By Ted Como
Ogdensburg City Historian Julie Madlin is making a down payment in capitalizing on the city’s greatest asset, its rich and nationally significant history. Even as the Fort La Presentation Association continues work on its ultimate goal of recreating the fort, Madlin is moving forward on establishing the Ogdensburg History Museum, long a dream and soon to be reality.
Madlin was appointed city historian in 2014 and has approached this responsibility with deep passion, greatly expanding interest in the city and its history in the digital realm with the Ogdensburg History Facebook page, dozens of videos of historic city people and places on her YouTube channel and self-guided walking tours around the city.
She established the Ogdensburg History Museum as a non-profit organization in 2019. “Many people had spoken to me about their desire for a local museum highlighting the city’s history. I started the process in 2019 but then COVID hit, delaying pretty much everything,” she said. “The Ogdensburg History Museum is a private nonprofit and my role as president is separate from my role as city historian.”
Over the past several months a board of directors has been put in place including Lance Rudiger (former president of SLCHA) Vivian Roach (retired social worker) and Wayne Primeau (retired from Canadian government, organizer of the Museum of the Soldier, Friends of the National War Museum) as well as officers with Madlin as president, Jim Reagan as vice president (county Legislator and local author and historian), Penny Kerfien as secretary (executive director of the Ogdensburg Public Library) and Matt Hurteau as treasurer (MBA, nonprofit/business consultant). Advisors include Doug McDonald and Laura Desmond from the Frederic Remington Art Museum, County Historian Nancy LaFaver, Jennifer Stevenson, owner of Blue Heron Realty and former city councilor, Kent Boltke from the Fort Drum Military Museum, and Bill Flynn retired school superintendent, vice president of SLCHA.
For the next three years the museum will be located in a temporary location to be announced in the near future. As to a permanent home, “we believe in adaptive reuse. We are looking for an historic building located in or near the Library Park National Historic District,” Madlin said.
In the grand scope of Ogdensburg’s efforts moving forward, a local history museum may not seem that noteworthy. Just several years ago the city was facing bankruptcy after a century of decline which dropped its population 40 percent. As well it has lost most of its industry. Today, the city is but a shell of what used to be with insufficient resources and labor to attract major private investment.
But it has the river, a source of development that can significantly expand the tax base. And it has a history as important as any other in the American Revolution, and beyond. Three flags have flown over Ogdensburg since it was established in 1749. The city has twice been attacked, winning the first battle and losing the second. The last land battle on the continent in the French and Indian War which removed France from North America was fought here.
In cellars, closets and attics in the area are numerous artifacts of that history because there has been no good place to display them other than limited spaces at city hall, the Remington Art Museum and the public library. That’s about to change as the museum taps into unlimited potential through historic tourism. “The Ogdensburg History Museum will be working with the Fort la Presentation Association, the Frederic Remington Museum, the Ogdensburg Public Library and the Horwood Glass Museum. Working together we can help each other and accomplish our goals of sharing Ogdensburg’s stories,” said Madlin.
For this to happen, public investment is crucial. “We are launching a membership campaign and a fundraising campaign to allow us to design and implement professional quality museum exhibitions. And we will be accepting donations of historical artifacts when the museum opens, which should be in the next few months,” Madlin says.
Please support this important undertaking by becoming a member of the museum. Donations or the membership form at tinyurl.com/5kws4v96 may be forwarded to 330 Ford St. Ogdensburg, 13669.
Congratulations to all involved.
- Ted Como is a member of the board of directors of the Fort La Presentation Association.