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Historical Dream

Museum was gift of one woman to fulfill the dream of another

February 15, 2009
By SHAWN M. TOMLINSON, The Leader-Herald

GALWAY - The story of the Cook Museum of Local History is the story of town Historian Phyllis Keeler.

In 1983, after doing a good deed for Gladys Cook Brown, the last descendent of the local Cook family, Keeler received a phone call. Brown said she was dying and she wanted to give her home to Keeler to fulfill the latter's dream of creating a museum in the town.

The museum, which sits near the four corners of Galway, is an intact window into the past. The furniture is the original furniture. The old cast-iron stoves still are there. The 110-year-old organ still stands in the corner of the parlor and it still plays.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Shawn M. Tomlinson
Galway Town Historian Phyllis Keeler plays the 110-year-old organ in the parlor of the Cook Museum of Local History in Galway Thursday.

Keeler sat down to play the organ Thursday to demonstrate the fact that all the keys still function.

Keeler's dream now is being passed on to a new generation, the McHall family of California, who, Keeler said, is planning to keep it as a museum.

After spending 50 years in the educational system in the Galway Central School District, Keeler still is teaching. She uses the museum to tell local children about the history of their hometown.

Her interest in history is lifelong, but it became official 39 years ago when the new town supervisor called her.

"He said 'I have no town historian,' Keeler relayed about the call. "'I'm new and I'm filling the easiest jobs first.' I saw it as a new challenge and said I'm going to do it."

In her position, she became chairwoman of the local bicentennial celebration in 1976 and hosts the annual Joseph Henry remembrance each June. Henry spent some of his childhood with his grandmother in Galway and became the first leader of the Smithsonian Institute from 1846 to 1878. The elementary school is named for him and local historian Don Williams portrays him annually at the Galway celebration, Keeler said.

When she and her husband, Earl, became owners of the Cook Museum, they put a great deal of work into it.

"My husband did all the maintenance," she said. "We put a new roof on. It's getting too much for us now."

That's where the McHall family came in, she said. Keeler advertised the vintage house and the McHalls, who live in California, decided to buy it for their son, Patrick. Since he can't take it over for some time, they asked Keeler to stay on for the next few years.

"It was God's miracle for us," she said.

The home itself was built in 1850 and had several owners before the Cook family moved there in 1919. All the furniture in the parlor, Keeler said, is original.

"We only had it cleaned," she said.

She did have to have the non-upholstered chairs recaned, but the rest is original. Even the original carpet still sits in the front parlor with a newer rug over it to protect it.

Upstairs in the largest of the bedrooms, Keeler has several pews from a church in Gloversville where people can sit while she tells them about local history.

"We have many tours," she said, relating that recently she had tours of second-graders every hour go through the old home. Keeler has no volunteers to help with tours, but provides them all herself.

Prior to the Cook family, the first occupant of the home was Alanson Mead who had a blacksmith shop nearby. Another owner, Jefferson Thomas, also was a blacksmith and "was an ax maker and sword maker in Factory Village and also an inventor," Keeler wrote in a handout about the museum. "An automatic railroad car coupler was one of his inventions."

She also wrote, "This restored Victorian home and library is devoted to history and art. Exhibits include old tools, Victorian rooms, dolls, clothing, dishes and old Bibles."

After her years as a teacher, Keeler served on the Galway Board of Education, completing 50 years in education as president of that board. Since her retirement from the board, she has devoted herself to local history.

She and a committee of the Galway Historic Preservation Society - including Chairwoman Arlene Rhodes, Thomas Cwiakala, Raymond David, Bonnie Donnan, Donald Carpenter and Florence Reedy - are working on a local history book focusing on the years 1900 to 1949 they hope to have published by the end of the year.

For more information about the museum or to schedule a tour, call Keeler at 882-6765.



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