The River Lea reopens for tours

Sat Sep 25, 2021 10:50 AM

By Alice E. Gérard

River Lea, the museum of the Grand Island Historical Society in Beaver Island State Park, has reopened. The doors to the museum were closed to the public shortly after the company meeting on March 5, 2020.

The museum was opened for tours on September 19. The opening of the building gave visitors the opportunity to see the changes that took place while the building was closed to the public. According to the president of the Grand Island Historical Society, Curt Nestark, visitors will see that the rooms at River Lea have been decorated with themes in mind.

The dining room is “all about the Bedells and the Bedell House,” he said. “Inside you will find all kinds of documents and images. There is the hotel register from 1901 and 1902. Alma Hoff, who was Zora Hussey’s older sister, is also included in the hotel register. There are presidential documents and Ossian Bedell’s invitation to lunch with President James McKinley.

The theme of the kitchen is farming on Grand Island, Nestark said. Exhibits on display include “documents from Grand Island farms, photographs, tools, bottles of milk and the painting used by the Milk Alliance during their stay here.”

The theme of the River Lea dining room is the Bedell House and the Bedell Family.


Nestark described the show as a “work in progress”. He explained that each corner of the room was devoted to different themes, including Grand Island clubs, smoking, the Pierce farm, and drawings by artist Amos Sangster, a self-taught artist who was known in the 19th century as the “Painter of the Niagara frontier. Nestark described the Sangster Corner as another work in progress: “Amos Sangster was a friend of Grover Cleveland. He dedicated his book to Cleveland. He made drawings and prints from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and the falls. He only made two Grand Islands, and we have both, the original designs, as well as an etching. I am negotiating for another print from Tonawanda Island.

Nestark explained the theme of smoking in the living room: “Smoking has been a great cultural thing for years and years. “A cupboard in the corner contains” an interesting smoking stall. Some pieces from Grand Island are also present.

“There are a lot of people to thank for the changes at River Lea, including hiring Shamrock Painting Co. to paint several rooms, floors and hallways in the house,” Nestark said. The renovations have been “a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people who are dedicated to this building and what this company stands for. They invested time and effort, and they spent the money wisely. Also, we’ve had two meetings with senior park officials, and they love what we’re doing. They love that we spend our own money, improve the place and reinvent the museum.

This table in the corner of the living room of River Lea, with its collection of pipes, represents an era in the island’s history when smoking was seen as part of the culture of the community, according to the historic President of Grand Island , Curt Nestark.


Upcoming events at River Lea include an Open House, scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on October 17, as well as three Christmas Open Days, scheduled from December 3 to 5. In addition, meetings of the Grand Island Historical Society are resuming, with the next meeting scheduled for October 7.

“Due to the uncertainties and what we don’t know about COVID,” this meeting will be for members only, Nestark said.

The November meeting will be held at the Golden Age Center on the Nike base and will be open to the public. In addition, no Christmas lunch is planned this year.

River Lea’s future goals include bringing the company’s library to a digital format “so that it can be shared,” Nestark said. Other goals are to build a bathroom on the first floor and work on the entrance, to make it more accessible to people with disabilities.

“And we want to continue working with state parks,” Nestark said.