior of the building. This including replacing the large windows and eliminating a set of large doors near the south end of the building and instating the present access door at that end.

The village retained control of a meeting room at the south end of the building. This was the subject of communications between the Society and the village over the years. The room was accessed from an exterior door and did not require passage through the museum. Eventually, the village ceded control of the meeting room to the Society. In June, 1985, another project began. This included installation of knotty pine paneling to create a display / meeting room at the south end of the building.

Our original meeting room.

Joanne Shukis, the first curator of the museum, stated that the Town and Village donated $750 for new carpeting, and estimated that volunteers had contributed 1,500 hours to the project. One of these, Pam Slominski, did not plan to work from 7 AM until dinner and then take molding home to work on until midnight!

In the latter 1980s into the 1990s, John Sheret and Jim Clark extended the museum to the second floor by installing flooring underlay and an enclosed work room in what had been a wide-open space. They constructed an encased staircase leading to the work room and a storage room beneath the stairs. The Historical society purchased its first computer and a scanner / printer.

John Sheret was also the driving force behind obtaining the donation of Mendon District School No. 15, overseeing its relocation from West Bloomfield Road just south of Boughton Hill Road to Harry Allen Park in 1991, obtaining the supplies and volunteers to restore the building and finding desks and other items needed to make it a working schoolhouse. A huge undertaking!

*The schoolhouse arriving at Harry Allen Park in 1991.*
The relocation of Mendon District School No. 15 in 1991.
*The schoolhouse after opening.*
The freshly-relocated schoolhouse.

The Historical Society’s monthly meetings outgrew the space in the museum meeting room, and were moved to the Court Room in the Town Hall before settling at their present location at the Mendon Community Center. Austin Cooley teamed with John Sheret to reconfigure many of our display areas into what we see today. This includes converting the old meeting room into a room targeted at the HF-L 4th grade classes that visited the museum each spring. They carved space for a curator’s office at the back of the room. Using the computer and printer, they created interpretive signage and labels for displays and created several great displays in the museum.

Part Three: Behind the Scenes

Part Two chronicled the work that was done to convert the museum building from its previous use as a grocery store into a museum and the numerous modifications that took place over the next 30 or so years. A few more interior modifications have occurred, but the focus now shifts to our collections. We will go ‘behind the scenes’ to look at a part of the museum operation that visitors do not see.

Langdon (Lang) Clay became the museum curator in 1995. He began the arduous task of compiling an accession book. He began assigning sequential numbers to each object (1, 2, 3, etc.) He used the information recorded in old donation books as a starting point, and assigned each a new number and a storage location. Objects continued to be donated (and still do) making this an ongoing challenge. Lang was joined by Hettie Auburn, who undertook organization of our photographic collection, creating hand-written index sheets for each volume. John Sheret was responsible for our collection of archival (paper) material. John had a ‘feel’ for what we had, but did not create any indexing systems. Lang, in addition to accessioning objects, also worked with Austin Cooley and John Sheret to create new exhibits. They, in turn, helped him by obtaining storage boxes and storing the objects. Lang also began obtaining appraisals for insurance purposes.

In 1999, Gary Albright, a local resident and nationally-known conservator, was hired to conduct a Conservation Assessment of the museum to identify strengths and deficiencies in the museum. Such an assessment is a requirement for application for some types of conservation grants. He recognized the work done by Lang, but found a number of opportunities for improvement. He stated the obvious — such as needing better ways to protect our archival material — and the not-so-obvious, such as mold in the carpeting in the entry Gallery and Cooney Room. This Conservation Assessment gave us a roadmap for our handling of the collection, and for improvements to the museum and its building. The village DPW removed the carpeting and replaced it with laminate flooring. It was obvious that we needed more suitable storage space for the collections. John Sheret asked the village for additional upstairs space. They agreed to remove the items they had stored there and effectively turned use of the entire building over to the Historical Society.

*One of our storage areas.*
One of our storage areas.
*Our object storage area.*
Our object storage area.
*Our storage shelves for framed photos and artwork.*
Our storage shelves for framed photos and artwork.

Before the move, John took me up and shared his vision of what would happen next. During that visit, he showed me a box of ocarina molds that had come from the Teschner ocarina factory in Mendon. Once the village had removed all their items, John and Jim Clark installed underlay throughout the entire second floor creating a solid floor. Next came construction of an insulated storage room connected to the upstairs work room. Later, the village DPW constructed an additional insulated storage room and installed shelving in both room.

Downstairs, the curator’s office was removed and the space converted to a display area for rotating displays. The former meeting room (including the display area) was dedicated as the Mantegna Room in recognition of Bill Mantegna’s long-term support of the museum and his numerous donations of furniture and objects.

I began working with Lang in January, 2007. At that time. He was working alone. Hattie and Austin had moved and John appeared only randomly.

The society purchased a new computer and Past Perfect software, a museum-specific package, into which I began entering the information from the accession book. Early in this process, I encountered the entries for the ocarina molds. Their location wasn’t specified. They were gone! Apparently, the Village DPW crew that cleared the upstairs mistook the molds for pieces of broken plaster and discarded them! Fortunately, a few years later, Jim Kimball of Genesee donated a box of molds he had purchased at the Avon Flea Market.

Computer housing our Past Perfect database.
Computer housing our Past Perfect museum database.

I used Microsoft Excel to recreate index sheets for the photo albums using Hettie’s hand-written lists. Every week I would ask Lang to clarify entries I could not read!

Donations continued to arrive and we found we found more and more objects which had never been documented. The accession book grew from one volume to two.

Lang passed on 11/8/2012. He worked at the museum through the Wednesday prior to his passing. We owe Lang a debt of gratitude for his tireless work cataloguing the collections and for his vision for organizing and displaying these items.

Kathy Eastman, who previously served as a docent, volunteered to help me and became our Archivist. She began working her way through piles of archival (paper) material. She is also responsible for the books stored in the schoolhouse.

Gary Albright became a Trustee in 2001. He was hired to conduct a second Conservation Assessment in 2016. Significant improvements from the 1999 assessment were noted, but some areas were flagged as needing additional work. Gary made the comment “It’s scary to see someone who is actually implementing my advice.” Gary became our Exhibits Chair, responsible for exhibits in the museum and in our display case in the Mendon Town Hall. Now semi-retired, Gary is frequently present at our Wednesday morning work sessions.

Gary Albright and Kathy Eastman working in our Museum storage area for objects and cloth items.
Gary Albright and Kathy Eastman working in our Museum storage area for objects and cloth items.

Charles Woolever, our Society Vice President, joined the Wednesday morning work sessions, where he has worked with Gary to reorganize our storage rooms and clear clutter from the open storage bays at the ends of the museum He is now organizing and cataloguing the items in the museum library.

Our museum collections have grown. We presently have over 4,500 objects, 6,500 photographs and over 5,000 archival items. Items continue to arrive from local residents and from across the country from people who have found us here on our website, as well as our Facebook page. We also search area garage / estate sales as well as on-line sites such as eBay looking for additional items.

In closing this series, I would like to recognize the more visible members of our team – our docents who open and staff the museum on Sunday afternoons. I also want to recognize the support the Society has received over the years from the Town of Mendon and the Village of Honeoye Falls. We would not be where we are without your support! Thank you!

Bill Lane, January 2024