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The Arkell Museum

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By Casey Normile

Sometimes you don't need a whole day trip, right? It can get tiring, to have the whole long day away from the joy of work and traffic, to just shop and eat and enjoy the day. No, thank you, just a half-day for me. That's all I need.

One destination for a quick half-day trip: the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie.

The are large photos above -- scroll all the way up to see them.

The place

Just an hour west down the Thruway, Canajoharie sits alongside the Erie Canal. The last few years it's seen renovations of its Main Street, storefronts and streetlights to make a pedestrian-friendly village with restaurants, vintage clothing shops, and waterfront you can walk to. It's a good place to grab lunch. You might see an Amish buggy drive by as you look out the window.

The Arkell is right off Main Street, in a building built by Bartlett Arkell in 1924. The original idea behind the museum was to provide a space in which Arkell could share the art he had seen around the world with the town he so loved.

OK, so who is Arkell?

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You might be asking yourself: Who is Arkell? Well, he's pretty important to Canajoharie's history. He was the first president of the Beech-Nut Packing Company, founded in the village in the late 1800s. The company's factory put Canajoharie on the map and helped it thrive.

Today, Bartlett Arkell's museum is both a showcase for local history -- highlighting the role Beech-Nut played in the village, along with Arkell family -- and a collection of both traditional and modern art pieces (Arkell was a collector). The grounds also include gardens he built for his first wife, Louisana Grigsby Arkell, and a library he built.

Much of the artwork Arkell collected was centered on the Mohawk River Valley and the landscape of upstate New York. "He wanted to have these beautiful landscapes so people would think, 'Why wouldn't I want my food to come from here?'" explained museum librarian Leah LaFera.

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Some of the vintage ads on display tag Canajoharie as "Flavor-Town, USA." That never quite caught on, but the company thrived. As Beech-Nut boomed it started producing all sorts of food products you could think of -- and even some you couldn't sliced bacon in a jar!). It's now strictly a baby food company.

The art

As Arkell traveled the world for business and showcases, he brought back great art he was seeing to the quiet village on the canal.

Well... sort of.

"Apparently, he was rich, but not quite rich enough to bring home the originals, so he commissioned copies to be painted," said LaFera.

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So, sure, the enormous Rembrandt may not be the original "The Night Watch" -- that hangs in Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (the Netherlands one, not the one down the road) -- but the copy at the Arkell is just as important to the people of Canajoharie.

"There would be an uproar from the town is we ever got rid of this one," said LaFera. "This has been here from the beginning, people remember this from their childhood."

The museum currently features an exhibit of photography from the Syracuse University Art Collection (keep an eye out for the Edward Steichen photograph of Greta Garbo). It also has "From Giverny to the Brooklyn Bridge," a collection of American impressionist paintings from the Arkell Collection. Also, be sure to check out the Juvet Time Globe in the library; it's one of the few remaining globes that was built to rotate in time with the rotation of Earth.

The museum and library are good for learning about Canajoharie's local history and taking in a bit of culture this summer.

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Though the museum sits next to the old factory, Beech-Nut relocated production in 2011 to the town of Florida, about 20 miles away. Canajoharie is still adjusting to the loss. The empty factory now awaits a new use. But the history of Canajoharie lives on in next door.

The Arkell has advertised with AOA in the past.

Find It

The Arkell Museum
2 Erie Boulevard
Canajoharie, NY 13317

Comments

I love old food ads and will go there just for that... thank you! And since I'm in Saratoga, it qualifies as a full-day trip!

I grew up in Canajoharie, and I understand the love that Mr. Arkell had for this community. I've traveled and lived in many places throughout my lifetime, but I could never completely pull up all my roots. Like most communities, we've seen our share of good times and bad, and I am thankful for all those who never gave up, and gave their time and effort to make it what it is today.

Gotta love finds like this one. I actually have a long history of family working at BeechNut and it is wonderful what they have done with this museum and library in recent years. I always admired Mr. Arkell's passion for sharing the arts with his employees - their lunch room was graced with live piano music at one time and they were exposed to great paintings and a culture that said "You may be a factory worker but you are worthy of the finer things in life." Thanks for the great article!

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