A Lesson in Andirons

When Professor Maxfield said we had to do a Service Learning Project by going into the community to spend time with a historical society, write a seven to ten page paper, or take pictures of headstones I was hoping to do the headstone piece because I figured it would be much easier than the other two options. I ended up doing the historical society piece instead and chose to work with the JELL-O Museum because they were conveniently located close to my house. I worked a total of 24 hours with the museum, reporting to Lynne Belluscio, the museum’s curator. During the fall season, I pulled weeds and dead plants from the garden that sits between the Leroy House and the Jell-O Museum/ Gift Shop. Lynne came out to help and point out which plants she wanted pulled and those that were to stay. While she was keeping me company she told me how Jacob Leroy had loved to come out and spend time in his garden, and that this was one of the things that brought him great joy. When the garden had been taken care of and the snow began to fall I moved inside and helped move everything out of the downstairs kitchen. The floors were getting repainted and we needed to get everything out of there. We moved the furniture into the smaller rooms that shared a similar look to that of half circles. These rooms were used for storage, like cellars. I also helped set up chairs and tables as needed for an event or two. Most of my time however was spent working on a project that turned out to actually be very interesting to me. I cleaned up the brass andirons in many of the rooms of the Leroy House. I would come in and set up a table in the room to the left as you enter the main door and a chair. Then I would get my cleaning materials that Lynne had given me and set up the radio. After I was all set up, I would get the andiron set that I was working on that day and begin cleaning. For those of you who don’t know what andirons are I will explain, because I didn’t know what they were until this point either.

Andirons were used in fireplace and were very important back in the day; especially since the fireplace was used to heat the home, prepare meals, and was a general gathering place for families. Andirons are intended to hold the wood in the fireplace and keep it from rolling into the living room, what a dangerous mess that would be. With the advances in modern technology the fireplace has become less and less necessary, and as such andirons have become for the most part, decorative pieces to adorn a fireplace if one is present. Andirons are usually made of brass or cast iron, and can be found in a variety of shapes and styles. The andirons at the Leroy House are all made of brass, and they tarnish and get dirty. So I would set there and listen to music while buffing the pieces of history back into a cleaner and more appealing state. I also cleaned other pieces for the fireplace as well, the handles to a poker set, and old version of a frying pan, and the screen that covers the fireplace in the room where I worked. I would often look around and notice different little things about the house while I was working. One of the big things that I noticed right away was the abundant amount of framed portraits that hung from the walls. Each face had a different expression as if they had different stories to tell. I asked Lynne who these people had been and she told of a few that she knew for sure. One was a portrait of Mr. Leroy himself, another was of Daniel Webster, and others were friends and family and other people. I learned a lot while I was working at the Jell-O Museum, and also saw a few things that were very interesting to me personally. Some of these additional interest include the brick walkway from the Leroy House to the Jell-O Museum that have different names on each brick, names of people that have been involved in one way or another. Another interest was the placard in the backyard adjacent to the garden that bears the names of the employees you served in World War II, and didn’t make it back. An interesting sight is in the gift shop as well, you will see very large spoons lining the walls just below the ceiling. I asked one of the ladies what they were for and they directed me to a sign that explained it. The sign said that the spoons had been part of a billboard in Times Square, and these spoons had been shipped back for the museum. Looking at the shelf display of brochures that are in the gift shop shows that The Under Ground Railroad ran through the surrounding areas as well. The final thing that surprised me was how little I actually paid attention to certain things, for example the fact that there is almost always a piece in the Leroy Penny Saver, if not others, that were written by Lynne Belluscio. I now look forward to the paper for more than just the crossword puzzles. Thank you, to Lynne Belluscio and the staff at the Jell-O Museum, for an interesting and educational experience that I will not soon forget!

Written by William Vaughn, a second semester student at Genesee Community College, majoring in Business.

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About Derek Maxfield

Associate Professor of History Genesee Community College
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