A Trustee with the Chautauqua County Historical Society recently was the focus of some well-deserved regional attention here in Western New York. Sharon Howe Sweeting was featured in the Nov. 26 issue of the Buffalo News for her work in operating the Cherry Creek Inn and serving as the Cherry Creek Town Historian.
The article was also picked up by the Smithsonian and will be reprinted in an upcoming publication.
A wonderful feature about a wonderful and remarkable woman – the Historical Society is pleased to have Sharon serving as one of our trustees!
Below is the article, written by News Staff Reporter Charity Vogel, in its entirety. It can also be fond online at: http://www.buffalonews.com/life/more-stories/article648184.ece
No place like home
By Charity Vogel – News Staff Reporter
During her decades married to a globe-trotting government official, and her time working in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Sharon Howe Sweeting sampled a wide variety of international cultures.
And, after all that, she has this to say:
Cherry Creek — and, by extension, Western New York — stacks up just fine.
“The richness of it, I am shocked by it sometimes,” said Howe Sweeting, of the historical and cultural depth of the upstate region.
That’s a good thing for Cherry Creek, Howe Sweeting’s hometown, as well as Chautauqua County and the rest of the area.
For Howe Sweeting has, since moving back to her place of birth after a far-flung career, worked hard on preserving its history. Among her efforts:
- Creating a vintage 19th century spread out of the 1860s-era Cherry Creek Inn, a historic home in the Town of Cherry Creek that was built by George Nelson Frost, a wealthy farmer and horse owner of the Victorian period;
- Modernizing and organizing the Cherry Creek Town Museum, using the skills she gained as a librarian and archivist at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., after taking over as town historian two years ago; and
- Researching the history of her own home and other structures and incidents in Chautauqua County — in part by using old copies of the Cherry Creek News from the 1880s through the 1930s, which she found in the local museum on 17 rolls of decaying microfilm and has since had converted to a digital format.
“The museum is just chockablock with treasures,” Howe Sweeting said. “But the whole thing needs to be brought under bibliographic control.”
This may sound like a cosmopolitan world view coming from a woman who was born in a rural village of slightly more than 600 people.
But, for Howe Sweeting, nothing could be more natural than coming back to her roots — and appreciating what was there all along.
“It’s just the most amazing place you’ve ever seen,” she said, of her hometown.
From Howe Sweeting, that’s high praise indeed.
This is a woman who, with her husband, Lester H. Sweeting, an IRS attorney, sampled other cultures through their travels to 30 countries. (In her dining room in Cherry Creek, Howe Sweeting’s wide-plank pine floors are set off by black-lacquer cabinets Lester bought in Hong Kong; the delicate china in the Jamestown-made curio was hand-painted by Howe Sweeting’s mother.)
The couple bought the former Frost home in 2005, planning to use it as a retirement home and inn.
Then, in 2008, at age 65, Lester Sweeting died in a car accident in Kennedy — not far from their home — when his car crossed the center line and hit a school bus head-on. He had just returned from a trip and may have been jet-lagged and tired, Howe Sweeting said.
At Randolph Academy, the district to which the bus driver and the vehicle’s single student passenger that day belonged, administrators said that the crash turned into a lesson in generosity and humanity.
After the accident, said Lori DeCarlo, superintendent of Randolph Academy, Howe Sweeting approached the school about setting up a scholarship in memory of her husband — an award that would cover part of a Randolph student’s college tuition each year.
“It was traumatic. Any accident like that is traumatic,” said DeCarlo. “But what came of it was just this really special connection. The Sweetings are really invested in the community; they are just great people.”
Today, Howe Sweeting operates the property as a bed and breakfast — relying on her own skills at home maintenance, as well as the generosity of friends and relatives.
“People pitch in, they help me out,” she said. “They look after me.”
