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From City Hall to internationally known museum of art

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: From City Hall to internationally known museum of art
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When driving through different towns across the region, it's neat to see the historical buildings still standing. And some that live in the area are lucky to work in them. In this week's edition of Your Hometown, our Katie Husband takes us to Corning's Rockwell Building, where up until the 1970s, it was known as City Hall, home to all departments. But through the years, and one natural disaster later, it has turned into a well-known museum of art.

CORNING, N.Y. -- Driving on Denison Parkway, parallel to historic Market Street, you will notice some tall buildings, but none that have the color like the Rockwell Museum. The Richardsonian Romanesque style building was constructed in 1893 by Thomas Bradley and Company for approximately $20,000.

"It was one of the styles in Vogue in the 1890s where they were making these grand buildings with the combination lime stone, brick and terracotta. And we had a brick and terracotta works in town and I'm sure they used a lot of those brick and terracotta for the building and local lime stone as well," said Sheri Golder, Director at Corning-Painted Post Historical Society.

When the building opened, it housed all administrative offices for the city, better known as City Hall. The first floor was home to the city's fire department, made up of Alliance Hook and Ladder and Pritchard Hose Company.

"In the 1890s, the method of fighting fires was through horse-drawn pumper trucks and so, the pumper trucks were backed in to the bays downstairs and the horses were also housed there," said Kristin Swain, Executive Director at Rockwell Museum of Western Art.

City Hall remained in the building up until 1972 when Hurricane Agnus flooded the area. It was then moved to its current location on Denison Parkway. This is right around the time where the name Rockwell comes into play.

"Bob Rockwell was a local business man. He operated a department store on Market Street and he began to collect western art in the late 60s and as he acquired his collection he hung it on the walls of the department store. So people from the community or people from across the country who learned about his western art collection would come specifically to the department store to see great artists," said Swain.

Then interest surfaced as to who would own the vacant, historical City Hall building.

"So in the late 70s, there was this agreement that the family, the Rockwell collection, Corning and the City of Corning would come together to build the Rockwell Museum. The initial idea was to have the museum housed in this building, but because of economic conditions, it was impossible to do that originally," said Swain.

So the museum opened in temporary headquarters on the second floor of the Baron Steuben Building until 1982.

"And the building was renovated and brought into great condition and had deteriorated a little bit over the years since it was vacant and opened to the public in June of 1982," said Swain.

The changes don't stop there. In 1999, the board of trustees and staff of the museum developed a new business plan to focus solely on Western and Native American Art. They opened the museum with the new format in 2001.

When you visit the Rockwell Museum today, you can experience historic works of art by all of the best known artist in the field of western art.

"They'll also have exposure to Contemporary Native American works of art as well as Contemporary Western Art," said Swain.

The next time you see the Rockwell Museum, you'll now know that inside the brick, limestone and terracotta walls there was more than just art. It was the nucleus of a city that's still developing, changing and improving.

In 2012, the Rockwell Museum of Western Art hosted more people than three times the population of Corning. The Rockwell collection is recognized internationally as one of the finest collections of American Western art and partners with the nation's top museums through borrowed works and shared exhibitions.

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