As the Ellenville Public Library and Museum celebrates its 50th Anniversary, it also celebrates the publication of an Arcadia book on Ellenville, Images of America, which is based on the items of the library’s local history collection. Comprised of photos that commemorate the village’s fascinating history, 95% of the artifacts seen in its pages can be found at the library’s exhibit – including this butter churn, in excellent condition from the late 1800s.
“Several pieces of stoneware pottery produced in Ellenville are in the collections of the New York State Museum in Albany,” said Asha Golliher, Outreach Librarian. “This was most likely for home use, because it’s small. It would have been something that a homeworker could handle easily.”
While now one merely has to visit their local grocery store to pick up a few sticks of butter, for self-sufficient families of the mid-19th century, it took a lot more work to create this essential ingredient. After the cow was milked and cream was skimmed, the family would churn it into butter by moving a dasher up and down through a small hole at the top of the stoneware that held the cream. This was how the churn at the Ellenville Public Library and Museum would have been used.
“One of the things that’s unique, besides the fact that it’s a stoneware butter churn, is the double bird motif that you see on the front,” Golliher said. “The bird design was not in itself unique, but the style, the kind of bird, the flare, the swirls and dots surrounding this blue glaze on the stoneware – that was unique to the ceramist, the potter. The glazer would have had their own signature just as painters of the day did.”
“Ninety-eight percent of our collections have been donated by our community, and preserved, organized, exhibited and interpreted by the library; so it’s a real act of love,” Golliher said. “This butter churn was given to us by a library patron, Beth Russett. She donated it to Ellenville Public Library in memory of her father, Mike Russett, a former Ellenville school teacher, who was a great collector of stoneware and other artifacts from Ellenville history.”