Support for the
Mccay/Balcom House Restoration
by and reprinted with permission from
Dr. Walter L. Powell
June 26, 1990
To the Chairman of the Steuben County Legislature
I'm writing this letter to urge your support for an initiative by the Steuben County Historical Society to restore the Balcom House and set up a History Study Center there. I've had the delightful opportunity to visit Bath on several occasions, have conducted research at the Davenport Library, and recently made a presentation on the noted Civil War composer Henry Clay Work (who resided in Bath from 1882-1884) to the Society. While there I learned of the concerns of the Society, and was quite surprised to learn that there appeared to be less than enthusiastic support from the County!
In many ways I am struck by the similarities between Steuben County and Adams County, Pennsylvania (where Gettysburg is the County seat). Tourism is fast replacing agriculture as the number one industry, and history is a significant part of that tourist incentive. While I would have to concede that Gettysburg has the advantage of international name recognition, I can clearly see other components that attract tourists which Bath and the area have in abundance—striking scenery, lovely Greek Revival and Victorian homes, and a largely preserved agricultural setting. A strong, centrally located historical organization with a visible headquarters can prove an outstanding asset—not just for those interested in genealogy and local history—but for regional, national, and international visitors (whose numbers increase), and for the growing ranks of preservationists who depend on the resources of such an organization to research houses, land-use patterns, and to develop responsible Comprehensive Plans for future growth and economic development. Adams County has a centrally located headquarters for its Historical Society, where the County Commissioners have seen fit to transfer original "hard copy" of all Probate Records before 1955, Tax Records, Deed Books, and other invaluable items. Furthermore, they regularly support the Society with a small annual allocation, and support any efforts it makes to seek outside grants. The Society's growing holdings have been particularly invaluable to the Borough of Gettysburg as it conducted its first "Comprehensive Building Survey" of all structures built in the Borough before 1940, and for several Townships in Adams County who are now grappling with Comprehensive Plans and eventual Zoning regulations. The records provided in no small part by the Commissioners' farsightedness have made it possible for just the Borough of Gettysburg alone to receive more than $100,000 in State funded grants in the past four years, with others at the Township level pending. The money "spent" by the County by the taxpayer has been more than amply repaid in just a few years!
I am not, of course, intimately acquainted with any internal concerns or reservations you may have about the Society's proposal—but as one experienced in working at the local and county level, I think you would be "penny wise and pound foolish" not to support the Society's effort. The restoration of the Balcom House alone will be a highly visible improvement to Pulteney Square, give the SCHS much needed momentum, and gain you very positive publicity. Tourism was America's biggest import in 1989, with historic sites and restored "Downtowns" being a substantial share of that profit. Steuben County stands only to gain—and at very small cost in the long run.
Walter L. Powell, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Member, Board of Directors