Phyllis McGuire | View from the Village: History to unfold at new Williamstown museum site

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The House of Local History was located in the Botsford House on Main Street, one flight up from Williamstown's public library, when I was a newcomer to town in 1988.

There was not much incentive to visit more than once as it consisted of what formerly had been two bedrooms, with artifacts displayed randomly in cabinets.

In 1997, the library moved to the former Pine Cobble School, also on Main Street, and the House of Local History was apportioned the space that had been the school auditorium.

I became a frequent visitor, as the additional space allowed for a permanent exhibit, "Wilderness to Williamstown," an overview of the town from the time it was a hunting ground of American Indians to the present, and special themed rotating exhibits, such as "Big Days in a Small Town."

In 2012, the House of Local History was renamed Williamstown Historical Museum for the "sake of clarity." Then president of the board of trustees, the late Carl Westerdahl said, "We are not a house ... We are a museum with exhibits ... educational programs for young and old, resources for local and family research."

Now the museum is making ready for another change. In early 2017, it will move to the former South Center School at 32 New Ashford Road. The town owns the building and the parcel of land on which it is located; by a vote at the 2015 Town Meeting, the Select Board was authorized to enter into an agreement to lease the property to the museum for 50 years.

Recently, Sarah Currie, executive director of the museum, offered to show me around the former school and tell me what the plans are for it.

When I arrived, two workmen were installing an air cooling and heating system.

In a room where chalkboards had been stripped from the wall, Currie said, "This is where the most construction will take place. It will house our orientation/permanent exhibit, which will be a reconfiguration of the current From Wilderness to Williamstown display.

According to Currie, the town will work on outer walls and the museum will build partition walls to define the space more clearly and to allow for expanded vertical space on which they can hang exhibits.

Later a contractor spoke with Currie about renovations to the three bathrooms.

The walls in the building will be painted, including children's discovery room, a collection area, a research area, and a kitchenette, which is a new addition.

"And we will put in new flooring," Currie said.

Andrew Burr, an architect who serves on the museum's board of directors, came by to help choose paint colors.

"We have plenty of time," he said. The museum's lease with the Milne Public Library expires in February 2017.

A rear door in the former South Center School opens to a spacious back yard, where playground equipment was still in place.

"Our ultimate vision for the yard," Currie said, "is to have a display of historic farming tools as well as heritage gardens and demonstration fields where farm implements can be used."

It undoubtedly will be a gigantic undertaking to transfer to the new location, the more than 2,500 artifacts, including items from the 1700s, that have been entrusted to the museum to preserve and promote knowledge of the town's history.

When I asked Currie why the museum wanted to take on this ambitious project, she replied: "For several reasons; We will have our own standalone structure in a historic district of Williamstown. The space has a wonderfully visible face that makes us easy to find.

"Our new headquarters benefits from an expanded collection area," she said, "and an improved research area which will help us fulfill our mission of preserving Williamstown's history."


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