Kathy Antoniotti | Beacon Journal staff writer
NORTON: The assistant curator of the Biery House Museum is not above a bit of Dumpster diving — especially for pieces of old wooden furniture — if the opportunity presents itself.
Lisa Merrick is not one to let a chance slip through her fingers if a find might be turned into a jewel with a bit of elbow grease. In reality, the few found treasures on display at the Norton Historical Society’s museum usually have been discovered on the side of the road, she said.
“I don’t go out looking for it, but I don’t pass it by, either,” she said in a recent interview.
The public is invited to tour the museum, at 3412 Norton Ave., during a holiday open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Music for the event will be provided by 78 rpm records played on a Victrola donated by Merrick’s uncle, David Boots of Vermont.
Dumpster diving aside, donations, especially from families that have lived in the area for generations, are the preferred method of acquisition and are always welcome. With a limited budget, historical society members say donations, especially those with provenance, uncover little nuggets of information that help tell the story of the city’s past.
Merrick and museum curator Patsy Snyder point out each acquisition as they make their way through the two-story brick house that is decked out for the holidays. Historical society members refinish donated, found and purchased pieces as needed to make them look as good as new, or in this case, as good as old.
The Biery House, purchased by the city from a private homeowner in 2010 and given to the historical society for use as a museum, was built in 1912, the same year the British passenger liner the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The home, built by Charles L. Biery, son of Jonathan R. Biery and his wife, Mary Seiberling, was constructed with 18-inch-thick stone and brick walls.
Today, the residence houses a vast array of items donated by local residents, some of whom are descendents of the people who settled the area in the early 19th century.
“We’ve worked hard to make it something to be proud of so children can come in and learn about the history of the community,” Snyder said.
Each May, third-graders from Norton Cornerstone School tour the building with Merrick and Snyder, who wear period costumes for the occasion.
Previously, historical documents and items in the society’s possession were housed in the Lahr Haus, a property the city purchased in 1999, Snyder said.
“The house was very small, and at 140 years old, it was probably beyond safe,” she said.
The home was demolished and used for a practice burn by the Norton Fire Department. The city built a new fire station on the site, next door to the “new” historical society home and museum.
Firefighters helped move the society’s belongings into the new home, Snyder said.
“We were very happy to get it,” she said.
Each room of the house has been painstakingly renovated and reappointed to reflect a particular subject in Norton’s past, from its early beginnings when the community was comprised of seven separate hamlets that formerly made up Wolf Creek Township.
Picture frame oak wooden floors have been uncovered, stripped and refinished, and layers of paint and wallpaper were removed. An original section of wallpaper, circa 1912 with a geometric pattern of yellow flowers on a base, was saved for display on a second-floor wall.
An upstairs room of the century home is devoted to Norton schools, with many Norton High School yearbooks, including a 1928 edition of the Nohiscan, the publication’s original name. Walls are covered with early class graduation photos, band and sports uniforms. A Norton Panther head made of papier mache, part of the school mascot’s costume, is displayed with the names of some of the students who wore it in the 1960s and ’70s.
In another room, a wedding dress and ensemble Dorothea Marie Miller wore for her May 25, 1940, marriage to George Allen Seiberling hangs in the clothing room as well as the couple’s wedding photo. Complete World War II dress uniforms from each branch of the U.S. military line the walls. A dress on display, circa 1920, was donated by society treasurer Lillian Blackburn.
Those attending the holiday open house are asked to bring an antique or old ornament to donate for the Christmas tree that stands in the home’s dining room. Refreshments will be served and there will be a drawing for door prizes.
Parking for the event will be on the west side of the Norton fire station.
For more information or to tour the home, contact Snyder at 330-825-7572 or Merrick at email@example.com.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.