One hundred years and flourishing
New Milford Historical Society -- 'little gem' celebrates its centennial
Published 11:21 am, Tuesday, April 21, 2015
To enter the New Milford Historical Society & Museum through its main door is to walk through history -- literally.
The door once served the former United States Hotel (circa 1790) -- located until 1927 at the north corner of Main and Bank streets, where Robertson Jewelers is now situated -- according to Howard Peck's book, "New Milford: Memories of a Connecticut Town."
The museum itself is a time capsule that celebrates the town's rich history, from its founding in 1707 through today.
"The historical society is here for the community," said board president Ted Hine. "We want to have people come and experience it."
The museum, anchored on property at the corner of Aspetuck Avenue and Elm Street -- at the north end of the Village Green -- is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
To mark its centennial, the museum plans several events, including a May 16 gala at Lake Waramaug Country Club in New Preston (see sidebar).
The museum's board of trustees is excited about the milestone and about the museum's future.
"Everyone on the board is active and has a passion, and they're running with it," Hine said.
In recent months, the board has been revitalized, bringing on several new members, following the resignation of four officers last summer.
"This is the first time in 10 years we have a full board of directors," said curator Lisa Roush.
Roush praised the board for its focus and energy to address crucial needs of the museum, in particular structural needs of one of its oldest artifacts -- the Knapp House.
"It's crucial that our largest object -- the house -- is here for future generations," Roush said.
The recent approval of a technical grant through the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation will enable the local nonprofit organization to begin a multi-step process to assess the house's structure and begin renovations in the near future.
The museum comprises the Knapp House, the main gallery, the bank building, the Boardman store and the connector (see timeline).
It also includes the museum store, which was recently renovated and stocked with new merchandise.
Hine said the museum harbors short- and long-term goals.
The trustees plan to bring museum buildings "back to looking like they should" and get them on a maintenance plan; define the process to manage the museum's collection; bring the museum into the digital age via social media and more; and increase membership locally and beyond.
"I think our museum is little gem," said trustee and programming director Nettie McKenna, a former Staten Island, N.Y., history teacher.
The museum curator agrees with McKenna's assessment.
"We are on par with big historical societies, but we aren't as well-known as we should be," Roush said.
Things appear to be moving in the right direction.
The board recently resurrected its education committee and hopes to have museum officials coordinate and pay visits to schools in the region to bring history to the students since field trips to the museum and other sites have been among the school budget cuts over the years.
"Kids love it here" at the museum, said Roush, who noted visits by Boy and Girl Scouts troops.
The kids especially enjoy the old American toys, she added, such as Jacob's Ladder and tops.
Additionally, more students and other individuals are coming to the museum for research purposes. Contemporary, history-based television programs have created an awareness of the importance of history, Roush said.
"We're here to preserve history and make it available for generations to come," Hine said.
Also of great importance is collecting pieces of history as it happens, he said.
"Our historical society is a dedicated volunteer group," said Mayor Pat Murphy, "that devotes their time to the study and appreciation of all aspects of New Milford's history."
The mayor cited the organization's efforts to collect and preserve a variety of artifacts and offer educational programs.
The historical society staff and volunteers "help connect today's New Milford residents with yesterday's New Milford residents," she said.
The museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 860-354-3069, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nmhistorical.org.