Orange County’s Museum Village of Old Smith’s Clove was built by a man with a passion to electrify the world.
Born in Monroe in 1877, Roscoe Smith dropped out of college to pursue his interests in Thomas Edison’s new invention and began his own company, Orange Utility, in 1905. By 1955, the company Smith founded merged with the Rockland Power Co. to become Orange & Rockland Utilities. (Today, O&R is a subsidiary of Con Edison.)
Smith used the fortune he made to shine a light on the region’s history. An avid American history buff and collector, he bought 28 acres of land on what is now Route 17M and began assembling a mid-19th century village where children and their parents could learn about life before the Industrial Age.
After buying and relocating several 19th-century buildings, including one 17th century log cabin that was moved to the site from Dutchess County, Museum Village officially opened in 1950. It has survived and struggled to thrive in its quest to educate and enlighten generations of schoolchildren, teachers and parents.
Since 2011, Executive Director Michael Sosler has worked to keep the museum in the public’s eye, adding new features and functions to exhibits that will keep patrons coming back.
“The village went through difficult times in the 2000s, but with lots of loving care, many people came and volunteered to open buildings and update exhibits. We’ve added many new events and continued to market the village and make it attractive to school groups and visitors.
“By 2019, we had a record number of schools coming here…and then the pandemic hit.”
As with all museums and small businesses, Sosler described the many months of closure as brutal.
“We were fortunate to have people who wanted to help financially and who donated their time and services. We did qualify for a small PPP loan, but we pinched pennies and still are.”
Sosler and his small but energetic staff have been creative in finding ways to keep Museum Village relevant and attractive to guests that will keep the destination on people’s radar. A “no-scare” Halloween for younger children (and a scarier one for those over 18), Christmas in the Village, Fairy Pirate Weekends and the Zerbini Circus have brought visitors from across the region to its grounds.
The Gem & Mineral show returned recently to the museum and attracted over 750 shoppers and guests despite the oppressive heat. It was a rock hound’s delight and vendors were thrilled to be back on the arts and crafts circuit once more.
“Doing business on the internet works, but being out, meeting people and having face-to-face interaction can’t be beat,” said Sydney Edwards, owner of Crystals of Quartz in Greenwood Lake.
Museum Village is gearing up to hold two “living history” weekends before hosting its Craft Brew Festival, which takes place June 28 and 29. Its Playhouse at Museum Village is home to the Creative Theatre-Muddy Waters Players and has also reopened for the season. Its annual Civil War reenactment is also returning in 2021 and will take place over Labor Day weekend.
“We are especially hoping to see the return of school trips,” Sosler said. “We had a record year in 2019 and are actively working to attract them once school reopens in September. They have been an important source of revenue for us.
“Once Legoland is up and running full speed, we are hoping that those visitors will also look for other venues to entertain their families in this area, and we have always been a family-friendly destination.”
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