We give thanks to the Publisher of the Thousand Islands Sun for allowing the reprinting of the following article:
A Woman of Vision by Phyllis Bachman, Staff Writer Thousand Islands Sun, Alexandria Bay, NY, May 29, 2002
This season, the Northern New York Agricultural Historical Society at Stone Mills will celebrate its 33rd anniversary, and with that celebration members will reflect on the contributions of one of its founders whose vision was instrumental in the establishment and growth of the museum that showcases rural life in the north country during the past century. Always one intent on preserving our agricultural heritage, Josephine Fredenburg, Robinson Road , Clayton, was disheartened to see old farm machinery just standing out in fields while driving along the country roads. It seemed a waste for it to rust away. The organization of a boat museum in Clayton got Josephine to thinking, “I didn’t see why, if they had a museum down to the river, that we couldn’t have something in the country.”
She presented the idea to the local grange and they thought it was a good idea. They, in turn, presented the proposal to Pomona Grange, the county wide organization. They were, clearly, touched by her appeal and agreed to investigate. One member reached in his pocket and said, “How much do you need?”
Interested granges drew support from individuals around the area. A former schoolmate from the Bay, Pauline Carlisle, shared Josephine’s vision and the interest grew.
When sufficient support had been generated, the group began looking for a home. Everyone suggested the LaFarge mansion but, upon entering, they feared the building would collapse on them. Clearly, it was too far gone.
Group representatives contacted Albany for support, she said, and a state official brought an architect up to take a look. He suggested using a piece of property by the old church in Stone Mills as the museum site.
The church was empty, used off and on, and not in good shape. To add to the challenge, no one knew who owned it. Undaunted, they went ahead and publicized the project. Soon a letter was forthcoming from a woman in Oswego County stating that she had a deed to a corner of the property. The deed was enclosed therein.
Josephine advised that the church was one of the first buildings in Jefferson County to be placed on the national registry. Deemed public property, was secured for the museum at no cost. To Josephine’s knowledge, no deed exists to this day. Marguerite Raineri, current museum director, confirmed that there are deeds in the safe but they may be to adjoining property that was subsequently purchased.
Hard Work Josephine remembers how hard the group worked to get the church ready. “They put on a new roof and made repairs to the walls,” she said. “The pulpit and the railings are the original but many of the center pews were removed for dances and other group activities.”
Once the site had been secured and the building restored, the group realized the need for a permanent organization to oversee its operation; hence the Stone Mills Agricultural Society was formed. Josephine recalls that her friend Pauline served as its first president and she as its first secretary.
“We started out collecting household effects”, she noted. “We went up and down the road in search of items. “I’ve got a rolling pin made out of a stick.” A gas lantern, a 1919 3 pt. truck, a buckeye point farm wagon, a Leroy hillside plow and a Black horse pull are among other remembered acquisitions that represent the way people lived.
The driving force behind the group’s achievements, Josephine encouraged expansion. The site once contained a one room schoolhouse. Destroyed by fire, they secured another. A historic schoolhouse was donated by the Shimmel family of LaFargeville and moved moved to the site, courtesy of the town as Josephine recalls. It rests on the original foundation, occupying a portion of the 50 acres of land now comprising the site, some of which was deeded over by the state. The group was unable to have it placed on the historic registry due to regulations governing structures moved from original sites.
The cheese factory was also acquired, she said, a gift from the Ebblie family. It has been completely redone and has been placed on the registry. Mrs. Raineri advised that visitation to the site is limited as it is across the road from the site of the other buildings. “We’d get a lot more visitors if we moved it,” she said, “but it would lose its historic listing.”
Still expanding their historic holdings, the group acquired the building known as Irwin’s store, at the foot of the hill and took steps to have it placed on the state’s historic registry. Josephine recalled that it was later sold by the museum to Tim Beattie in 1990 after unsuccessful efforts to protect it from vandalism. Mrs. Ranieri stated that Mr. Beattie indicated a willingness to sell it back to the museum should they be able to secure grant moneys for its restoration.
In the meantime, the structure continues to deteriorate. Its back is out and its sides are falling in. “But it has such a rich history,” she bemoaned, “once serving as a stagecoach stop. The first telephone was in there,” Josephine added, “and the first telegraph came through there.”
