I met Joyce Brower at this months 2023 NY Museum Association Conference in Syracuse. (Thanks for the invite Erika Sanger!) I was quickly enthralled by the interesting tapestry of organizational collaborations she was weaving into the fabric of an upcoming event she introduced me to. The ‘2023 Hoosick History and Heritage Fair’ is a regional narrative. Joyce has a way of convincing you of the importance the past plays in the creation of provenance or the identity of a place. As we went deeper, she shared tried and true methods that are creating community cohesion while documenting new things for feature generations to benefit from. There are some real gems in this one folks.
Please tell us your name and what you do. How did you get to be in this position?
My name is Joyce Brewer. I am the Director of the Hoosick Township Historical Society and the Louis Miller Museum. I have worked for HTHS for 10 years and have been the Director for 8 years. I am a trustee of the Friends of the Bennington Battlefield and I have held the position of treasurer since its rebirth in 2018. I am a lifelong resident of the Town of Hoosick.
Can you talk a little about why you feel it’s important to tell the stories of places / small towns like Hoosick Falls?
Small communities like Hoosick Falls struggle to make their history and heritage known outside of the local community. They don’t have the funds or dedicated staff at the governmental agencies or departments that work to highlight the community and all it has to offer. Places like Hoosick Falls have amazing history, events and businesses, but getting the word out is hard. The larger media groups don’t tend to cover us, unless something bad happens. Hoosick Falls played an integral part in the founding of our country. The area was a leader at the beginning of the industrial age. We may be a small community now, but at the turn of the 19th century, Hoosick Falls was the place to be!
How does the Hoosick Township Historical Society fit into the towns tapestry? What impact do you feel you have on attracting folks to visit or even live in Hoosick Falls?
The Historical Society plays a very important part in our town. We are a “hands on” museum which delights kids and adults. It is a common occurrence to get calls, emails and visitors from all over the USA and the world inquiring about family genealogy, or asking a question about a piece of Walter A. Wood farm machinery they have. We get many inquiries on military history or tracking someone who fought in the American Revolution. We do all we can do to answer their questions, usually doing the research ourselves and sharing all we can find to help them in their search. It is rewarding to find a long lost family member or have a child excited to try on their great grandfather’s military uniform. If the Town or Village clerk receives a request for genealogy information, we are their first stop.
When folks are looking to purchase a home or start a business, coming to the museum to find out the history of their building is very common. For new homeowners they want to know the history of who lived in their house before them. They come to the museum and many spend hours and weeks doing more research. It is fun and rewarding to help them discover! As an ambassador for Hoosick Falls, I encourage guests to continue their visit by checking out a food establishment, visiting the Battlefield or a stopping at one of the many art or antique stores.
What advice would you give to other Historical Society organizations that are operating in smaller, more rural towns?
It is imperative to have an open door attitude. To have your artifacts accessible to young and old, and to offer events that highlight not just the famous of your community but the everyday person who happens to be an amazing photographer or artist, a cherished dance teacher or even someone who just celebrated their 100th birthday. These are the people who are the fabric of the town, the hardworking everyday people, and when you celebrate them, the entire community can see how the local historical society cares for the community as a whole, not just those who are famous. It is also important to share the stories and photos of not just the famous or infamous, but of everyday life…kids playing ball, a sports team from “back in the day”, a group of folks in a factory. Not only do these photos and stories get people talking, they share them because they have family or friends in them and this promotes pride and respect in them and in your small town. We feel it is extremely important to offer programs for kids and let them experience the museum in a fun and ingenious way. This is why we started Junior Historians in 2022.
I am fascinated by the upcoming event you have at the Hoosick Falls Armory – the ‘Hoosick History and Heritage Fair.’ Can you tell us more about your collaborative project partners and how you plan to make that a town wide event?
Besides being Director of the historical society, I am also a member of the Friends of the Bennington Battlefield. We have been working since 2018 to enhance the Battlefield and the public experience there. We added interpretive panels in 2020 and in 2022 we added an audio tour to accompany the panels. To address attendance challenges, our two groups created a joint committee to focus on fostering community engagement and education in Hoosick History and Heritage. Our goal is to propel our community to the next phases of upcoming celebrations, such as the end of the Seven Years War in 1774 (2024), the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775 (2025), the declaration of our independence 1776 (2026), and the turning point of the Revolution which began right here in Walloomsac, NY on August 16 1777 (2027).
Besides celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Bennington – which we prefer to call the Battle of Walloomsac- it will also be the 200th anniversary for the Village of Hoosick Falls and the 100th anniversary of NYS officially recognizing the battlefield as a Historic site. With these three important events all in the same year we knew we needed to focus our efforts to bring awareness to these important dates and bring a renewed interest in our amazing history.
As a small historical society we could never host an event like this on our own, but bringing all these people together in one space, gives those small, mostly volunteer run places a place to highlight what they are and have to offer. We will have representatives from a wide variety of historic sites and organizations who will share interesting history from Rensselaer County and beyond, as well as reenacting groups, our own Junior Historians and fun kids activities. Visitors can visit over a dozen exhibitors in the armory, participate in a scavenger hunt throughout our historic district, take a narrated trolley ride to the battlefield and back, and grab some food from the local Lions Club and ice cream truck. There will be re-enactors setting up camp in Wood Park. At noon, you can join the Red Knights Motorcycle Club as they co-host the annual Armed Forces Day Ceremony. This ceremony honors the 103 men from the Town of Hoosick who died in service to their country and is held at Liberty Memorial Park in Maple Grove Cemetery.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church thrift store, which is located adjacent to Wood Park, will be open as well and many of the downtown brick and morter businesses throughout the town will have specials for the day. The best part – the event is FREE!!
What do folks need to know to get involved with the May 20th event? Is there an event page with a full listing of whats happening?
You can visit Hoosick Township Historical Society
You can also find the information at the Friends of the Bennington Battlefield
On the NYS Parks site for the Bennington Battlefield
If you wish to volunteer an hour or two of your time on the 20th you can reach out to me at [email protected] or call 518-686-4682.
If you want to experience the fair and all that is happening, the fair will run from 10 am to 4 pm at the Hoosick Falls Armory, 80 Church St, Hoosick Falls. Come early to grab breakfast, a coffee or a nutritious shake, take a walk along the Hoosic River Greenway, or visit Natty Bumppo’s burial site. There is so much to do in Historic Hoosick Falls!