MALONE — Jennifer Robert was a fourth-grade student when her class took a trip to the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society’s House of History.
Each student made a candle to take home. They baked cookies, learned how to weave, watched corn-broom making and experienced what learning was like in a one-room schoolhouse. Robert never envisioned then that one day she’d be the museum’s director.
Wed this summer, she is now Jennifer Johnston, and she occupies the director’s office. And she has a lot of goals and projects she wants to see happen to make future fourth-graders and others more aware of local history.
“The school program they have here is excellent, with wonderful volunteers,” she said. “However, I would like to get the children more involved in new projects, more hands-on experiences, to make it even better.”
She said children don’t realize that the House of History isn’t just a class tour. It’s about a time when people actually had to carry their water, bake bread on a wood stove, weave their own cloth and make their own brooms. If they didn’t produce certain goods, then they had to grow, or make, something to barter with their neighbors for the daily items they needed.
“I’m thinking we could add some period dress, do some hoop rolling or other activities, to make it real,” she added. “Life really was that way!”
LOVES MUSEUM WORK
Johnston, 26, graduated from Franklin Academy in Malone in 2004, attended the University of New Hampshire for a year and transferred to Plattsburgh State, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a double concentration in printmaking and ceramics in 2008. Last December, she earned her Master of Science degree in teaching from SUNY Potsdam. She has been a substitute teacher at Malone and Chateaugay schools but loves the museum work.
“I was a student intern at Plattsburgh State’s Art Museum, and I loved it,” she said. “When I saw this job advertised, I applied and was thrilled when I actually was hired.”
The society’s Board of Trustees is also thrilled.
“We are happy to have a director like Jennifer who has youth and enthusiasm,” said Board of Trustees President Cheryl Learned. “She learns quickly and is a true asset to our organization.”
Learned also explained that the society could not apply for grants without a director on staff, and with funding hard to find, it was imperative they fill the position.
Johnston and Learned agree that growth has to happen, including member-base expansion, drawing visitors into the museum for tours and effective community outreach.
The new Schryer Center for Genealogy and Historical Research — the former carriage house — is a great complement to the museum, but the Tuscan-style brick House of History and the artifacts it holds are treasures waiting to be discovered.
“There are so many wonderful surprises here at the House of History; I discover something in one room or another that I didn’t see the day before,” Johnston said.
While sorting through some papers, she found a story written about her own relatives who served in World War I. She remembers seeing it before when a family member had the story, but to find it at the House of History was a thrill.
“I’ve always been a person who has to have a challenge in life. I see this job as a challenge that I gladly take on. It is fantastic to be here.”
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IF YOU GO
The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society is located at 51 Milwaukee St. in Malone.
House of History summer hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Schryer Center for Historical and Genealogical Research hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Group tours by appointment.
Suggested donation: $5, adults, $2, children.
The Historical and Museum Society is a Blue Star Museum. Through Labor Day, Sept. 3, active military personnel and their families have free admission on days the museum is open.
Contact the museum at 483-2750 or Fchms@franklinhistory.org. Learn more at www.franklinhistory.org.