Museum spotlights town's Swedish heritage

Among the Gunn Memorial Museum staff and volunteers who collaborated on the award-winning exhibit and program series âÄúComing to America: WashingtonâÄôs Swedish Immigrants.âÄù were, from left to right, front row, Dolly (Peterson) Whitney, Ann (Peterson) Dahl, Richard Anderson, Carol Skog,Doreen (Quist) Boesel, Audrey (Norman) Wright and Maryanne Lundberg; middle row, Chris Zaima, Charlotte Johnson, Diane Locke, Anne Quackenbos, Jennifer (Johnson) Whittlesey, Robin McHan (Swanberg family), Betty (Anderson) Hinckley and Janice (Sjonost) Burnham; and, back row, Willie Smith, Stephen Bartkus, Colleen Judson (Heline family), Richard Kleinberg, Keith Templeton, Craig Nelson, Sandy Booth, Constance Trolle (Hanning family), Sally Woodroofe, Sharon Rosenberg and Michael Bird. Courtesy of Gunn Memorial Museum
Among the Gunn Memorial Museum staff and volunteers who collaborated on the award-winning exhibit and program series âÄúComing to America: WashingtonâÄôs Swedish Immigrants.âÄù were, from left to right, front row, Dolly (Peterson) Whitney, Ann (Peterson) Dahl, Richard Anderson, Carol Skog,Doreen (Quist) Boesel, Audrey (Norman) Wright and Maryanne Lundberg; middle row, Chris Zaima, Charlotte Johnson, Diane Locke, Anne Quackenbos, Jennifer (Johnson) Whittlesey, Robin McHan (Swanberg family), Betty (Anderson) Hinckley and Janice (Sjonost) Burnham; and, back row, Willie Smith, Stephen Bartkus, Colleen Judson (Heline family), Richard Kleinberg, Keith Templeton, Craig Nelson, Sandy Booth, Constance Trolle (Hanning family), Sally Woodroofe, Sharon Rosenberg and Michael Bird. Courtesy of Gunn Memorial MuseumContributed Photo

Those coming these days to idyllic Washington have something in common with many Swedish immigrants who were attracted to the town deep in the community's history.

The Gunn Memorial Museum in Washington recently was recognized for its exhibit and program series "Coming to America: Washington's Swedish Immigrants."

The innovative work was created by museum staff and volunteers to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Swedish Salem Covenant Church in Washington Depot.

The museum's efforts earned two honors: an Award of Merit from the Connecticut League of History Organizations and a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History.

According to the museum, Swedes made up 22 percent of Washington's population in 1910.

However, the Gunn museum had little information and few artifacts in its collection related to this important minority immigrant population before this project started.

This presented a unique opportunity for public outreach and collaboration, said myseum curator Stephen Bartkus, bringing the community together to research, collect, and share the stories of Washington's Swedes.

A team of more than 85 volunteers and contributors, many from the Salem Covenant Church, assisted to make the exhibit and program series possible.

For more than a year, they conducted in-depth original historical research in parish records, the United States census, land records and oral history interviews with 17 descendants to discover the previously untold stories of Washington's Swedish immigrants.

Each year, the Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO) presents Awards of Merit in recognition of outstanding institutional and individual contributions that enhance and further the knowledge and understanding of Connecticut history.

The Gunn museum was one of the recipients of the CLHO 2014 Award of Merit, presented at its annual conference in Mystic.

The Leadership in History Award, now in its 69th year, is conferred by the American Association for State and Local History and is one of the nation's most prestigious awards for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

This year, the AASLH conferred 77 national awards at its conference in St. Paul, Minn.