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Sanborn Area Historical Society honoree has deep roots

SANBORN – Six-year-old Sammy Hoover darts around the huge meeting room of the new Gary W. Townsend Hall at the Sanborn-Lewiston Farm Museum under the watchful gaze of his grandfather.

That’s his grandfather’s name up there on the outside of this building, dedicated just last week to the man whom many credit with getting this structure built.

Townsend said he’s devoted countless volunteer hours to this effort to ensure that children like Sammy and future generations understand the importance of the farming community.

“You won’t be able to understand the future unless you understand the past,” Townsend said.

The Sanborn Area Historical Society, 400 members strong from Lewiston, Cambria and Wheatfield, honored Townsend by dedicating this new building to him in a ceremony last Saturday. Townsend is a founding member and has served as president for more than 15 years.

Society trustee Bonnie Haskell, who also serves as the Farm Museum curator, said, “We vote on who we name our buildings after. The museum was named after Les Read, we just named the barn after the Wienke family because we bought this farmland from them, and now we named the newest building after Gary.

“We felt Gary really deserved this,” she said. “He worked really hard to get this building built. He put in a lot of hours and he’s the president, so we felt the time was right to do this. We want to make sure all of our buildings are named after the people who helped with them.”

Gerald Treichler, the society’s secretary, said, “Gary has a way of listening and making decisions. People come around to his way of thinking and that’s what we need – someone to lead.”

The Townsend Hall, located in the Farm Museum complex at 2660 Saunders Settlement Road, boasts a full commercial kitchen and spacious bathrooms. It can hold more than 200 people, allowing the group to hold festivals and dinners indoors, as well as to rent out the facility.

The society operates two museums – the Schoolhouse Museum at 2822 Niagara St. and the 52-acre Farm Museum site on Saunders Settlement Road, which has a number of buildings, from the new hall to a century-old barn.

Townsend recently took some time at the farm complex to talk about his involvement with the society, and, the community at large, over the years.

Do you come from a farming family?

My grandfather, Edgar Townsend, had a big farm (on the Lewiston-Cambria border), and I worked on his farm. Sanborn was – and still is – a farming community.

How did you get involved with this particular group?

I had always been active in community events, and a group at Tina’s Coffee Shop asked me if I’d come on board and help with the schoolhouse (museum) project. (The first project of the newly formed society in 1996 was to move the one-room West Street schoolhouse to the corner of West and Niagara streets and convert it into a museum).

I retired from General Motors in 1993 from production control, after 29 years with the company, and I had some time on my hands. I had many years of involvement with politics in the town, county and state, and I knew the ropes on how to get some money.

So, my job is to get the money, and Gerry (Treichler) is my right-hand man because he does all of the paperwork for me.

I spotted some money coming down the way with the Niagara River Greenway, as well as some other grants. We got a $50,000 grant from Sen. George Maziarz for a project feasibility study and we got a $50,000 grant for the sidewalk project from the West Street School to the Schoolhouse Museum from (then-Assemblywoman) Francine DelMonte. We got a low-interest loan from the USDA to buy the farm museum property. We got $260,000 in Greenway money, through the Town of Lewiston, for this new hall, with additional funding from the Town of Lewiston and private donations. We are funded by the Town of Lewiston and hold fundraisers through the year.

You have a barn and a museum building on the site. How did the idea for the community hall arise?

We needed bathrooms. We were growing, and a lot of buses come here, even from nursing homes.

How do you get the word out about what you have here?

We have been working with the Sanborn Business and Professional Association to advertise, and our pamphlets have been delivered all over Western New York. People come here from all over. We get people from conventions in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. We get people on day trips. We are tied into tourism – in the loop.

We worked with the previous Lewiston Town Board to build this new hall and have it ready. We want to expand and keep this going for years to come. We can hold our festivals inside here now, and rent it to other interest groups.

We also just got $175,000 in Greenway money through the town to move an 1825 building that was built in Pekin as a Methodist church and later moved to Sanborn. It’ll take a couple of years to convert it back to a church.

You mentioned an early involvement in politics. What did you do, and what other things have you been involved in through the years?

Over the years, I’ve worked on a number of different projects in the community. I joined the Sanborn Fire Company in 1964 and am still involved. I’m a past chief. I helped start the Town of Lewiston’s Bureau of Fire Prevention and chaired it for 22 years. I helped start the hazmat (hazardous materials) team for the Town of Lewiston.

I was active in the Republican Party, and I was a committeeman for the 8th District for many years. I helped get the Sanborn Fire Company Park started.

And I helped get the Sanborn Business Association started. I’m a businessman in Sanborn. My son, Michael, and I have Townsend Realty, and my wife, Christine, runs the Old General Store in Sanborn. I have two children, three stepchildren and seven grandchildren.

With all of the things that keep you busy, why is the Farm Museum such a special place to you?

We need to preserve this for future generations. We take the things we know for granted, but you should see the kids who come in here and don’t have a clue what things were used for.

My part is getting the money and keeping harmony in the group and promoting this. It’s been a challenge for me and I’ve enjoyed it.

What did the dedication of the building mean to you?

We had 150 people at the ribbon-cutting, including 30 family members and friends, and it was the most rewarding of all of the things I’ve done. It was just plain fantastic. I was really honored.

Visit: www.sanbornhistory.org and www.allabouthistoriclewistonny.com for more information on the organization and its museums.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.