Previous owners of the inn had poured time and money into restoring the mansion from a dilapidated state into good condition, Howe Sweeting said. She estimates she has since spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more on the property –including building a new carriage house clad in Amish-made barn boards; a garden tea house for croquet supplies and a tea table; a gymnasium with a 13-station workout cycle; and extensive gardens, complete with an outdoor hot tub pavilion.
The second floor of the carriage house is a revelation: home to more than 2,500 books, the “library” space is a spacious gathering spot with hardwood floors, oriental carpets and comfortable reading chairs — as well as window vistas of the 30-acre property.
Cherry Creek was quite a place back in the day, and remains a unique place to visit, residents of the region said.
“Cherry Creek was a thriving place,” said Carol Lorenc, who runs Amish Flair Tours in the area, and who collaborates with Howe Sweeting for Amish-themed events. “It was a very vibrant village for a while. There was a hotel, there were thriving stores. It did have a long and colorful history.”
Inside the inn, the old Frost homestead is full of antiques and ornaments the Sweetings brought back from their travels. Balinese shadow puppets stand next to an amethyst from Brazil, while Macedonian dolls share space with White House Christmas ornaments.
“A guy who stayed here once described it best,” said Howe Sweeting. “He said the house is like staying in a sea captain’s house, full of treasures collected on distant voyages.”
Howe Sweeting was born and grew up in Cherry Creek. When she married Lester, in August 1966, the ceremony took place in the yard of her parents’ home.
The couple had met at Syracuse University, where Howe Sweeting, at 23, was working in the university library and 24-year-old Lester Sweeting was a law student. She had earned her bachelor’s degree at the university.
“Libraries were very much in our blood,” said Howe Sweeting.
They met in the most prosaic of ways: over a broken copier.
“He knew how to fix a Xerox machine –and I didn’t,” Howe Sweeting recalls, laughing. “That was the big plus for him. Of course, it was the last time he ever fixed anything.”
After their marriage, Sweeting worked for the IRS abroad. Howe Sweeting accompanied him at times, and at other times stayed in the couple’s home in Maryland.
For more than a decade, until 1983, Howe Sweeting worked for the Smithsonian, starting off in the cataloging department. The Smithsonian paid her tuition to get her master’s degree in library science at Catholic University, Howe Sweeting said, and afterward she became a gift and exchange librarian for the institution. (Among her duties: writing thank-you letters to people who had donated items to the museum’s collection.)
“I was there when we got the ruby slippers from [‘The Wizard of Oz’],” she said. “That was really cool, since I’m such a big fan of the movie. I wasn’t sure they were real!”
In the mid-1980s, the couple lived in London for four years; she took a job in the American ambassador’s office there. The city suited her fascination with history — and her eagerness to see some of the political and cultural heavyweights of the day.
Two years ago, Howe Sweeting found herself accepting an offer to become the Cherry Creek town historian.
She receives a small stipend and is charged with overseeing the town’s history collections, housed in a former church. Howe Sweeting also serves as a trustee of the Chautauqua County Historical Society.
“Sharon brings a wealth of experience,” said James O’Brien, the society’s president. “She brings a wealth of exposure and education Ñ in Washington, in London, in Egypt, in places like that. Her background as an archivist — a trained archivist at the Smithsonian Institution — is the strength she brings to a small historical society.
“The Cherry Creek Historical Society is so similar to the situation many small historical societies find themselves in,” O’Brien said. “And yet their collections are extremely important.”
Howe Sweeting said she is starting to organize the town’s collections through cataloging software that she said will make the material orderly, thematically consistent –and searchable.
In addition, Howe Sweeting sent 17 rolls of Cherry Creek News microfilm to a New York State old-newspaper expert who put the vintage newspapers into a digital format.
These old papers are also now searchable and accessible, she said.
“All these little towns had their own newspapers,” she said.
Looking through those old files, now digital, will be an arduous task, but it’s one Howe Sweeting — given her background — is relishing.
“This,” she said, “is the stuff that fascinates me.”