You are cordially invited to attend a talk on the African-American experience in Connecticut to be presented by Elizabeth Normen, editor of the history journal “CT Explored,” and Elisabeth Petry, author and daughter of noted American novelist, and Saybrook resident, Ann Petry (1908 – 1997).
Sponsored by the Old Saybrook Historical Society, in cooperation with the Acton Public Library, the presentation will be at the Library on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Ms. Normen is the editor of the just published “African-American Connecticut Explored,” an enlightening and informative collection of essays by leading scholars of Connecticut and African-American history. Special guest Elisabeth Petry is an author in her own right and a contributor to “African-American Connecticut Explored.” She is the daughter of Ann Petry who wrote several children’s books as well as the critically acclaimed “The Narrows.” Ann Petry is perhaps best known for writing the first novel by an African-American author to sell more than a million copies, “The Street.” Elisabeth Petry is also the niece of well-known and beloved pharmacist Anna Louise James (1886-1977). Both Ann Petry and Miss James were residents of Old Saybrook and are subjects of essays in the new publication. We see this as a special opportunity for members to gain insight into locally connected nationally important history and literature and invite you to attend and bring others who might be interested. A book sale and signing will be available at the conclusion of the talk. There is no charge.
The rich history of Old Saybrook found in historical homes, artifacts, documents, letters, etc. was in danger of disappearing or being destroyed if an organization to implement the preservation of these items was not formed. A group of twenty concerned citizens decided to address this serious problem by creating the Old Saybrook Historical Society in 1958. Under the able direction of the first president, Frank Tinsley, a noted historian, author and scientific illustrator a formal Constitution incorporating the Society was established in 1966. Since then, this non-profit, all volunteer organization has made significant strides in its efforts to fulfill its mission…
To Preserve, Protect and Promote the History of Old Saybrook
The first ten years brought many projects to fruition. They began with the marking of historic homes built prior to 1800 with detailed information on their original inhabitants. A number of these homes have since been added to the National Registry of Historic Places. Important documents and artifacts were preserved and fund raising was targeted to acquire a suitable historic home to serve as the Society’s headquarters. In 1971, five short years after the Society was formed, the Samuel Hart House, at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue was purchased. Immediately, the Society held a series of outstanding exhibits open to the public and introduced visitation from school groups.
In 1974, the Society sold the Samuel Hart House and purchased the 1767 General William Hart House (ironically brother of Samuel) from the Congregational Church for $75,000. This home provided more interior space and an acre of land for whatever the future would hold. Now the work began in earnest to create a “campus” that would provide the means to further the mission. Until that time, the house had been occupied and had even been the Hetty Wood School for Girls. Not unlike our own homes, it had lived through many changes, but remarkably, had a marvelous uncompromised structure that clearly showed its history. The task of returning it to its original beauty began. The goal was to transform it into a “living museum” appreciated by visitors who would learn from its stories. The gardens evolved through hard work and loving care. Today, these award winning gardens reflect a world where beauty, sustenance and medicinal cures are all part of the campus. They are open to the public all year.
In 1998, a major event occurred. Land adjacent to the Society’s was donated, fundraising began and with the help of so many hard working members and a major benefactor, the Frank Stevenson Archives Building was built. The Society now had a building to house the thousands of records, maps, films, etc. and two libraries in a brand new, climate controlled atmosphere. Today, research and genealogy requests continue to come from near and far and this building is truly the “hub” for the study of history in the area.
In 2005, what had been the gardeners “potting shed” (the ell to the rear of the Hart House) was converted into a climate controlled Exhibit Gallery. Today, it is used to highlight important historical studies and themes. A replacement shed needed to be built for the gardeners. And so, that same year, another benefactor, whose parents were founding members, donated the money to build the “Founder’s Garden Shed” to the rear of the property. It was lovingly built by a one of our member’s husband and son pro bono.
In 2011, a major structural project to “shore up” the Hart House began. This commitment to stabilize led to a new copper plumbing system, updated electrical and a dehumidification system throughout the building. This huge undertaking cost $125,000 but was necessary for the future of the Society. All of the above projects were completed and paid for in full because this organization believes in hard work, a proper maintenance plan and practicing a policy of prudence and cost effectiveness. We work hard to keep the Society debt free and with all this have increased our endowment to a sizable amount.
