BEHOLD! New Lebanon Launches First Living Museum of Contemporary Rural Life

Auctioneer Dolores Meissner, one of the four Rural Guides who will be presenting programs on July 4 (photo Uli Rose)

Auctioneer Dolores Meissner, one of the four Rural Guides who will be presenting programs on July 4 (photo Uli Rose)

(NEW LEBANON, N.Y.) – BEHOLD! New Lebanon, the nation’s first living museum of contemporary rural American life, kicks off its first full season on Saturday, July 4, 2015. BEHOLD! New Lebanon (BNL) is a museum-without-walls, unlike any other, offering a variety of guided tours by Rural Guides, locals who introduce visitors to today’s rural America.

The July 4 program includes dog training advice and insights; an inside look at Lebanon Valley Speedway; instructions on hand-crafting all-beef sausage (tasting included); auctioneering; and collaging as art.

The following weekend, July 11 programs include detailed looks at do-it-yourself automobile forensics; hops and beer-making; kinetic sculpture; farm-steading and animal care; and a tour of Elm Tree Mill, a favorite stop of President Theodore Roosevelt.

With 60 different tour programs over the course of the summer, Rural Guides greet visitors at their farms, studios and workspaces, where they practice cooking, farming, cattle raising, automobile racing and mechanics, wood-working, foraging and much more. These presenters are not costumed actors or docents recalling old-world skills; they are the real townspeople of today, whose lives and work challenge the quaint myths about country life.

Located in this rural Columbia County community in upstate New York, the museum was founded by social activist and historian Ruth J. Abram. Abram, a resident of New Lebanon who was also the founding president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, brought the idea of a contemporary museum without walls to regional residents and town planners. The community responded enthusiastically with an outpouring of support. After a short but successful pilot in 2014, the first full season of operation will span 13 weekends, July 4-Sept. 26, 2015.

“BEHOLD! New Lebanon is setting new directions for museums,” said Abram. “The creativity and energy embodied in small-town living is a well-kept secret, and we are taking the wraps off. This idea could be spread among the hundreds of other small towns across the country.”

Howie Commander at the Lebanon Valley Speedway witch he owns (photo Uli Rose)

Howie Commander at the Lebanon Valley Speedway witch he owns (photo Uli Rose)

BNL trustee Dolores Meissner said, “Our rural guides are innovators and preservationists, as well as younger people determined to model an environmentally sensitive way of life.” A noted auctioneer and a Rural Guide herself, Meissner added, “We are the spirit, the energy and community of today’s rural living. All the members of the team relish the idea of sharing our skills, stories, and insights with visitors.”

BNL received its provisional charter last year from the New York Board of Regents, which is responsible for the general supervision of all educational activities within the State. The charter recognizes the important role that BNL plays in educating the public “to the natural and built environments, and the skills and ingenuity which characterize rural living.”

Earlier this year, BNL received a $100,000 grant from the Educational Foundation of America, to cover expanded programming and operations. The grant recognized “the innovative nature of the project, its potential for replication in other rural communities, and its potential to catalyze economic revitalization,” said Melissa Beck, executive director, the Educational Foundation of America. “We were also deeply impressed with Ruth Abram’s legacy of leadership.”

Tours are subject to change depending on weather and other variables; current schedules are posted at BEHOLD! New Lebanon.

Tours depart from the new Behold! Station and General Store, which serves as a gateway and launch spot for museum tours. Made available through the generosity of Meissner’s Auction Service, the Behold! Station is in a picturesque Victorian house located at 438 State Rte. 20, New Lebanon, and serves multiple purposes:

  • rendezvous point for all BEHOLD! tours
  • on-site ticket sales
  • depot for information on Columbia County attractions
  • BEHOLD! General Store, a new shop featuring local merchandise and Columbia County goods; and
  • a new BEHOLD! Gallery of local arts and crafts


More information and the online box office can be found at BEHOLD! New Lebanon.

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