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Stuffy, Indeed! Murders File, Mona Lisa, Rare Books, Trains and Weapons Found in 21 Area Museums

MusuemBy Cloette Steffenhagen

Even if you are in the most vibrant, active place, like Ellicottville, inevitably someone will ask, “NOW what can we do?” Here’s one suggestion. Check out some of the 21 museums in Cattaraugus County. Before you disdainfully claim you’re not into dusty, old stuff, let me tell you what I’ve found.

Starting with the Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library (353-8200) in Machias, you’ll find fresh exhibits, along with an up-to-date archive to ferret out genealogy secrets, and with people to help you. Do you believe they have a County Murders file? Curator Brian MClellan has prepared a summer full of Civil War events. Check it out at www.cattco.org/museum.

Many of our towns have their own museums, saluting small town America — Ashford Historical Society Museum (942-3223), Cattaraugus Area (257-3429), Dayton (532-3758), East Otto (257-3337) and right here in Ellicottville (699-8415). Pack a picnic and head out to the Gowanda Historical Museum (532-4064) or the Ischua Valley Historical Society (676-2590), which includes The Miners Cabin, a lovely Victorian mansion, with a curved-glass window. Each town has its claim to fame. The Leon Historical Society Museum (296-5709) highlights the Pennyroyal Racetrack and its drivers that went on to win NASCAR championships, Mansfield (257-9288), Perrysburg (532-1558) and Portville (933-8917), all with stories worth hearing.

The historical museums in our two cities also hold fascinations. Tour Olean’s Fannie E. Bartlett Historical House & Olean Point Museum (376-5642). According to historian David Deckman, in the 1800s, Olean exported more oil than anyone in the world, accounting for the Rockefellers’ incredible wealth. Known as “Little Chicago” during the Prohibition era, Olean was a halfway point between New York City and Chicago, and legends arose around the likes of the infamous Al Capone. You’ll see photographs and artifacts to tell the tales.

The Salamanca Area Historical Society Museum (945-2946) is housed in a beautiful 1882 trust company building, still featuring two bank vaults. Become inspired by tributes to three-time Oscar-winning lyricist Ray Evans who wrote “Silver Bells,” “Mona Lisa” and the theme from TV’s Bonanza, among others; or Pulitzer prize and 11-time Tony winning playwright (“Damn Yankees,” “Pajama Game”), director and producer George Francis Abbott; or Paul Owens, manager/general manager of the 1980 World Series Philadelphia Phillies champions. See so much more.

Completely different is the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts (375-2494) located on the St. Bonaventure University campus, offering a small but exquisite collection of European and American paintings, and galleries for modern art, Civil War maps, rare books and porcelain.

The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum (945-1738) allows a peek into another culture. Beautiful beadwork and pottery, a display on the sport of lacrosse, photographs and written accounts of treaties made and treaties broken, a life-sized replica of a longhouse, tools and weapons, musical instruments and jewelry are eye opening.

If you’re more into nature, the Administration Building in the Red House area of Allegany State Park (354-2182) highlights the park’s wildlife, while the Old Quaker Store Museum, in the Quaker Lake area, chronicles the history of camping, featuring an old-time cabin. In West Valley, the Antler Shed Taxidermy and Whitetail Museum (699-4427) reveals a lifetime’s collection of about 13,000 antlers, plus big bucks, and hunting and outdoor artifacts.

Industries inspired several of our museums. The need for knives and sharp tools and weapons in the county’s early days provided work for the settlers and treasures and stories for us. Fine examples can be seen at The American Museum of Cutlery (257-9813) in Cattaraugus. In Olean, the CUTCO/KA-BAR Visitors Center (790-7000) offers further historic insight into the cutlery industry and their world-famous table, military and sports knives.

A fully restored passenger depot housing a model train exhibit at the Salamanca Rail Museum (945-3133) will delight everyone. The kids can explore two cabooses permanently displayed on the museum grounds, as well as a boxcar, a coach and a crew camp car.

Phone numbers have been provided for each of the museums, all to be preceded by the 716 area code. Please remember to call the museum for hours and/or location before heading out. Most have free admission and I found the historians at these facilities to be enthusiastic and eager to show off their corner of the County.

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