Beyond the House

The Acquisition of 57 Second Street and the Impact of America’s Bicentennial, 1976-1996

It became clear by the mid-1970s that the Rensselaer County Historical Society had outgrown the Hart-Cluett House and Carriage House. Growth of the collections and demands for programs had outpaced the building’s space. In 1976, the building to the north of the Museum was acquired and a capital campaign was initiated to begin making it into an educational and administrative center. An Education Director was added to the staff in 1980. The first phase of the 57 Second Street project was finished in 1982, providing a meeting room, gift shop and temporary exhibition gallery on the first floor of the building.

It was during this period that the library collections began to grow faster than at any time during the organization’s history. This was due in part to the increased awareness of local history which lead up to the United States bicentennial celebrations. Family history and the history of ethnic groups became very popular, challenging the history field to develop new research methods and resources. RCHS’s collections had been surprisingly rich with information on the everyday life of county residents. Now more conscious attempts to document workers and the county’s ethnic groups were undertaken. The first computerization feasibility study was done in 1981, with funding from the New York State Council for the Arts, to see if collection information could be handled better; it was not until 1994 that a complete computer system was installed. In 1982 RCHS was re-accredited by AAM, a process that had become much more rigorous during the previous decade.

When Breffny Walsh retired in 1990 after 20 years as Director, RCHS was raising funds to finish the second floor of the General Carr Building (57 Second Street) and install an elevator. Anne W. Ackerson, RCHS’s fourth director, made important strides in getting computer technology into the organization and overseeing the continued expansion of facilities at the Carr Building. The new Dean P. Taylor Research Library opened in the fall of 1993. The number of patrons served increased with the new space and better collection accessibility. The concept that the study of history should include more contemporary events was added to programming, exhibits and interpretation of the house. The mission statement approved in 1994 by the Trustees noted that RCHS was a “dynamic, community-responsive educational organization that connects the importance of local history and heritage to contemporary life.”