Allison-Antrim Museum Inc. already 15-years-old

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
The paintings of Walter Washington Smith make up a prized collection for Allison-Antrim Museum. Board president Bonnie Shockey stands beside some of his works, which range from landscapes in the Greencastle area to florals.

The Allison-Antrim Museum has been observing its 15th anniversary for months. The museum, devoted to the heritage of the Borough of Greencastle and Antrim Township, opened during Old Home Week in 1998. Since then the property has expanded and modernized, and was again a draw for visitors to the 2013 triennial celebration.

In conjunction with the Civil War Sesquicentennial, AAMI sponsored events since May, and wrapped with a November program at Green Grove Gardens, with speakers and living historians on the grounds. It was more advantageous to spread out the anniversary events, rather than host just one during OHW, said board of directors president Bonnie Shockey.

A number of Civil War displays were open over the summer. Veteran tombstones were cleaned at Cedar Hill Cemetery. Speakers presented programs on topical subjects. And the significance of OHW has not been lost on Shockey, who relegates the week to her favorite memories associated with the museum.

“It is the thousands of people who come back to Greencastle, either natives or those who moved here and then moved away. They come back to their hometown museum,” she said. “So much has changed since 1998. The house was bare bones then.”

The 1860 Alexander Irwin house at 356 S. Ridge Ave. is the focal point of the museum. The acre of property includes a German bank barn, purchased in Chambersburg in 2003. It was reassembled behind the house and renovated into a climate-controlled facility with display rooms, meeting space and a workshop area. The work was completed in 2011.

The transformation of the residential property occurred because people got involved.

The history

The idea for AAMI began in 1994, with then Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce director Lori Coover, and interested citizens such as Rev. Ralph Geiman, Glen Cump, Harry Myers and Robert “Red” Pensinger. They banded together to organize a museum.

“It was for the preserving, caring and collecting of archival pieces that tell the story of Greencastle and Antrim Township,” said Shockey.

The group met at Antrim House Restaurant for breakfast to discuss business. The plans narrowed to a specific goal and the people who signed the Articles of Incorporation on March 29, 1995 were Pensinger, president; Myers, vice president; Georgia King Barvinchack, recording secretary; Bradley Willow, treasurer; Geiman, historian; and Jane Alexander, corresponding secretary.

Dennis Guyer helped with incorporation legalities, making AAMI a 501(c)(3) corporation in April 1997. About that time Shockey began attending the meetings. An interim board was elected, and Shockey became president that October.

As history was always a favorite subject, she felt comfortable taking the helm.

“I grew up here. There is something unique about Greencastle,” she said.

With a board of approximately 15 people to help, and an appointed historian, Shockey has guided the volunteers to making AAMI what it is today. Historian Ted Alexander’s role, she said, was “to make sure everything is correctly stated and printed, to keep lay people on the right path in sharing historical information with the community.”

Residents, past and present, approach her personally, Shockey said. They donate or loan items for exhibits. One special collection is the signatures of Pennsylvania governors, courtesy of siblings Alice and Tom Brumbaugh. Another is paintings of Walter Washington Smith, donated by the estate of his sister. AAMI also has OHW founder Philip Baer’s piano, artifacts from Carl’s Drug, primary documents from the Civil War, a late 1700s clover header, a slave collar from the early 1800s, and so much more.

Shockey had no experience in museum studies, and consulted Renfrew Museum in Waynesboro, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Maryland, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations for direction.

The creators of AAMI chose the name.

“That’s the number one question we get, why is it Allison-Antrim Museum, instead of Greencastle?” said Shockey.

The purpose was to recognize both Greencastle, through its founder John Allison, and Antrim, the township surrounding it. However, because people do Internet searches with the town name, the museum website is greencastlemuseum.org, she said.

A capital campaign allowed the purchase of the Irwin house in April 1998, and it was open to the public that August. The museum depends on memberships and donations to function. Shockey said the community has been generous through the years, as it is whenever a local need is revealed. She also credits her husband Ken with doing much work behind-the-scenes to make AAMI viable. He handles the technology for the website. The public uses it heavily,  emailing questions about history and other topics, and doing research on genealogy. Ken also keeps on top of maintenance, security and computer programs.

“There are so many things he has done,” Shockey said of her spouse.

Visitors come to the property during weekday afternoons. Because of the federally-funded Pathstones program, AAMI is able to employ people to work at the museum from noon to 4 p.m.

“Visitorship increased dramatically,” Shockey noted. “And it surprises me how many people come in, especially from Gettysburg.”

She is grateful for the volunteers who serve on the board, and help in other ways.

“We couldn’t do this without them.”

The museum is also open on special Sundays for exhibits, during Heritage Christmas and, of course, Old Home Week.