Weekly Feature



2017-02-16 / Lifestyles

Sharing the memories:

Steel Plant Museum preserves photos, artifacts, personal accounts
by Nick Konotopskyj
Reporter


The first coke ovens at Bethlehem Steel, such as the one pictured, were under construction in 1903. Memorabilia from the plant can be found at the Steel Plant Museum of WNY. The first coke ovens at Bethlehem Steel, such as the one pictured, were under construction in 1903. Memorabilia from the plant can be found at the Steel Plant Museum of WNY. On Nov. 9, 2016, Lackawanna and many Western New Yorkers were devastated by the fire at Bethlehem Steel. Thankfully, no lives were lost that day, but for many, all that remains are cherished memories from the famous steel plant.

Whether photos, artifacts or a specific experience, all of that can be preserved.

The Steel Plant Museum of Western New York, located at 100 Lee St., Buffalo, is asking residents to either call in or visit the museum to share their stories and/or memories. This is an opportunity for the thousands of people who were impacted by Bethlehem Steel.

Curator Deirdre Reynolds said the turnout has been great, and museum officials are excited to hear more from those who are willing to share information.


The main office building at Bethlehem Steel is shown in 1976. Memories and artifacts from Bethlehem Steel and other local steel plants are preserved at the Steel Plant Museum of Western New York, which opened in 1984. The main office building at Bethlehem Steel is shown in 1976. Memories and artifacts from Bethlehem Steel and other local steel plants are preserved at the Steel Plant Museum of Western New York, which opened in 1984. “We started this about three weeks ago, and people have been calling, emailing and coming in to talk,” she said. “Since this [fire] was so recent, people want to talk and share what kind of memories they have.” Bethlehem Steel was at one point the second largest steel company in the United States. It acquired Lackawanna Steel in 1922 and remained open until 1983.

The Steel Plant Museum of WNY was founded one year later in 1984. It was housed in the Lackawanna Public Library until 2010, when it moved to its current location. The goal of the museum is to preserve and collect photos and artifacts related to steel-making. Most of what it collects is from Bethlehem Steel, but the museum does have artifacts from Republic Steel, Hanna Furnace and other local companies.

“Both our board president and vice president have over 30 years of experience, so that helps me out a lot. Also, they are great people to get information from and talk to,” Reynolds said.

Ever since the Steel Plant Museum started talking to people, Reynolds has noticed that the program has begun to increase in popularity.

“I’ve noticed that most people are really eager to talk about their story,” Reynolds said. “This really fosters the community, and it’s such a sense of support. It’s great to get firsthand accounts because it is an experience that you won’t understand unless you live through it.”

Reynolds doesn’t necessarily have a favorite story thus far but admits that she has heard some great ones.

“I talked to a guy the other day who shared that he lived in Lackawanna, and from his house, he had the Strip Mill on one side, Bethlehem on another and Hanna on another, so he was surrounded on three sides by steel plants,” Reynolds said.

The Steel Plant Museum hosts two yearly exhibits: one that starts in May and the other in November. Selected quotes from individual stories will appear in the next exhibit, “Steel on Fire: Remembering the Bethlehem Steel Lackawanna Plant,” which is set to open on May 12.

“So many different people were affected, so I wanted to show what it was like,” Reynolds said. “The exhibit will be a photographic retrospective, so visitors will be able to walk around and talk to volunteers. Being able to make a personal connection is great context.”

This exhibit will run from May 12 until the next exhibit starts in November. Reynolds encourages residents to continue sending in their memories even after the exhibit comes to an end in November.

“Just so people know, the call for memories doesn’t end at the exhibit,” Reynolds said. “People can continue to send items in whenever they want.”

According to Reynolds, the Steel Plant Museum of WNY holds a monthly program called the “First Wednesday Speaker Series.” Basically, a guest is invited to give a presentation, which could be on a number of different topics including historic preservation and steel-making. The next event will be on Wednesday, Mar. 1, on the Buffalo Civil War.

The Steel Plant Museum of WNY is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. To learn more about the museum, visit steelplantmuseumwny.org, visit its Facebook page or call 821-9361. To contribute donations, Reynolds can be reached at deirdrereynolds@steelplantmuseumwny.org.

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