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Must-Visit Museums in Cattaraugus & McKean Counties

Ellicottville Historical Museum

Ask around, and people know Ellicottville as a resort town. The brunt of the money comes from tourism, exemplified by our two resorts, bustling downtown with shops and restaurants and seemingly endless places to stay. But had you asked Ellicottville’s original residents, they’d have no idea what it would eventually become. In 2020, Ellicottville celebrates its Bicentennial … 200 years of your favorite ski town. 

The Ellicottville Historical Society and Ellicottville Historical Museum are planning quite the celebration for the big 2-0-0. A myriad of events will coincide with the museum showcasing artifacts and other culturally-significant pieces. The building, located on the corner of Washington and Jefferson Streets, formerly housed a historian’s dream: a bank, a church, a County Clerk office and a millinery shop. (I Googled it for you - a millinery shop was a store that sold hats). 

While the museum is only open on weekends from June through September, the work doesn’t stop. Historical Society President Dawn Westfall and members of the Bicentennial Committee have been working on the celebration over the past year; since the Holland Land Company founded many of the surrounding towns (ours included), many bicentennials are coming up. 

There are three main events for the Bicentennial celebration. The first, at Holiday Valley over Winter Carnival, will see living legend and one of Holiday Valley’s founders Edna Northrup discuss the early days of Holiday Valley and some other historical insights. Plus, since the museum isn’t open during the winter and many of Ellicottville’s visitors can’t visit, the historical society will take artifacts and other fun historical objects to Holiday Valley. Expect to see things like an old flag likely used for Civil War recruitment and a pencil drawing (measuring approximately 18” x 24”) of a handle manufacturing business from the 1880s, the details of which were previously unknown. The second event, the actual birthday, goes down in April. And the third, a July homecoming. 

The Ellicottville community has answered the challenge of a high-end celebration. Local artist Barbara Fox created a cancellation stamp celebrating 200 years that will be used by the local Post Office. Ellicottville Distillery owner Bryan Scharf created a commemorative whiskey, after someone found a bottle from a past era labeled “Pride of Ellicottville” - which will be served at Edna Northrup’s Fireside Chat. 

The Historical Society is also selling Bicentennial calendars that showcase old photographs of the town and village. They’re $15, and all proceeds benefit the celebration and Ellicottville Historical Museum. You can find more information on the museum at their Facebook page. 

 

Onöhsagwë:de' Cultural Center

Nestled in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains and next to Allegany State Park in Salamanca lies a new, state-of-the-art building. The former Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, rebranded as the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center, is a dedication to the history, prehistory and current culture of the Iroquois with a heavy emphasis on the Seneca. The Cultural Center provides an unmatched experience in learning and celebration. The translation of Onöhsagwë:de’ means “house opening”. 

The Cultural Center’s role is part museum and part community advancement. Housing thousands of culturally-significant objects from the Six Hodinöhsö:ni’ Nations - Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Tuscarora - it remains the go-to spot for history and preservation. Located across Route 86 from the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino, it moved from its previous location in 2018. 

The collections are unique to the culture. Expect to see art, basketry, antler carvings, pottery, beadwork and cornhusk, plus the applications and significance of each. And the exhibits on display? Immerse yourself in experiences that teach you about The Creation Story, milestones, lacrosse and even an authentic Seneca log cabin. Learn why children receive their clans from their mothers in the Seneca Women exhibit, or the exhibit on the Kinzua Dam. 

The Center has multiple events and new exhibits coming in the near future. The 1st Annual Youth Art Show on Saturday, March 28th gives young aspiring Hodinöhsö:ni’ artists a chance to showcase pieces like beadwork, art, photography, basketry, paintings and other traditional art. The Mother’s of All Tours exhibition opening on May 11th highlights Hodinöhsö:ni’ women who have made significant contributions to the communities they reside in. The museum will also participate in the Smithsonian’s Museum Day (April 4th, free admission at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum), Museum Week (May 11th-17th), Routes to Art via the Tri-County Arts Council (May 16th-17th, free admission) and Heritage Days (June 6th-7th). Heritage Days is the largest festival of the year, with singing, dancing, Richard Hamel (who specializes in wampum belt reproduction), and renowned artist Robert Griffing will be available to meet as well.

The Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center is located at 82 W Hetzel Street in Salamanca. Hours, prices, events and more information can be found at their website (www.senecamuseum.org) plus more information on the center. There’s a full selection of purchasable products both at the museum in their store and on their site as well. 

 

ELDRED WWII MUSEUM

Eldred’s WWII Museum, a dazzling dedication to history’s greatest conflict, is a must-visit and very much worth the drive. Once a munitions plant that made ordnance for Allied forces during World War II, the museum ranks amongst the very best in the country in terms of sheer artifacts. Curator Steve Appleby does an outstanding job in creating a feeling of immersion - telling the stories and showing the artifacts that make you feel like you’re in 1943. 

The museum’s mission statement is to educate current generations on the lessons learned during the War and post-War years, provide context and interpretation of the conflict and to commemorate the sacrifice made by both those who fought and helped at home. The latter ties into the museum’s origination - after the munitions plant opened, many of the local men went to fight. Of the 1,500 employees, over 95% were women. These are the types of facts you can come to learn at the museum. 

You can see things such as sand from Normandy Beach and a gyroscope from a torpedo (the only other one known to be in existence rests at the Smithsonian). There’s a room full of clothing from the different armed forces - both Allied and Axis - plus countless exhibits that paint the picture of the men and women who served. 

While the museum covers a broad spectrum of the war, it also focuses on individual subjects like women in the workforce, the Holocaust, the Navajo Code Talkers and many others. It showcases the stories that make up the sum of the war - individuals whose stories are all uniquely fascinating and important. For those that wish to learn more after visiting the museum, the Robert A. Anderson Library (located upstairs) boasts a collection of over 8,500 volumes, plus documents, videos and veteran interviews not found elsewhere. 

A heavy emphasis on education means the Eldred WWII Museum offers free access to school groups. They offer specialized tours focusing on particular subjects, and staff members often times travel to schools, libraries and universities to speak on subjects pertaining to the war. They often host programs, the most recent commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. Keep an eye on their website or Facebook page for announcements on future commemorations, such as Victory in Europe/Victory in Japan Day.

All in all, the Eldred WWII Museum and Learning Center should be on your list to visit. More information and a full operating schedule is available at www.eldredpawwiimuseum.com.