Madison County: Time capsule from 1909 unearthed from courthouse
WAMPSVILLE, N.Y. » Finally unearthed after more than 100 years, the Madison County Courthouse time capsule was opened Monday and gave a glimpse into the past.
Madison County officials removed the time capsule while the courthouse undergoes con- struction. Originally placed on Jan. 7, 1909, the capsule contained an array of documents and items, including coins, photographs, county newspapers, lists of county officials, the county charter, local organization membership rolls and more.
In the century since the capsule was first placed beneath the courthouse cornerstone, much has changed, said Madison County Chairman of the Board John Becker. Refrigeration, the proliferation of automobiles, jet planes, rockets, atomic energy and television are a handful of things that either didn’t exist or were in their infancy in 1909. The world has also seen two World Wars that redrew maps on a
“It’s very important for Masons because we get to seewhat we did before our grandfathers were here.”
—Ron McDermott, a local Mason
global scale, as well as wars in Vietnam, the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“President Kennedy was assassinated. The moon landing happened. New Mexico and Arizona became states in 1912. Hawaii and Alaska became states in 1959. 9/11 happened,” Becker said. “People would never be able to dream what the world would be like today. And when we put this back together, we can only guess what the next 100 years will be like.”
Despite being sealed within a copper box, time was not the kindest to the contents of the capsule. “We were afraid of this possibility,” said Madison County Historian Matthew Urtz as he gently sifted through waterlogged documents. Some of the documents were still legible, but most were in what Urtz described as “poor” condition - though he stressed they were salvageable. Wearing gloves so as not to damage the items further, Urtz carefully removed and presented each item to a gathered crowd at the county office building, explaining the importance of each as he went.
Of interest to presentday Masons were the registries from local Masonic Lodges stored within the capsule. Becker noted that, in 1909, there were more than 3,000 Masonic members in Madison County alone. Though their numbers aren’t that high now, local Masons were still in attendance to see the historic event.
“I think it’s important for the community because of the history,” said Ron McDermott, a local Mason. “I think the Masons play a small part, but an important part.”
Richard Morley, the senior grand warden of the Grand Lodge of the state of New York, noted that the cornerstone of the courthouse was laid in the northeast corner, a trademark of Mason construction. The inscription on the cornerstone also notes that it was placed on Jan. 7, 1909, by the “Grand Lodge of free and accepted Masons of the state of New York.”
“It’s very important for Masons because we get to see what we did before our grandfathers were here,” Morley said.
Other Masons in attendance included Ralph Haney, master of the TriValley Masonic Lodge; Jim Wightman, master of the Cazenovia lodge; and Walter Boronow, secretary of the Tri-Valley Lodge.
Other items of interest included government documents with their red tape still intact, a practice from which originated the term “red tape,” Urtz said.
County papers, including an edition of The Dispatch, were also bundled among county registries, though the water damage made them difficult to separate. Urtz said after they dry, he’s hoping to be able to look through them.
“It was an unfortunate oc- currence; we weren’t expecting the damage,” Records Management Coordinator Kevin Orr said. “Being that the building is over 100 years old, water damage and seepage was undetected.”
“We’ve got staff here who know how to take care of records and I’m certain they’ll be able to preserve them,” Town of Madison Supervisor and Chairman of the Building and Grounds Committee Ronald Bono said.
Urtz said the county will also look to work with local colleges to help preserve and catalogue the items.
Bono said the time capsule was opened now to give the public a chance to see everything.
“Thirty days from now, the new time capsule will be covered up,” Bono said.
Until then, members of the board of supervisors and Madison County officials are reaching out on social media to get ideas from the public about what should go back into the time capsule.
“We need something that tells people where we live now,” Bono said. “Something that tells about our lifestyle.”
“I thought the coins are a good idea, because those last,” Village of Cazenovia Supervisor William Zupan said.
“I’d like to see similar items we had in this one go into the new time capsule,” Orr said. “Events that happened since this capsule was put in place, coins, and the county celebrated its bicentennial so we can add pins and other items to that effect.
“We have the technology andwe can preserve photos and newspapers, so I’d like to see them preserve newspapers and show what the government is like today,” Town of Lincoln Supervisor Yvonne Nirelli said.
Zupan said it would be interesting to digitize the contents on a flash drive when it came to photos and papers, but Urtz wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“It doesn’t really make sense because one, the odds of that technology be- ing available in 110 years is pretty low, and the odds it surviving 110 years is low,” Urtz said. “I want to make sure that we have stuff that tells the story, whether it’s the 2016 bicentennial or things that celebrate the new history. We’ll reach out to local institutions and see what we can come up with. Wewant to make sure whoever opens this has our story.”
Madison County officials unearth a time capsule from the county courthouse on Monday, April 16, 2018. The time capsule was sealed behind the cornerstone of the building on Jan. 7, 1909, and was removed while the courthouse undergoes renovation.
Residents look through a time capsule unearthed from the county courthouse on Monday, April 16, 2018. The time capsule was sealed behind the cornerstone of the building on Jan. 7, 1909, and was removed while the courthouse undergoes renovation.