Thursday, June 13, 2013

June is Dairy Month -- Flag Day Means Rome and Rome Means Cheese

Happy Flag Day, everyone.

I'm making a bit of a stretch today, but I wanted somehow to combine Flag Day with Dairy Month. So here's what I came up with.

Francis Bellamy, who authored the Pledge of Allegiance, was a long-time resident of Rome, NY, graduated from Rome Free Academy and is buried in Rome Cemetery. He lived in Rome when his father was pastor  at the local Baptist church.

For years, there has been a Flag Day ceremony at Bellamy's grave put on by the Rome Elks and at Francis Bellamy Elementary School in Rome.

So since Bellamy wrote the pledge to the flag and was from Rome, the Dairy Month item today is about Rome, or something in Rome, to be exact. And that something is related to dairy.

Cheese Museum at Erie Canal Village, Rome
The New York State Museum of Cheese is located at the Erie Canal Village, on Rome-New London Road (Route 46 and 49) in Rome. Melody Milewski, longtime director of Erie Canal Village, said the museum still exists and is open when the village is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Wednesday through Saturday.

The idea to put the New York Museum of Cheese in Rome was a simple one, since the first commercial cheese factory in the country was opened in Rome in 1851 by Jesse Williams. 

The museum opened in 1986, but not without some hoopla surrounding it. According to a 2006 story in the New York Times, the building which now houses the museum was moved from its former location in Verona, NY (not far from Rome) and refurbished using $175,000 in state legislature pork barrel money.

The museum was supposed to be a tourism kick in the pants for Rome, which had fallen on some bad economic times with the pullout of some of it manufacturing business (it also suffered the realignment of Griffiss Air Force Base a few years later).

But when pork barrel money (state money used to fund local projects that often have a place in the heart of a state senator or assembly member) was used to open it, the museum became a statewide symbol of all that is wrong with the pork barrel system of tax money handouts.

The New York Times story says then-Gov. George Pataki spoke against the overuse of pork barrel money and how pork barrel spending must stop, stating "We've seen enough cheese museums and pro wrestling halls of fame to know what our budgets would become: free-spending free-for-alls."

The three-story wooden building the museum is housed in is the old Merry & Weeks Cheese Factory formerly located in Verona. Milewski said the museum includes exhibits on the "whole history of cheese and cheese making" and includes displays of various artifacts, equipment and tools used in the making of cheese.

"There also is a lot of information on the shipping of cheese on the canal," Milewski said, noting boats carried cheese made in various factories in the area across the state on the Erie Canal.

Construction of the Erie Canal began July 4, 1817 in Rome, NY.

The New York State Museum of Cheese was run by the city of Rome for a number of years and then went into private ownership. Milewski said the museum is visited by many people every year. 

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