Museum Crisis sparks Cook, community cooperation


A trend in many smaller communities throughout the United States-rising costs for public service agencies and buildings-caught up with Sullivan County in the Catskill region of New York State this year.

One of the issues affecting the Frederick A. Cook Society was the possible closing of the Sullivan County Historical Museum, home for the Society since 1974 and the location of its refurbished F. A. Cook Room, the collection of various papers and the personal library of Dr. Cook, involving several hundred books and documents.

Sullivan County reported a $204 million budget for 2006-2007 last October, more than $3-million less than the previous year but with projected property taxes rising less than three percent. Massive layoffs-142 positions in the county being eliminated-included personnel from the Department of Public Works who have provided maintenance and cleaning services for the museum.

The Sullivan County Historical Museum, built in 1912 as a public school in Hurleyville, NY has housed the 
Frederick A. Cook Exhibition, Dr. Cook's library and other artifacts of the explorer for the past 32 years.

It had been proposed that the Museum would be closed to the public eight months of the year-from October through May. Concerns were immediately raised about the climate control situation in the Museum for the extensive Cook Collection as well as artifacts from Civil War displays described as "priceless" by those familiar with the holdings. One of the Cook's Arctic sleds, designed by his brother Sullivan County pioneer Theodore Cook, is on display along with Inuit artifacts.

Cook Collection Curator Patricia Burns and board member David Kaufman, former chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, were prominent in meetings which were held with the county and other nonprofit groups housed in the 88-year-old Museum building. Mr. Kaufman and Ms. Burns subsequently became part of a private sector committee seeking resolution of the Museum situation during the fiscal crisis. 

The Society and its collection joined with the Sullivan county Dramatic Workshop, the Sullivan County Historical Society, the Catskill Arts Society and other groups to coordinate independent funding through the winter months. The county indicated that it would include the largest and most important item for the Museum, heating for the upcoming months.

The Monticello Times-Herald-Record in coverage of the funding crisis described the Museum's holdings as "maps, diaries, and brittle newspapers. A formal cotton dress from 1790. A paper gun cartridge from William Tecumseh Sherman's march to Atlanta, one of the few left in the country. The Museum is crowded with fragile priceless artifacts, sensitive to mold, moisture and temperature.

Society President Warren Cook Sr. communicated with Sullivan county Legislative Chairman Chris Cunningham in advocating the Cook commitment to the Museum and the community, which included a $25,000 renovation and upgrade of the Society's Cook Room in 1999 and the Society's acquisition and transfer of the former St. Mary's Church, adjacent to the Museum, to the county in 1978.

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