New Milford history comes to life on grounds of museum
NEW MILFORD — Patrons can now explore parts of the New Milford Historical Society & Museum in a more accessible way, both during the museum’s current closure and in years to come.
Seven interpretive signs highlighting key outdoor elements on museum grounds were recently installed as part of the museum’s grounds, now called Museum Commons.
“We chose Museum Commons as a fitting name for our gathering spot, not only because of its historical resonance but because it suggests a shared space within our community,” said David Cohen, a member of the museum’s board of trustees.
The idea for signage for the grounds came to light this spring at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The thought was that during COVID, we need to provide another mechanism to interact with the community,” Cohen said, citing how the closure of the museum for safety measures limited its ability to communicate with the public.
“Since the museum was previously open only a limited number of days a week and is now closed because of the virus, we wanted to find a safe and enjoyable way for the community to experience some of the treasures the museum has to offer,” he said.
The signage program provides details and insight into each of the buildings and structures that make up the commons.
Seven locations on the museum grounds will be identified on a printed take-away guide to soon be available in the box by the museum’s main entrance along Aspetuck Avenue.
Included in the signage offerings are the museum gallery building, the Knapp house, the Boardman store, the bank building, the Colonial Garden, the Lincoln Memorial and an Underground Railroad memorial.
A sign is also posted, indicating the planned future site for the Hill and Plain one-room schoolhouse, which the museum hopes to move in the near future from its longtime home along Sullivan Road.
Three benches have been added to the property: one in memory of longtime museum members and volunteers Barbara Nelson and Mildred Keefe, who died this past winter, one in memory of Cohen’s parents, Harry and Frances Cohen, and one in honor of museum volunteers.
“The timing (of this) is perfect,” museum curator Lisa Roush said of naming the grounds Museum Commons and adding the new features. “People can’t come into the museum and learn about the town, but the interpretative signage gives patrons an overall view of the town and what the historical society is all about, and it may encourage them to come back.”
The idea of outdoor signage had been discussed in the past, Roush said. But the project came to life this summer after a visit Cohen and his wife, Jane, had with an out-of-town visitor near the museum.
“After talking with him for a while, it gave us an idea,” Cohen said, crediting Jane with the idea. “Why don’t we put up signs?”
Museum officials visited museums in Danbury, Ridgefield and Millbrook, N.Y., all of which feature interpretive signage through Museum in the Streets, which provides historical panels to showcase historical facts, images and more.
“We are excited to be able to unveil the commons in coming weeks and hope everyone will pay a visit,” Cohen said.
Roush said there is potential for the museum’s project to blossom into a larger project that encompasses other New Milford historical sites and points of interest in the future.
“We always love to share and want to share history,” Roush said. “And if there’s signage, it makes it so much easier for the viewer.”
Cohen agreed, adding the “bigger vision” is that the museum can become “an inspiration and leader in something that could happen all over town.”