The members of the Westmoreland Historical Society are some of the most patriotic people I know. We begin every meeting by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and as you’ve probably gathered, we love Flag Day.
This Saturday (June 15) we are inviting everyone in the Mohawk Valley to celebrate with us outside our famous little schoolhouse from 1 to 3pm. Attending one of our Flag Day events is like going back in time to a celebration a hundred years ago in a small town like ours.
“It was heartening to see small-town community pride and spirit,” said musician Ty James who performed last year and will be returning this year. “The sense of Americana and patriotism is still strong, as it should be.”
James opens the events with the “Star Spangled Banner” and puts on such a great show that I like to call him “Westmoreland’s favorite cowboy.”
“Although I’m not native to Westmo, I felt so welcomed that I could be,” James said. “I identify with the people of the town; the values they grew up with are similar to my own raising. I’m good with that.”
Our featured speaker this year is Dwayne Schieferstine who is Westmoreland born and bred. Dwayne is a farmer, bee keeper, and our town’s amateur treasure hunter.
With his metal detector he has found buttons going back to the 1700s including a very rare George Washington Inaugural button.
“They’re the ‘holy grail’ of metal detecting,” Shieferstine says. “Most people never find any, but I’ve found three.”
He’ll also be displaying vest buttons from a whaling ship in the 1800s, coins going back to the late 1700s and a silver monogramed woman’s brooch that he found in Lowell.
“Only about a mile from our farm on the Vernon-Westmoreland line I found pennies that were the size of quarters, two Civil War officer’s sword belt buckles, and Spanish silver coins,” Dave says.
With every historical artifact Shieferstine finds there is a story attached. Near Cooper Street he’s found British King George pennies that predate the town and the entire country. His detector has found mysterious skeleton keys. Sometimes he uses old maps to figure out an item’s background, sometimes Google satellite maps.
In one field he found so many beer cans that he reckons “the farmer must have have drank so much beer the delivery truck must have driven right up since it looks like he used the manure spreader to get rid of all the pull tabs.”
Dwayne has a lot more stories that he’ll be sharing at our event. We’ll also have an ice cream social sponsored by Stewart’s Shops hosted by the Oneida County Dairy Princess, lots of games and activities for kids, and of course tours of our one-room schoolhouse.
“I like to celebrate our schoolhouse, I like to see people in town appreciate the schoolhouse,” says Nancy Pritchard, the official Westmoreland Town Historian.
The Westmoreland Historical Society is especially proud of that one-room schoolhouse. It originally stood on Dix Road and belonged to a town resident named Beverly Zingerline, who had an enthusiasm for history and education.
In the 1980s she had it built and spent the next 20 years furnishing it with authentic antique items, including desks with inkwells, slates and chalk, tin lunchboxes, games, textbooks, maps, a dunce cap and even a 48-star American flag. Since the town had 17 known one-room schoolhouses between the late 1700s and the early 1900s, Zingerline affectionately named her creation, “Schoolhouse #18.”
After she died, her family donated it to the historical society and now “Schoolhouse #18” is the symbol and heart of our organization and the focus of our annual Flag Day and Halloween events.
“It means a lot to us,” nods Sandy Rolewicz a member of our board. “I remember when we would go over there for meetings. It was wonderful.”
“What was she like?” I asked.
“She was such a nice lady,” Betty Barron our group’s Treasurer recalls.
“You really felt like she was the schoolteacher, didn’t you?” Rolewicz asked.
For our Flag Day celebration Rolewicz and Sharon Yager, who is a former schoolteacher will dress up like early 1900s schoolteachers and will be giving away prizes to the kids who tour the schoolhouse and play our “schoolhouse hidden treasure game.”
Denise Klopfanstein, another retired schoolteacher (who is also my mother) will have an outdoor treasure hunt for the kids on the front lawn as well as traditional country games like horseshoes and a handmade cornhole game.
We are able to put on the event and offer it free to the community because of the generous support of our sponsors, Northstar Orchards, Claycomb Automotive, and Whitestown Automotive.
Performer Ty James says that one of the things that impressed him the most about last year’s celebration was the “support from the Westmo community, and the mix of both youth and older people [taking part].”
Sandy Rolewicz couldn’t agree more.
“I think it’s important that we take time to honor the flag and what it stands for,” she says. “In a time when everybody’s so busy, it’s good to just take time.”
Ron Klopfanstein is the president of the Westmoreland Historical Society which is online at Facebook.com/WestmorelandHistoricalSociety. You can like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.