Pete Light and Eric Jarvis restored this soda-acid fire extinguisher for the Dannemora Village Museum, which has been open for about four months. Photographs, articles and exhibits bring the village's history to life.
As soon as Pete Light heard the village offices were going to move to the old school, he was knocking on the door. He wanted to put his years of historical research and collecting out where they could be seen and appreciated.
He has three kids, and though they enjoy his collections, none are interested in inheriting and curating them.
“So I said to myself, what’s going to happen to this stuff?” said Light.
He went to the village mayor, and proposed a museum. He decided that when it was all said and done, the collection would belong to the village
“If I pass on tomorrow, what are we going to do, pack it up in boxes and pile it up in my kitchen?” he said. “I don’t want that to happen. I want it to be somewhere that people can enjoy it.”
It was a real labor of love for Light, and he had to do much of the work himself. Inside the repurposed elementary school classroom, he built a wall designed to evoke the old lumber pickets that surrounded the local prison in its early years. It divides the room into an exhibit highlighting the prison inside that wall and exhibits on the village outside it.
He had to do it on a low budget, too — $800.
“And I scrounged and I begged and I got every piece of material I could,” before digging into his village budget, he said.
He did get some very notable help though. He received some large donations from the now-passed Ursula Kaufman. Local student Kyle Lamora pitched in nearly every time Light asked him to. Eric Jarvis helped sandblast, paint and move the museum centerpiece, an antique soda-acid fire extinguisher from the Thayer Hose Company.
“It’s an unbelievable amount of steel,” said Light.
Thayer was a prison warden who wanted to do something about a large number of prison fires, so he started a firefighting company. Soda acid machines mixed sulfuric acid and sodium bicarbonate to make a gas that would pressurize water tanks to help pump.
Thayer also kicked off a water famine in Dannemora at the dawn of the 20th century. Wells in the village were abandoned when he built a water supply system that fed off the prison. When the hospital for the criminally insane put too much stress on system, Thayer shut off the village, and people had to turn to delivery by barrel while the sewer system overflowed. This famine ushered in the incorporation of the village.
Dick Lynch, head librarian for the Northern New York American-Canadian Geneological Society, said being next door to Light in the village offices creates a little historical network that both find very beneficial.
Lynch has been able to donate photographs and railroad artifacts for display in the museum, and Light sends inquisitive minds over to the Society to seek new information of local lineage.
Light has many more stories to tell, and exhibits to show off. The museum’s posted hours are Tuesdays, 3 to 6:30 p.m. and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. He’s happy to make appointments for people, though, as the museum represents a lifelong hobby.
He’s encouraging people to visit soon, because he’s getting ready for an exhibit redesign this June, where he’ll have a section of the room focused on Chazy Lake. He wants to keep things fresh so people have a reason to visit again and again
Those who would like to donate funds or items, or loan an artifact can call Light at 492-7569.