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Hidden treasure trove of B-port’s past

By Travis Wright - MANAGING EDITOR
On October 8, 2014

The Emily L. Knapp Museum and Library of Local History, located at 49 State St.  holds many of Brockport’s historic artifacts.  The museum has been around since 1943 and has been maintained with the help of volunteers.

Photo courtesy of Taylir Lorino/PHOTO EDITOR

Hidden just off Main Street on the second floor of Brockport’s Municipal Building is the largest treasure trove of Village of Brockport history, apart from the offices on the lower floor. A trip up the stairs will transport you back in time as you enter the Emily L. Knapp Museum and Library of Local History. Brockport Historian and Museum Director Jacqueline “Jackie” Morris, along with several other volunteers, keep the museum running and open for anyone to visit.

The building at 49 State St., now the Brockport Municipal Building and museum, was once home to William Seymour and his family after its erection in 1827. 

“He was the first sheriff of Monroe County and he laid out the village along with Heil Brockway,” Morris said. “They laid it out and the village became a village in the 1830s.”

According to Morris, the Village of Brockport was a result of the Erie Canal because for two years Brockport was at the end of it until progress was made to Middleport. 

In two year’s time, workers managed to cut through the stone that blocked the way and Brockport was able to grow into a successful village. 

“From then on, it was a thriving village,” Morris said. “There were bootmakers and coat makers and later food processing plants. [The Great Atlantic Pacific Tea Company] A&P had a processing plant here for years.”

While some of these businesses faded away, the Seymours’ house still stood strong and they occupied it until the 1940s when the last Seymour died and the house was willed to the village on the condition that it be turned into a library.

“Up until 20 years ago, it was a library downstairs,” Morris said. “But then the village offices came and in order to still make it legal, we are the Library of Local History and the library moved out to Clarkson.”

In the 1940s, William Seymour’s niece Helen Hastings asked her uncle if she could have the top two floors of the home to use as a museum. Since 1943, the museum has been run and maintained through the work of volunteers. 

“There are four of us who really come up and open it up for visitors and have done most of the getting it ready to open,” Morris said. “We have had probably between six and eight people who have come up, volunteered and helped straighten and clean it up.”

In fact, the museum had just reopened in July after a group of volunteers came and, for 18 months, worked on rehabilitating the museum. As the relatively small museum houses many artifacts, it had become cluttered and uncategorized. Now, after the volunteers’ help, the museum is more accessible. As for where the artifacts come from, Morris says they just show up.

“Usually people clean out their attics and their basements and what they didn’t know what to do with well they’d give it to us,” Morris said. “Sometimes you have to be kind of selective. We like it to be Brockport so those are the things we accept thankfully. Everything else we’ll accept, but we’d like it to be old Brockport.”

Among the many artifacts are old clothes, phonographs, military uniforms, factory parts and old farming equipment including an original McCormick reaper which was invented and patented in Brockport, according to Morris. There is also a possible Remington Brass sculpture “The Cheyenne.” If real, Morris said the statue would be priceless, however, she said she believes it might be a reproduction.

Morris said her favorite artifact isn’t just a small thing, but an entire room of the house itself. The room of Helen Seymour is one of the few rooms that has remained almost completely untouched. The walls still have the original wallpaper scattered with peacocks and feathers, but Morris said she finds the fireplace as the most interesting thing. around the fireplace are painted tiles of nursery rhyme images that were painted and flamed by Helen herself.

Currently, the museum doesn’t receive any funding from the village and Morris had a plain answer for why they aren’t.

“There isn’t any money,” Morris said.

She said when she first came to work as the village historian she was given a stipend. However, for two years she didn’t receive any payment because there wasn’t any money to pay her with. 

For Morris though, it comes down to a passion for Brockport history. As village historian and museum director, Morris volunteers 20 hours each week not just to the museum, but to the history of Brockport in general.

“People will call me and ask me to open up or do something and of course I’m happy to do it,” Morris said.

The museum doesn’t have any strict hours yet, but it is usually open 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and 12 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Appointments can also be made by calling Morris at (585) 637-4716 or Doug at (585) 314-9299.

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