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Museum in works for Philadelphia

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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PHILADELPHIA — The town claiming to be the cradle of cream cheese soon will have a new way to share its story. Work is under way on a historical museum to be housed at the former antique shop at 64 Main St.


The museum, a project of the Philadelphia Historical Society, is expected to open this summer for a few days each week after interior renovations are completed and the society's collection has been catalogued and organized. The space will replace a small historical display and storage space in Bodman Memorial Library.


The museum has been in the works for a few years. The Historical Society formed in 2008 with the aim of finding a new, larger space for the collection squeezed at the expanding library, and struck a deal with the Philadelphia Civic League last April to purchase the building. But with its main space covered in pegboard and the wood floor painted red, it needed some work to become a museum.


With almost no money, "We didn't know what we were going to do," said Roger C. Livingston, Historical Society president and village and town historian.


That's where Sgt. 1st Class Shawn P. Davis came in. A village resident since 2004, the Fort Drum helicopter mechanic has devoted hundreds of hours, a bit of his own money and a great deal of his building know-how to transforming the neglected storefront into a museum Philadelphians can be proud of.


"We wouldn't be one quarter of the way to where we are now" without Sgt. Davis's help, Mr. Livingston said. "We wouldn't have had anything."


Instead, the society has a gorgeous new space, with new wood trim, refinished wood floors, a new handicapped-accessible bathroom and a reconfigured layout, all for less than $2,000.


Sgt. Davis returned in October from a deployment with the 10th Mountain Division's 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.


"Basically, for a year in Iraq, I ran a wood shop. The guys working there were ex-contractors. That's where I learned how to frame walls," he said, pointing out his work on a room that will become the museum office.


Many of the materials for the work have come from Sgt. Davis's basement, and those of his Army friends, who donated leftover building materials from their own home renovation projects.


"I had my wife and all three of my kids down here sanding," he said.


Mr. Livingston, the Historical Society president, gave a tour last week of the museum-in-progress. Walking among construction supplies, empty but elegant display cases and heaps of boxed historical items, Mr. Livingston described the new facilities that will include some very up-to-date technology. A rear conference room will offer a looped video display of historical photographs, he said. In a front room that used to hold a barbershop, visitors will be able to peruse a series of scrapbooks, using a digital magnifying glass to view enlarged images on a television screen.


Village Trustee Larry D. Rosbrook, a Historical Society member, has been working on the paperwork to charter the museum with the state and obtain nonprofit status, which would make donations to it tax-deductible.


Those interested in donating historical items or money to the project should call Mr. Livingston at 642-3255.


The museum will bring some new life to Philadelphia's downtown. The space most recently had been a cramped storage space for an antiques business that shuttered years ago.


By summer, visitors will be able to peruse the glass-and-wood display cases and learn about the area's history. The collection includes a print from artist Cassius M. Coolidge's famous series showing dogs playing cards, a gift from Mr. Coolidge's late daughter. Mr. Coolidge did much of his business in Antwerp, but was born in the town of Philadelphia.


The town also claims to be the birthplace of cream cheese and the namesake for the "Philadelphia" brand, now owned by Kraft Foods.


Mayor Matthew J. Montroy said the museum will open people's eyes to the area's history, and he praised the hard work of the society members, Sgt. Davis and others in bringing the project to fruition.

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