Morristown museum to highlight close link between fishing and the community

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MORRISTOWN — There is no way to separate the fish of the St. Lawrence River from the people of Morristown, according to a new exhibit opening at the Morristown Gateway Museum, Main Street, on June 30.

“We ate them. We sold them. And we showed tourists where to catch them,” reads an introductory panel to the exhibit. “The fish of the St. Lawrence River have sustained the people of Morristown since there were people here to catch them.”

Titled “The Big Fish. Making a Living from the River,” the exhibit will focus in part on sturgeon and muskellunge fishing in the St. Lawrence River, and will feature items owned and used by noted local fishermen Allan Bogardus and James Evans. Both men, now deceased, were longtime residents of the Morristown area and made their living off the water.

Mary C. Spilman, a member of the Morristown Historical Society, said the upcoming historical perspective was researched and planned with the help of Hallie Bond, the former director of the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

She said the displays will highlight the history of fishing in the Morristown area from the late 19th century to the present day.

“The premise is that Morristown people ate the fish, sold the fish, and showed tourists where to catch them,” Ms. Spilman said. “The exhibit describes catching, storing, and selling the fish.”

Some of the artifacts and historical panels — which will include narratives from some of the community’s noted past anglers — will focus on what was once a booming trade in sturgeon and muskellunge fishing, according to Ms. Spilman.

However, other exhibits will cover the catching, processing and sale of eel, perch and bullhead.

The fact that fishing has played a key role in much of Morristown’s history over the years is not surprising.

The town and village are dominated by the St. Lawrence River and Black Lake.

One of the unique aspects of the “Big Fish” exhibit in Morristown is that many of the display panels rely on some of the community’s most famous fishermen to tell about their exploits in their own written narratives.

For example, one of the displays is titled “Meet Allan Bogardus.” Mr. Bogardus and his wife, Lorraine, longtime supporters of the Morristown Museum, left their property to the organization upon their deaths.

As a young man, Mr. Bogardus was a skilled sturgeon fisherman.

Although he died in 2016, a historical panel at the museum exhibit shows a 24-year-old Mr. Bogardus posing with a large sturgeon. The narrative that accompanies the photo is his own.

“I was born and raised in Morristown and I learned sturgeon fishing by helping older men like Joe Corrice,” Mr. Bogardus penned. “From 1948 until 1970 I worked as an electrician and ice harvester and caught sturgeon during the spring and fall for extra money. I also built some camps on the River Road East to rent to tourists. They liked to walk out on the dock and look into the crib where I kept the sturgeon waiting for slaughter and shipping.”

Gateway Museum President Dean Shelato recently announced the museum exhibit. In a column on the museum’s website, he said the opening of the display will be at 9 a.m. June 30.

“The hard work is finally over,” Mr. Shelato said. “The first floor of the museum has been painted, new carpet installed, artifacts collected and cleaned, and new graphic signs installed. The exhibit is sensational. It will be a proud day for the museum when we open our doors. Many people have worked hard to put this together. Several local citizens are featured in the displays, including Allan Bogardus the sturgeon fisherman, and Jim Evans the muskie guide. We look forward to showing off our newest project.”

The Gateway Museum website is https://www.morristowngatewaymuseum.org/

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