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Five Unique Museums in Western New York

Updated on April 1, 2013

There are hundreds of thousands of museums for almost everything in the world from toys to beer. Some of the most interesting and unique museums can be found right in Western New York and here are the top five (plus a bonus musuem). Each museum has a distinctive way of displaying their collections and some even have collections you can ride! These museums are well worth the time for a visit and opportunity to explore interesting niches of Americana.

My photo of Commanche, the horse I restored at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.

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Number 5: American Museum of Cutlery

For decades, within a 50 mile radius of Cattaraugus, NY, 150 different cutlery companies made cutlery for various uses. Only a few exist today including Cutco Company in Buffalo. The American Museum of Cutlery celebrates this legacy with examples of knives, swords, edged tools, and weapons that date back two or more centuries. Plans are in the works for an expansion that will showcase the museum's extensive collection. The added space will have interactive displays as well.

Located: 9 Main St., Cattaraugus, NY. This was the original storefront for the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company.

Contact: 716-257-9813

Opened: Thursday through Sunday 1pm to 4pm

Admission: free (donations welcome)

Photo by American Museum of Cutlery

Collect Cattaraugus Cutlery

Cutco makes the finest cutlery knives in the United States. I own several myself. Here are some selections you may need in your home.

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Number 4: Steel Plant Museum

Western New York was once known as the "steel belt of the Great Lakes" because of all the steel mills and refineraries in the area, most notably in the city of Lackawanna. Thousands of people were employed in the region's steel industry allowing the working class to boost the local economy, buy homes, and send their children to private schools. What began as an American enterprise in the late 1890s ended in the 1980s with outsourcing to foreign countries and the closing of the local plants. Today, those local plants are extinct.

The Steel Plant Museum was established in 1984 during the flurry of closings in order to preserve the memory of Western New York's steel plants. Displays and artifacts represent Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel, Hanna Furnace, Lackawanna Steel, Buffalo Forge, and many other local steel plants. Most of the memorabilia comes from local steelworkers and their families.

Located: at the Lackawanna Public Library, 560 Ridge Rd., Lackawanna, NY.

Contact:716-823-0630

Opened: Hours co-exist with the library hours which vary per season. Call before going.

Admission: Free. The museum relies on membership for financial support.

Volunteer opportunity.

Photo from Steel Plant Museum

Steel Belt History

Bethlehem Steel was one of the largest employers in Lackawanna and Buffalo. Many of my uncles and cousins worked there. I find these books on the steel industry very interesting.

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Number 3: Cuba Cheese Museum

A cheese museum? Absolutely! Western New York's early settlers quickly found that the area was perfect for dairy farming. Enterprising dairy farmers opened small, local cheese factories to expand their products and earnings. Cuba, New York, in particular, played a major role in the development of the cheese industry in the United States. In fact it was known as the "cheese center of the world". The price for cheddar cheese was established at a meeting in Cuba each week and was accepted as the price in this nation and the world.

Cheese continues to be a major industry for the community of Cuba and is still produced there. The museum chronicles the history of cheese making in Western New York and throughout the United States. A not-for-profit enterprise, it relies on monetary contributions as well as donations of cheese related artifacts, films, and photographs.

Located: 22 Water St., Cuba, NY

Contact: see link for Cuba Cheese below

Opened: From May to October, Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 4pm.

Admission: free

Photo from Cuba Cheese Museum

Say Cheese!

Good cheese needs good accessories. Enjoy!

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Number 2: The Jell-O Gallery

Bill Cosby would love this delicious museum. In fact the latest exhibit includes him along with many other celebraties who have helped advertise Jell-O over the years. The jiggly dessert we can't get enough of was discovered in LeRoy, New York by carpenter Pearle Wait, who, in 1897, was experimenting with gelatin in his home when he came up with a fruit flavored dessert his wife called Jell-O.

The museum has exhibits and artifacts that are sure to make visitors wiggle in delight. Remember "There's always room for Jell-O!"

Location: 23 East Main St., LeRoy, NY

Contact: 585-768-7433

Opened: January to March weekdays 10am to 4pm, April to December, Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm and Sunday 1pm to 4pm

Admission: Adults $4.50, Kids 6 to 11 yrs. $1.50, kids under 5 yrs free

My photo of a box of Jell-O.

Jell-O Collectibles

Everyone loves Jell-O. So do I!

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Number 1: The Original American Kazoo Factory and Museum

Travel down to Eden, New York and you will come across a 1916 metal factory that is now the only metal kazoo factory in North America. Visitors can see the step-by-step assembly of the metal kazoo on the original equipment. The museum has exiibits of kazoos of all shapes, sizes and materials and chronicles the history of the kazoo through humourous trivia. Kazoo production began at this very location in 1912. Eden is known as the kazoo capital of the world.

Location: 8703 South Main St., Eden, NY

Contact:716-992-3960

Opened: All year Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Friday 10am to 7pm and Sunday 12pm to 5pm, closed Mondays

Admission: free

Make your own kazoo for a minimal fee

The kazoo was invented by American Alabama Vest and made to his specifications by German clock maker Thaddeus Von Clegg in Macon, Georgia in 1840.

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And one more: Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum

There are many carousel museums throughout the United States, but what makes this one so unique is that it is housed inside the actual 1915 Allan Herschell carrousel factory. The series of seven buildings were once used to manufacture not only carrousels, but Ferris wheels, carnival games, and kiddie rides. The Allan Herschell Company was the largest manufacturer of kiddie rides in the United States until it was sold to Chance Manufacturing in 1970.

Today the factory is a musuem with artifacts and displays, wood carving demonstrations, and the largest collection of Wurlitzer band organ rolls in the country. The most exciting part of a visit to the museum is a ride onboard the first carrousel manufactured there, a 1916 Number One Special, 3-row wooden carrousel. In the final stages of restoration, most of the carrousel horses are as handsome as the day they left the factory.

Located: 180 Thompson St., North Tonawanda, NY

Contact: 716-693-1885

Opened: April to December. Hours may vary so call before going. Groups can set up private tours all year.

Admission: Adults $6, Seniors $5, kids 3 to 12yrs $3, kids under 2 yrs free. First carrousel ride included in price. Additional rides 50 cents.

volunteer opportunity

My photo of Jake, a horse I helped restore at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.

Carousel History

Painted Ponies: American Carousel Art
Painted Ponies: American Carousel Art

Exceptional book with fantastic photos and clear explanation of carousel history, it is my personal favorite.

 
A Pictorial History of the Carousel
A Pictorial History of the Carousel

This is the book that started it all. A complete and detailed history about carousels by carousel expert, the late Frederick Fried. Excellent book.

 
The Carousel Keepers: An Oral History of American Carousels
The Carousel Keepers: An Oral History of American Carousels

An insiders look at the efforts and talent that went into creating America's favorite ride. Very good book for anyone who likes the nuts and bolts of things.

 

Merry-Go-Round, Jumping Jenny, Whilygig, Over the Jumps, Flying Jenny, and Carousel are all different names for the same ride. Depending on the manuracturer Carousel, (the accepted spelling), was spelled Carrousel, Caroselle, or Carrousell.

A whirling video.

Tell me what you think.

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    • profile image

      dream1983 5 years ago

      Great lens, nicely done! Squidlike

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      JoshK47 5 years ago

      I always love finding "local flavor" museums - awesome stuff!