Schenectady County Historical Society
The Schenectady County Historical Society, located in Schenectady, New York, was established on July 14, 1905, under the Membership Corporation Laws of the State of New York. The Society is an independent not-for-profit corporation, not a unit of government. Its stated mission as embodied in its constitution was, and remains, “to promote and encourage original historical research; to disseminate a greater knowledge of the history of the State of New York and particularly of Schenectady County; to gather, preserve, display, and make available for study artifacts, books, manuscripts, papers, photographs and other records and materials relating to the early and current history of Schenectady County, New York and of the surrounding area; to encourage the suitable marking of places of historic interest; to acquire by purchase, gifts, devise, or otherwise the title to or the custody and control of historic sites and structures.”
For seven years, the Society had no headquarters of its own, but was given space for exhibits in the Schenectady County Public Library. In December 1912, a committee responsible for finding a home for the Society succeeded in negotiating a three-year lease for the building at 11-13-15 Union Street that had been erected a half-century earlier to accommodate the offices of the County Clerk and the Surrogate Court and was no longer needed for that purpose. The exhibits were moved from the Library to the new home, and this became the location for monthly meetings for the next 46 years.
In April 1958, the General Electric Company deeded to the Society the former G.E. Women's Club building at 32 Washington Avenue “as tangible evidence of its interest and desire to associate itself with those who are working to advance the city's cultural and educational activities." The Georgian style building, whose grounds are adjacent to the waters of the Binnekill and the Mohawk River, displays aspects of Federal and Greek Revival throughout the house. It is located in the Stockade Historic District, declared a national historic site in 1973. The building had been erected in 1895 by Jones Mumford Jackson as a home for himself and his mother Dora, a widow, but both died within a few years of occupancy. An addition to the house was made in 1967, a meeting room named for local author John Vrooman. The Vrooman Room is also used periodically for museum exhibits.
To house an expanding collection of books and documents, a second major addition was added to the rear of the house in 1991. Called the Grems-Doolittle Library in honor of its major benefactor, Mandalay Grems, the Library and the Schenectady History Museum in the original house form the core of the Society’s downtown Schenectady operations.
In little over a decade, the 1990s, the Society grew from a modest house museum called the Dora Jackson House with one room jammed with local history and genealogy, to the 12-room Schenectady History Museum; the adjoining Grems-Doolittle historical and genealogical library housing over 2,000 local family files, and the Mabee Farm Historic Site—three 17th century farm buildings on 9 acres (36,000 m2) in Rotterdam Junction, seven miles (11 km) west of the City of Schenectady.
The Mabee House had been passed from generation to generation for 287 years before being deeded to the Society by George Franchere on the anniversary date, January 29, 1993. Franchere also gave the Society 583 family papers including the deed passed by Daniel Janse Van Antwerpen to Jan Pieterse Mabee on January 29, 1705, and he provided generous financial support for Farm operations for several years after his initial gift. Mr. Franchere, the last in that particular line of Mabees, died in Florida in November 2004, and is buried in Vale Cemetery. Dividends and interest from a trust fund that he established now provides the Society with a dependable annual income stream restricted to use for its Mabee Farm Historic Site. In accord with the Franchere will, part of that income was used in 2008 to purchase 27 acres (110,000 m2) of adjacent land from Schenectady County, effectively quadrupling the size of the Farm. The George E. Franchere Educational Center, was completed in October 2011 on part of the newly acquired land, and will provide suitable car and bus parking; space for receptions, presentations, and archaeological specimens; refreshment facilities; classrooms; and offices for Site management. Additionally, in 2009 it acquired 9 acres (36,000 m2) plus from the NY State Canal Corp on the north side of the Mohawk River, to protect the historic viewshed.
The Schenectady County Historical Society celebrated its Centennial in 2005, in 2009, it celebrated the bicentennial of Schenectady County, through an extensive exhibit in its Vrooman Room and through the publication of Historic Schenectady County, a comprehensive history of the county, and in 2012, a century in the Stockade.