BY ELIZABETH NAJIM
The original members of the Syracuse Historical Committee celebrated the opening of their brand-new museum: the Syracuse Museum & Cultural Center. The ribbon was cut, precious artifacts were out on public display, and the committee members reveled in their many years of hard work to make their dream a reality. While our little city museum has come a long way since 2002, the conception of this institution began as early as the 1970s.
Shortly after the local 1976 Bicentennial celebrations in Syracuse, a historical committee was formed to document, collect, and preserve the history of Syracuse and the surrounding areas. These original members were Don & Genene Rentmeister, Clayton & Ethelene Holt, George & Marian Hamblin, Joe & Louise Simpson, Allen & Helga Willie, and Vaughn & Donnel Hansen. Other instrumental members included DeLore Thurgood, David & Kay Gailey, Mark Palmer, George Smedley, and Elaine Nance. Their projects included writing an updated and all-inclusive history book about Syracuse’s heritage, as well as establishing a brick and mortar building to house donated collections. The Community of Syracuse: 1820 to 1995 (also known as “the blue book” at the museum) was eventually published in 1994 – the construction of a building, however, took more time to come to fruition.
The plan for the museum included a main brick building, a barn building to display the agricultural history of Syracuse, a paved parking lot, signage, and establishing the Syracuse Museum Foundation as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Fundraising efforts for covering costs lasted around six years and included Heritage Lane markers, donations via utility bills, and various events during Heritage Days. Between donations, both monetary and in-kind, in 2002 it cost almost $400,000 to construct the museum. Later, Max Waite’s barbershop (June 2006) and the Wilcox cabin (April 2003) would be added on to form a museum complex. Many businesses and clubs donated their time, products, and money to early efforts.
The museum has grown in the last twenty years since its ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 10, 2002. New exhibits, incredible artifacts, technological advances, and a robust online presence encompasses the changes experienced here. In 2019, the museum’s name changed from “Syracuse Museum & Cultural Center” to the “Syracuse Regional Museum.” This was done to accommodate the history of the surrounding areas, and as our mission statement puts it quite eloquently, “The Syracuse Regional Museum interacts with the history, settlement, and life along the Great Salt Lake.” Expect more changes in the future; we have some big plans on the horizon, including historical markers around Syracuse and updating our veteran’s section to include those who served during the Cold War.
While many of these original founding members are long gone, their legacy continues within the walls of the Syracuse Regional Museum. As the current curator and caretaker of Syracuse’s history, I only hope that the work my volunteers and I accomplish will make our predecessors proud.
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