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‘Fascinating’ Relics: Portland Museum Curator Hoping To Grow

Portland Town Museum curator Rob Pawlak is shown at the museum building. Photos by Anthony Dolce

PORTLAND — Over the summer, the town of Portland Museum was able to return to its normal hours of weekend operation after being closed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Curator Rob Pawlak said that the turnout for this summer’s regular schedule was pretty on par for what they would get during a normal year.

But with the re-opening of the museum, Pawlak wants to see a little bit more out of it.

Currently the museum is open from June to August on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The museum originally was in an 1882 railroad station but was moved a mile south of its original location and is on Route 20 in Portland. Though the facility is small, it holds a lot of stories about the history of Portland and Northern Chautauqua County.

“It’s a fascinating collection of not only materials, but the stories that they hold,” Pawlak said.

Collection of materials is a bit of an understatement, as the number of things in the museum’s possession is simply too much for the museum’s current location. Because of that, Pawlak is looking at changing how things at the museum are done.

“I’m looking to construct displays that’ll tell the story of the town and North County, if not the whole county,” Pawlak said. “It parallels history from 1800 to today with the growth of industrialization. I would like to get displays built and I’m researching ways to construct a proper building to house the museum through some means.”

By this, Pawlak is saying he’s looking for grant fundings, but that’s related to the town of Portland. Currently, the museum is funded through the town, and to get additional funding, there would have to be a specific museum board, otherwise the museum can’t actually receive any grants.

Currently, there aren’t any specific events held at the museum throughout the course of the summer, though that is another thing on Pawlak’s wish list of things to come. As it stands, Pawlak estimates that around 100 people came into the museum over the course of the summer, but also wants that number to grow in order to get closer to his other visions for the museum.

“It’s a lot of locals who grew up in Portland that want to check it out, or people who are just curious,” Pawlak said. “It’s almost all happenstance. I should get out there and start advertising and I’d like it to help raise funds for itself and the Town. Admission is free and I’m not saying I want to charge necessarily, but I would like to see it be a source of revenue.”

As for what is on display at the museum in its current state, there are many different things that Pawlak finds interesting, including the tools carried by a Civil War soldier, the ride of a man named Duff Brown, the Crosscut Horror of 1873, and Marmaduke creator Brad Anderson. Pawlak is also trying to increase the displays on the Brotherhood of New Life Commune that was located in the Town for 10 years in the 1800s. The Thomas Lake Harris Project, which Pawlak is a member of, is working on researching the Brotherhood more and Pawlak wants it tied more into the museum.

“I’m trying to showcase the story within the museum and make it available to local museums and local schools,” Pawlak said. “It’s a part that often gets overlooked.”

The Town of Portland museum may be small, but it provides strong insight as to how the county has evolved over the course of history. As Pawlak looks to expand what it’s able to show, he’s also looking for ways to make that goal feasible.

For more information about the museum, contact historian–portland@stny.rr.com.

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