Monday, March 28, 2016

Half-Shire Historical Society

Name: Half-Shire Historical Society
Address: 1100 County Route 48, Richland, NY 13144
Phone: 315- 298-2986

Half-Shire Historical Society

The Half-Shire Historical Society is located in the old Richland School on the north side of what remains of the hamlet of Richland. Once trains ran through here and near the site of the old Richland Junction station is now a convenience store. In a rural area of Oswego County, it is a quiet neighborhood of what once was a thriving community, but now boasts little except for the store and a post office for local residents to collect their mail. The school has long since been consolidated into the Pulaski Central School system, but thanks to the historical society, it has remained and is a beautiful building that houses the society as well as many social functions throughout the year. The society rents it out to family and school reunions, as well as hosts local bands and other activities.
One question that often comes up about the society is: what is a half shire? To quote from their website: “(The name Half-Shire refers to the founding of the country in 1816, settling a regional/political split by which the duel county seats were created: one at Oswego and the other at Pulaski.).The society began in 1972 and in 1973 started using the school for their headquarters.
The following towns comprise the half shire:
·       Albion
·       Amboy
·       Boylston
·       Camden
·       Orwell
·       Osceola/Florence
·       Parish
·       Redfield
·       Richland
·       Sandy Creek
·       Williamstown
Inside the building is a restored classroom. It is a combination of a typical classroom from the 1930s or 1940s eras and other artifacts from bygone time periods. The classroom also houses some research material of the society. Much of this is a special collection of Bible and rare books. It will soon be moved into its own library in what was once the school’s library. This room is currently being restored. Down a short flight of stairs that is also equipped with a lift for handicapped visitors, is the real treasure in this building. To the right is a fully equipped kitchen that is used to prepare food for all kinds of events. Straight ahead is a large room of what once was the cafeteria and auditorium. Usually furnished with many tables and chairs for people to gather at, the stage is still there at one end of the room and much used. Tucked away in the back corner is the research area. Behind the counter can be seen shelves crammed full with notebooks and a few books. These notebooks are the real treasures as far as researchers are concerned. Every cemetery within the area of the half shire is represented with a listing of the known burials from records and walking the cemeteries themselves. Many families of the area have a notebook with various pieces of information in them as well as other subjects of interest to the area. Most people that volunteer here are very knowledgeable of the area, but if you can catch the president of the society for a moment or two, you are really in luck. Shawn Doyle has been president for many years and is a county legislator in the area as well. He grew up in the area and there probably isn’t an individual or family that he doesn’t know at least something about.
At the research counter on a busy day

Hours: Generally Monday-Saturday from 10-2. You can also call to check if they’re open and sometimes can make special arrangements for other hours. In talking with the president, Shawn Doyle, he said to feel free to call him at 315-298-3620 or his helper Erma Schroeder 315-298-7709 if you need to make sure they’re open or to arrange for a special time.
There are few restrictions on copying; just about anything that is available is available to make a copy. The cost is 25 cents each. They are still actively collecting material for the area and if you have something that you would like to donate they will be glad to make arrangements. An on-going project is borrowing local families photograph collections and making digital copies of them.

One thing I found when I was visiting on Saturday was some brand new publications put out by Half shire. A volunteer has gone through the early newspapers of Pulaski that have never been microfilmed or digitized. She has abstracted key genealogical information from them and they are now available in spiral bound books to use at the society or for purchase. The one I looked at was: Pulaski Democrat: Marriage, Birth and Death Records From Richland Township Newspapers v. 1 (1834-1874) There are four volumes in total and I see that the last one goes through the year 1893. Although I was disappointed not to find my ancestors in the years I scanned through, it was a good place to try to find a husband and wife during that time period that have no death dates and no cemetery records. I can estimate their death dates from when they disappear from census records, but was hoping to narrow it down with a mention from the newspaper.
I asked Shawn what he thought was the one most notable thing in the collection. He could not give me a single answer, but rather almost immediately started mentioning several items. Among them were several pictures that contain former residents of the area including one that showed some of his direct ancestors boiling maple syrup. This picture framed, hangs along the stairs to the lower rooms. There are many paintings and drawings around. Some of them were given to the society by a local man from Osceola, who was well known for walking. He would walk all over the area, covering many miles in a day and he walked almost up until he died a few years ago at age 89. What was not as well known, was that Homer Speck was a talented artist.
The Library is almost done!
There are many other records and objects throughout the society. One old classroom on the second floor is filled with shelving units that hold boxes upon boxes of items. You never know what you might encounter when you start exploring here. There is even a connection of this rural area to circus performers worldwide! I am working on the details about this unique connection and will be writing more about that soon.

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