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Durham Center Museum

As you go speeding along your way from one place to the next, the very unimposing Durham Center Museum sitting back off the side of the road is one of those places you will probably just drive on by without a second thought. It doesn't look like much, isn't really on the way to just about anywhere and with only rare exceptions you will only see one car parked over to the side under the trees.

But beware, if you choose to drive on down the road or not take that turn and wander back into the country side just a little, you are going to miss the most spectacular little museum in the entire Hudson Valley. We do not say this lightly or without careful consideration. As a travel guide we have been just about everywhere and wandered into and out of just about everything there is in the Hudson Valley. And in our opinion, no location in the Valley is a better visit, has more interesting stuff or more engaged people than this tiny little out of the way museum and collection.

When you first enter the museum you are going to say "Wow!" You'll probably just stand there for a moment trying to get your bearings and figure out which way to go first. It's a true and totally authentic small town country museum, an old style cabinet of curiosities, filled from floorboards to rafters with stuff. Stuff of every possible description. Stuff of grandeur and stuff of mundane country life. Stuff piled upon stuff, stuff hanging from stuff and even more stuff sitting on other stuff.

The beneficiary of decades long local traditions of donations, the Durham Center Museum is filled with a dizzying array of artifacts and memorabilia. One case holds memorabilia from Lincoln's funeral, another holds mother of pearl encrusted vanity sets, another holds sheet music dating back probably to before time began. There are small vignettes populated by farm implements, farmers boots and farm wives handiwork. Pieces from the columns of the Catskill Mountain House loom from the background amidst extraordinary tramp and primitive furniture. The delicate stuff is housed in long country store display cases down the center of the room and in a myriad of glass front china cabinets and library cases down one side. The more robust stuff is hanging from the walls and ceilings and draped over the rafters.

And just about when you think you cannot possibly absorb any more, you discover a passageway into another set of rooms, an old schoolhouse filled with plates and kitchenware. Antique photos hang from the walls, posters and framed tat work fitted in between. A collection of stuffed animals lurk in the corner and woven hair ornaments in cases draw you to them. And all of this, virtually every single artifact in the museum, is lovingly and carefully identified with little hand written cards giving the details of the piece and where it came from.

All the while, the enthuastic curator or an engaging local docent will walk with you, pointing at things, explaining things, dropping back as you focus in on something, drawing your attention to special things hidden among the rest. In this bewildering assemblage of every description, having someone there to talk with and help you through the maze of local history and lore is a welcome addition to the experience. A friendly and inviting staff that is respectful of your desires is a real rarity these days. Their agenda is to make your visit and your exploration of their extraordinary collection a fun and educational experience.

Go to the Durham Center Museum, make a special trip, turn down that road and head off into the countryside. You will enjoy yourself and have an experience you and your whole family will enjoy and remember for ever.

And you see, we have kept our promise and not mentioned the bizarre yet very real two headed calf stuffed and hanging on one wall that brought fame and masses of visitors early in the museums history...

Specifics on visiting the Durham Center Museum were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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