We encourage an appreciation of the historical heritage of the Town by our young people. The Society encourages local school groups by training high school students to be docents. In addition the members serve as mentors for senior projects, college internships as well as Eagle Scouts. Our “Hosting for History” programs have included a town-wide 375th anniversary at the Bushnell Farm, The Centennial Parade across the Connecticut River, as well as the John Whittlesey House event. We offer a Chapman Lecture Series, free to the public, at the local library, produce historical publications, offer tours, research opportunities, genealogy classes and thought provoking exhibits.
All this was and continues to be accomplished by dedicated, hardworking volunteers, devoted members and generous supporters. We believe through this incredible effort by so many who value history, 350 Main Street will continue to thrive and enrich Old Saybrook as we learn from our past to build on our future.
We are a non-profit, all volunteer, tax-exempt organization with over 350 members from across the USA whose mission is to investigate, preserve and maintain collections in archeology, furniture, genealogy, and historic records of the Town of Old Saybrook while encouraging the study and appreciation of this historical heritage -especially by the young people of the area.
The restored General William Hart House (1767), Frank Stevenson Archives, and the historic gardens comprise a one-acre “campus” in the village that is home to the Society
The Historical Society offers genealogy classes for beginners and those who have been researching for years. The class covers everything from how to get started to how to use the Internet and genealogy programs to keep your research up to date and focused. Classes will be held in the Archives Building, Thursday evenings, March 6, 13, 20,and 27, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The cost is $65 for members; $75 for non-members. Space is limited.
Gregory Thompson, the Historical Society’s Archivist and a professional genealogist, will lead the classes. Greg has taught genealogy for more than 20 years and also lectures on the subject around the state.
Student Volunteer Tea: A Special Senior Project
Two Old Saybrook High School seniors, Kristi Ledwith and Keanna Chang, who have served as student volunteers with us for four years, decided that for their senior project, they will host a benefit tea in the House for the Society. They will handle advertising, ticket sales, menu planning, food preparation, and gathering other students to serve, prepare and clean up. This is a huge undertaking for them, but they are hard workers and thrilled to do this for us.These students are two of the five seniors who have helped with tours and all our major events ... doing whatever was needed to get the job done. We call them our “Fabulous Five” and will miss them very much. This level of commitment is a great example of young people who do not get enough credit.
Here are the details – May 18 from 2 to 4 at the Hart House. $20 for members; $25 for non-members. Tickets
go on sale for members and their guests from April 1 to 15. Make checks payable to Old Saybrook Historical
Society. Ticket sales to public begin April 15. All tickets on a first come, first serve basis. Space is limited.
What a wonderful event for members and friends to support!
HISTORICAL SOCIETY RECEIVES AWARD
Each year the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce recognizes a non-profit organization who “contribute to the economic vitality and quality of life in Old Saybrook” and this year the honor went to the Old Saybrook Historical Society. In making the announcement, the Chamber’s Executive Director Judy Sullivan said the Historical Society has developed a reputation for organizational excellence and has had a major impact on the lives of individuals within the past year. Ms. Sullivan pointed out several specific reasons for the selection:
1. The Old Saybrook Historical Society and the William Hart House and Gardens is a gem right in the middle of town.
2. Many volunteers work very hard to promote the long history of Old Saybrook and work to keep it in the minds of the community – particularly being the oldest town on the Shoreline!
3. The many programs presented by the Historical Society encompass all ages. Volunteers encompass all ages!
4. The Stevenson Archive and Library has helped many residents and visitors with genealogical research.
5. Varied and interesting lectures provide insight into historical information.
The award was presented December 5 at the Chamber’s Annual Dinner at the Saybrook Point Inn by the Chamber President Kristen Roberts and Executive Director Judy Sullivan. Previous recipients of the “Nonprofit of the Year” award include Estuary Council of Seniors, High Hopes Therapeutic Riding Center , HOPE Partnership, and the Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services of Berlin.
The Hart House and Stevenson Archives are now virtual:
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