Guest Article: Orchard Park Historical Society
As we head into our Summer 2021 Planning and Assessment Services Application Round and prepare for a new class of awardees, we decided to step back and reach out to some of our 2020 sites to learn more about their virtual assessment experience and its impact on their institutions.
In response, Christine Gibbons, Board member and the Communications Chair of the Orchard Park Historical Society, a 2020 DHPSNY virtual Archival Needs Assessment recipient, wrote the following article. Detailing the society’s history, base in the historic Jolls House, experience with DHPSNY, and plans for the future, we hope that Christine’s words will inspire other institutions to participate in our services, which, as always, are offered free of cost to NY institutions.
The Orchard Park Historical Society is headquartered in the Jolls House Museum, situated near the Four Corners of the Village of Orchard Park, south of Buffalo. The Society held its first meeting in 1950, with an invitation to “any persons interested in studying Orchard Park history and wishing to aid in searching out and preserving any existing material evidences to add to the community’s ‘stories of yore’ that have weathered time.” Today, we view our mission as “preserving our past to enhance our future.”
The Orchard Park Historical Society moved to the Jolls House in 1996. Through an agreement with the Town of Orchard Park, the organization has full use of the lovely brick Italianate home built by local merchant Ambrose Johnson in 1870. Dr. Willard B. Jolls and his wife Ida Markham Jolls lived there from 1900 to 1963, and during that time, Dr. Jolls also ran his medical practice from a suite of rooms in the rear of the house. The doctor’s office, waiting room, and pharmacy remain as they were when he stopped practicing in 1960, complete with instruments, pharmaceuticals, records, and reference books. It is a sort of time capsule that offers a view into the life of a country doctor who delivered 1,200 babies and selflessly tended to the needs of his patients.
"It is a sort of time capsule that offers a view into the life of a country doctor who delivered 1,200 babies and selflessly tended to the needs of his patients."The Historical Society restored the Jolls House to its original condition, and it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A showcase of its Victorian past, the museum also offers permanent exhibits, including Native American artifacts, Quaker bonnets, vintage cooking utensils, antique toys, and local dairies’ milk bottles. In addition, rotating exhibits have featured farming implements, photographs of local interest, and clothing items from the Society’s collection. The museum is also the repository for an eclectic collection, with items ranging from military artifacts, postcards, and yearbooks to period-appropriate furniture.
The Society’s archival collections include pictures, many taken and developed by Dr. Jolls, as well as historical records, deeds, maps, and correspondence that are of importance to the town’s legacy. Much of our collection dates to the 19th and early 20th centuries, and while part of it has been carefully preserved, we recognized that many of our items require appropriate or further conservation. When our town records manager suggested we explore the possibility of a DHPSNY assessment, our board of directors voted to go ahead with the application and to commit to implementing the recommendations.
The Orchard Park Historical Society was indeed fortunate to have been chosen in March 2020 for an Archival Needs Assessment, which was set to begin in July. That process would normally have included a site visit by Amanda Murray, our assigned preservation specialist, but as with so many things last year, we had to make Covid-appropriate accommodations and Amanda requested that we utilize a Zoom call to give her the information she needed. Prior to that, we sent her pictures and videos to give her a feel for the Jolls House Museum - both the physical plant and the archival collection.
Thanks to Amanda’s extensive preparation beforehand, when five of our members gathered at the Jolls House on July 30, we connected with her for a several-hours-long videoconference and were able to cover all the ground that would normally have taken place during a site visit. Amanda’s resulting report was extensive, insightful, and offers us an invaluable blueprint as we work to improve both the museum and our collection.
"Amanda’s resulting report was extensive, insightful, and offers us an invaluable blueprint as we work to improve both the museum and our collection."
We were unable to open the Jolls House Museum for tours or research during the past year, but we hope to be able to return to open house events and accommodating in-person research requests by the end of this year. In the meantime, Western New York Heritage magazine published an article on the Jolls House Sesquicentennial and we have utilized our Facebook page to post pictures from our collection and to keep members and the public engaged.
Our current goal is to implement Amanda’s recommendations, beginning with those noted as immediately important. Several will require additional funding and we are exploring grants to help with the ‘big’ projects, beginning with a cost assessment and an investigation into museum-related software for record-keeping.
We hope to be able to offer visitors new exhibits that may include Doctor Jolls’ photography and the history of Orchard Park’s libraries, as well as a chance to see the doctor’s instruments, like the device he used to administer electroshock therapy. The doctor’s Mason & Hamlin organ and a working Victrola are also popular with visitors and we look forward to sharing them with the community once again.
The future of the Orchard Park Historical Society and the Jolls House Museum is a very promising one, largely thanks to the assistance we’ve received from the Documentary Heritage Preservation Services of New York.
This article was written by Christine Gibbons, Board member and the Communications Chair, Orchard Park Historical Society.
Image: Dr. Jolls in his horse and buggy that he used to make house calls early in his career, courtesy of the Orchard Park Historical Society.