By Mary Heyl

The Ellicottville Historical Society museum is now open for the 2016 season, and there are so many new exhibits for visitors to explore!

Located at 2 Washington Street on Ellicottville’s main square, the museum is open from 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays now through September 1. Director Mary Elizabeth Dunbar encourages visitors to check out the new exhibits and attend the historical society’s monthly speaker series at the Ellicottville Memorial Library through October.

Over the past year, Dunbar and her dedicated group of volunteers led by area resident Cathy Lacey, have been working hard on the exhibits, which are all brand new for 2016. The exhibits, arranged chronologically, take visitors back in time to learn about Ellicottville’s early settlers and farming and agricultural roots. Then visitors can learn about Ellicottville’s earliest homes, businesses and churches, many of which are still standing today. Dunbar is pleased to share a special exhibit, a display of wedding gowns from community members, that dates back to the late 1800s; each dress has a unique story behind it, as many are family heirlooms from area residents.

The historical society’s exhibits give visitors a visual history of Ellicottville during the era of industrialization, particularly Ellicottville’s lumber industry. Until 2006, the Louisville Slugger billets (blocks of Ash tree lumber) were made in Ellicottville and sent to Kentucky to be turned into bats. Ellicottville was also known as the “shoe last capital of the world;” these wooden lasts (shoe forms) used to make and repair shoes were sent all over the country until 1950.

Of course, the museum includes a wonderful exhibit about Ellicottville’s winter sports tourism, as well as a brand new permanent exhibit on one particular Ellicottville resident, Abe Maybee. According to Dunbar, Abe, an eleven-year old black child from Ontario, ran away from home and was found on the street by an Ellicottville farmer. The farmer invited Abe to stay at his home with his wife and several children; a reluctant Abe responded by saying, “Maybe,” and eventually lived with the family for eleven years.

During the Civil War, Abe joined an all-black regiment in New York City, and traveled to Louisiana where he spent the majority of the war fighting along the Mississippi River. Although he was injured twice throughout the war, Abe came home to Ellicottville and then moved to Kane, PA, to work in the oil fields. Abe again returned home to Ellicottville where he was a barber for 50 years, as well as one of the last few members of the Grand Army of the Republic. The historical society’s exhibit shares Abe’s incredible journey around the country and unique experience in the Civil War.

Dunbar invites everyone to attend the historical society’s speaker series, which is free to the public, and takes place on the second Wednesday of every month (except August) at 7:30 p.m. at the library. On July 13, Mary Fox will be speaking about the early Ellicottville Pioneers. On August 3, Earl McElfresh is sharing a presentation on “The life and times of Cattaraugus County,” and on September 14, Greg Kinal is speaking on highlights of the 1920s. The speaker series concludes with Mark Lozo’s presentation about Millard Fillmore, “1901— Buffalo: Birthplace of a New Presidency,” on October 12.

A great time to plan your visit to the museum is during New York State’s Path Through History Weekend, which is taking place on June 18 and 19 throughout Cattaraugus County. The Ellicottville Historical Society is one of 15 Cattaraugus County museums participating in this “museum crawl,” and will be open for special hours that weekend: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

Dunbar explained that the museum is always free to the public but donations play a big part in supporting the exhibits and caring for the building. Since 2013, Dunbar and her volunteers have been working on inventorying and storing all of the artifacts, as well as identifying photos and digitally organizing and storing them. To get involved with the historical society, make a contribution or plan your visit, check out the Ellicottville Historical Society on Facebook or call 699-8415.