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History Center's gala to mark 2 milestones

The Niagara County History Center, formerly called the Niagara County Historical Society, will celebrate two milestones this weekend: its own 90th anniversary and the formal opening of its new Penney Gallery.

The semiformal celebration, called "The Past, Penney & Future Gala," will include a cocktail reception, ribbon-cutting ceremony, wine toast, gourmet dinner catered by the Lockport Town & Country Club and a silent auction.

It will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, with dinner served at various grilling and dining stations in a big tent behind the new Penney Gallery in the former Hamilton House at 24 Church St.

Melissa L. Dunlap, executive director of the History Center, said the late Charles Rand Penney approached the Historical Society in 2008 to be the recipient of his Niagara County collection of more then 5,000 artifacts and archival items.

Penney, a bachelor who lived in Lockport from 1977 until he died Aug. 1, 2010, at age 87, was a life member and past president of the society's board of directors.

Dunlap said Saturday's fundraiser would allow the society to support the staffing and maintenance of the Penney collection and make it available for historical display and research.

Penney, a lawyer, had 123 separate collections. The items donated to the Niagara County History Center all are of significance to Niagara County.

In similar acts of philanthropy, Penney gave his entire collection of Niagara Falls-related art to the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University, and much of his other Western New York art went to the former Burchfield Art Center, now the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College. The E.H. Butler Library at Buffalo State has a Charles Rand Penney Room.

In Lockport, the Niagara County Discovery Center was renovated to house the new Penney Gallery, including a 1,000-square-foot exhibition space on its second floor.

The collection includes works of art, 19th century maps of Niagara County, commercial souvenirs, mementos of present and former Lockport businesses and in-house publications from the former Harrison Radiator Co. which later became part of General Motors.

Saturday's celebration also will commemorate the 90th anniversary of the History Center, which began its existence in 1921 as the Lockport Historical Society.

In 1947, the organization grew in both size and mission to become the Niagara County Historical Society. With three separate sites and seven buildings, including its headquarters at 215 Niagara St., it now is called simply the History Center.

A limited number of tickets are available for $125 each at the Church Street and Niagara Street sites and online at NiagaraHistory.org.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com