Meadville Tribune

Local News

July 10, 2014

Donation improves second-floor room at Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum

MEADVILLE — Among the 35 rooms in the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum, 22 are filled with pieces of Crawford County history. From U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin’s library and study, to numerous pieces of historic art, there are countless artifacts that connect Crawford Countians to their past.

However, a small study located on the second floor was never the favorite of Josh Sherretts, the museum’s curator. Sherretts described the second-floor study as the “ugly duckling” of the museum — it featured random items, from a piano to a 700-year-old music book from Europe.

“Anything we couldn’t find a different place for went in there,” Sherretts said.

But a recent call from Victoria Pinnick provided Sherretts with an opportunity to improve that room — and to further provide locals with a look into the county’s past.

Pinnick was in possession of the furniture collection of Austa Densmore Sturdevant, who is an artist born in Blooming Valley in 1855. The collection includes 1880s era dressers, a desk, wardrobes and other small items of Sturdevants.

Austa’s father, Amos, was famous for helping with the development of the typewriter and the railroad tanker car.

Densmore attended Allegheny College and was one of the first women to graduate with a bachelor of arts degree. She married James Sturdevant, who served as superintendent of Crawford County schools. The couple then moved to New York City, and she later studied art in Paris for three years, devoting her life to the arts.

Sturdevant later lived in Cragsmoor, N.Y., from the late 1880s until she died in 1936. Her granddaughter, Clarissa Compton Dryden, had possession of the collection in southeastern Pennsylvania until she entered a senior center in the 1980s.

Not sure what to do with the collection, Dryden offered it to family friend Pinnick, who soon thereafter was looking for someone to take the furniture off her hands since she was getting ready to move from her Harrison, Ark., home. If she couldn’t sell it as one lot, Pinnick was going to send it to an auction house.

Wanting to give the collection a good home, Pinnick soon became in touch with the Crawford County Historical Society, which in turn notified Sherretts. He was thrilled about the possibility of bringing more artifacts to the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum, but without funding, that couldn’t happen.

After hearing the asking price for the Sturdevant collection, Sherretts thought of requesting a donation from Meadville residents Michael and Clare Dent, with whom he asked to contribute in the past. The couple, which has an interest in local history, declined a previous request for a contribution but left the door open for the future.

“I told him (Sherretts) if something else popped up, give us a call,” Michael said.

That “something” just a few weeks ago was the Austa Densmore Sturdevant furniture collection. And with the necessary $7,000 donation from the Dents, the museum is now in possession of the collection.

“We were pleased to help,” Michael Dent said. “Baldwin-Reynolds House is a great example of what can be done by caring for a historical building.”

The Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum is owned by the Crawford County Historical Society and was built as a retirement home for Henry Baldwin in 1842. It was later owned by Congressman William Reynolds.

Clare is involved in local antique clubs, while the Dents live in the former carriage house of the Huidekoper mansion and have kept the building’s original integrity.

The Dents became involved with Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum through their daughter, Nicola, who is a member of the Meadville Garden Club. The garden club has sponsored rooms during previous Christmas exhibits at the museum.

Sherretts has been busy setting up the Sturdevant exhibit since the furniture arrived on June 27. And just this week, the Dents were given the first tour of the room and its collection.

“We think they’re lovely, ” Clare said. “It gives you an impression of how Sturdevant lived.”

In the end, Sherretts improved one of the rooms that never quite fit in with the rest of the museum. The museum’s “ugly duckling” now has a theme, thanks to a local couple’s contribution.

“It’s a room we have not been happy with for several years,” Sherretts said. “The room will look elegant in its own right rather than being a hodgepodge of artifacts.”

You can go

The new and improved second-floor study featuring the furniture collection of Blooming Valley native and artist Austa Densmore Sturdevant is now open at the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum, 639 Terrace St. The museum offers free tours all summer until Labor Day thanks to a donation by Armstrong. More information or for hours of operation: Visit baldwinreynolds.org.

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