Special Activities Josephine never saw the museum as a quiet storage place for yesterday’s memories and she encouraged the scheduling of activities. Special events were planned and have grown to occupy just about every weekend throughout the summer. The craft fair highlights the special events planned at the museum and this season will mark the 33rd. Josephine remembers the first one they held. “Some of the locals brought in knitting,” she remarked, “and Canadian crafters also participated.” She explained that there were no fences when the craft show was first held and so no admission was charged. She doesn’t recall assessing any booth fees either. Money was realized by requesting donations from both the crafters and the visitors; “anyone who would give,” she stressed. After the first couple of years, everyone had to pay. The fair has since grown to 225 crafters and thousands of visitors.
Additional funds were raised through the sale of $100 life memberships to the society, she said, adding that a plaque is on display at the site recognizing all such members. Life memberships currently number over 100, most of whom are still living. With progress there are always setbacks and Josephine remembers one such event. “There was an electrical fire in the steeple one summer. The worst part of it,” she said, “was the loss of a beautiful work of art in the front of the stairwell.” Today, the steeple remains very charred and in need of repair. The estimated cost of repairs runs between $6,000 to $12,000 and restoration is underway.
96 Years A rural north country museum was, indeed, a remarkable vision but Josephine is a remarkable woman. Her list of accomplishments is long as she celebrates her 96th year of life. She has recorded many firsts for women of the north country and experienced numerous opportunities not often available to women of her day.
Born Josephine Elizabeth Collins on a farm in Collins Landing to B. Franklin Collins and Maude Beckwith Collins, Josephine recalls that her parents and their parents were grangers. A 1907 New Years baby, she disclosed that her father pedaled fruit with a boat when her parents were first married. After the Thousand Islands bridge was built, she said, he ran a gas station on the corner of Collins Landing and the old State Road.
Josephine’s mother, an ordained minister, taught school and was instrumental in getting a Cornell extension home bureau at the local level, between Collins Landing and Alexandria Bay . Her mother was clearly a strong influence in Josephine’s life and guided by the model she set. Josephine remembers a teacher once telling her, “Your mother knows how to do everything.”
Josephine started school in Collins Landing, in the schoolhouse her grandfather built. “Years ago,” she remembered, “a sheet of paper was discovered in the building that apparently was the student register. It contained my grandfather’s name.” She graduated from high school in Alexandria Bay , valedictorian of the class of 1922, and went on to Canton , completing her studies in home economics at St. Lawrence University in 1925. While there, she applied to and was accepted at Cornell University , the first woman student at the school to be so honored. However, it would be a few years before she went.
She did receive a bachelor of science degree from Cornell. An accomplished student, she held membership in the Phi Kappa Phi, Lambda Theta and Omicron Gnu honor societies.
The Country Life Association, a national organization, had a chapter in several colleges, she said. including Cornell. She became active and, later, had the privilege of serving as national president for 3 years, an experience she describes as “wonderful.” “Each year the conference was in a different institution,” she recalls. “ West Virginia , Iowa , Michigan .
Josephine enjoyed a number of varied work experiences before settling permanently in Jefferson County. She trained as a hospital dietician at Muhlenburg Hospital in Plainfield , New Jersey , subsequently working at the Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsburg. She taught at Canton for 4 years, leaving there to attend Iowa State, Ames , for summer school. While there, she landed a job in the general college at the University of Minnesota . But, when it looked like war was imminent, she flew home, in the 1st plane ever to fly out of Minnesota . A previous trip home was made by car, quite an undertaking before the days of interstates.
Josephine cared for her parents for a period, but it was hardly a period of inactivity. Josephine didn’t know the meaning of the word. They had a home bureau on the State Road (now NYS Rt. 12), she said, “which ran between Collins Landing and Alexandria Bay . My mother and I were both active in home bureau,” she said, “and I was also involved with the 4H Club and with the local chapter of American Country Life Association.”
The war years were spent in Delaware County as a home demonstration agent teaching home economics to adults. She traveled from there to Albany , where she spent an additional year. Josephine married Augustin (Gus) Fredenburg shortly after World War II, after which she was called home because her mother was sick. She and Gus settled back in her father’s house and remained there until it was taken for construction of the Interstate Rt. 81 cloverleaf approaching the American span of the Thousand Islands Bridge . Last summer, Josephine received an honor from Daughters of the American Revolution, marking 50 years of service to that organization.
At 95, Josephine doesn’t get out very much any more, but she still takes a keen interest in events and activities of the day, especially those of the Northern New York Agricultural Historical Society to which she gave birth through her vision and support. It remains, perhaps, the most lasting of her many gifts to the community.
Added note: Mrs. Fredenburg passed away November 2002. The Museum held a memorial service for her and placed a bronze plaque in a garden in her memory.