A New Look for the John Kane House

Museum consultant Kathy Craughwell-Varda (right) meets with archaeologist Faline Schneiderman, who specializes in Native American prehistory.

Next month, a cornerstone of the local historical community will be getting a new look when the John Kane House opens with two new exhibits. Members of the Historical Society of Quaker Hill and Pawling have been working tirelessly to not only improve the building’s interior, but to also offer a revamped approach to presenting Pawling’s history.

Located at 126 East Main Street, the John Kane House serves as the main museum space for the Historical Society. From September through November 1778, General George Washington used the home as his headquarters while basing his military movements in Pawling. The John Kane House serves as a hub for Pawling history, housing documents and exhibits chronicling everything from the earliest inhabitants through the 20th century.

“About three years ago we took a look around, just thinking of ways we could better serve our community,” says Historical Society Recording Secretary Jaclyn Wagner. Historical Society Vice President Dean Schuler adds that the John Kane House “had all the hallmarks of a museum model that was a little dated. It needed a refresh in terms of the physical structure, and the artifacts needed some TLC.” Members of the Historical Society resolved to make the space more visitor friendly, easing the burden on volunteer tour guides as well as making for a more enjoyable, informative experience for visitors.

To accomplish this goal, the Historical Society applied for and was ultimately awarded a grant through the New York State Council on the Arts and Greater Hudson Heritage Network (NYSCA/GHHN). Funds from the grant enabled the Society to hire Kathy Craughwell-Varda, a museum consultant based in Danbury, CT. Craughwell-Varda proposed a new tour flow for easier accessibility within the museum. “It got us thinking about what kind of programs we could offer,” says Wagner. “It got us all thinking about what the Historical Society could become.”

Before the new tour structure could be established, members of the Society set about repairing portions of the building that had fallen into disrepair over time. These included fixing ceilings with water damage, fresh paint, and new plasterwork, along with the conversion of upstairs bathrooms into new storage spaces. Some of this work was accomplished through partnerships and the generosity of local businesses including JPL Glass and Storefronts, Joseph Meunier & Sons, and Fountain Home Services.

When the museum opens for the season next month, there will be two new exhibits, designed by Kathy Craughwell-Varda, that focus on the settlement of Pawling and the effects of the Revolutionary War on the area. There will also be a plethora of information about the area’s indigenous population and early European settlers. The new exhibits will include pre-colonial stone tools and vintage farm implements along with placards providing contextualized information. “The way all these artifacts will be displayed will make it so someone who isn’t from Pawling can understand our history,” adds Wagner.

Going forward, the Historical Society has a number of plans for new exhibits on 19th and 20th century Pawling. “We are not forgetting our previous exhibits, or the people they highlight,” explains President Nancy Hopkins Reilly. “The changes will continue throughout the museum in the future.” Organizers plan to profile notable residents such as Admiral John Lorimer Worden, Edward R. Murrow, and Lowell Thomas, whose generosity helped the Historical Society to purchase the John Kane House in 1981.

The Historical Society of Quaker Hill and Pawling is run entirely by volunteers, and benefits from the generosity and community spirit in Pawling. “I can’t thank enough the residents of Pawling, who, over the past three years, lent us artifacts for the Holmes/Whaley Lake exhibit,” adds Nancy Hopkins Reilly. The Society is always seeking volunteers to help with its mission of preserving Pawling’s history. “We’re a rag-tag elite group who are pulling this all together,” says Dean Schuler.

For more information, visit PawlingHistory.org online.