New life for museum, archives in Stockbridge Library


Photo Gallery | Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives

STOCKBRIDGE — The final chapter of the Stockbridge Library's $4 million renovation and expansion will be written on Saturday with the formal public reopening of its Museum & Archives as a visitor-friendly, expanded lower-level exhibition and research center.

After a ceremonial ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m., several residents who have donated artifacts will describe their offerings. Residents and visitors attending the event will enjoy a celebratory cake shaped in the image of the original library, which opened in 1864.

The museum's roots date back to 1865, when a collection was set up to preserve the works of early authors and settlers Jonathan Edwards and Catharine Sedgwick.

Recognizing the importance of retaining a historical collection, journalist and magazine publisher Richard Rogers Bowker expanded the museum between 1904 and 1928 while he was president of the Stockbridge Library Association.

"There has always been the intention to collect and preserve the historical record of the town," said Library Director Katherine O'Neil. "Now, the collection is much more visible. We've had this hidden gem all along and a lot of people didn't know about it. So now, they'll be able to see it, get to it without a problem and we've really worked to increase our offerings and programs."

Prior to the library's shutdown 18 months ago for the renovation project, the archival collection was attracting more than 3,000 visitors a year, some from far-flung states and nations.

Now, visitors to the living history museum will find a new entrance on the lower level, a combined welcome and study area, said curator Barbara Allen, who has been in charge of the collection since 1998. After a sign was put up about 12 years ago acknowledging the presence of the museum, she added, "all of a sudden, we had people from town and visitors who never knew it was here."

One of the first things they'll see is an 1820s melodeon, a rare instrument that's a cross between a piano and a harpsichord. It was donated by area resident Anson Clark, a local instrument maker and early photographer.

Also in the entrance area, along with historic photos of the library, is a classic 1809 grandfather clock from a Prospect Hill house owned by the John B. Hull family and an 1850s lady's chair with arms extending back to accommodate the flowing skirts of the era. It was once owned by Henriette Field, also from Prospect Hill.

"After looking at what we have here, we've changed the focus of the collection," Allen said. "There's more than the story of one town here. People of Stockbridge have moved on, so we decided to go at it thematically, how things began to how they are now, so it's more of a progression."

Newly added is compact, movable shelving that houses account books, textiles and records from the Housatonic National Bank of Stockbridge, which printed more than $2 million of U.S. currency from its founding in 1865 until 1935.

The museum's sizable Native American collection was enhanced earlier this month when a delegation from the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians came to visit their ancestors' original homeland in the 1730s. At the library's annual meeting, they presented a new peace pipe and blanket decorated with symbols meaningful to the tribe's history.

"It was such an honor to be given these things," Allen said. "It's a Native American tradition, to come bearing gifts."

The museum's main exhibit hall houses the recently donated insides of the original post office in the Glendale village, perhaps 100 years old, including the postmaster's rubber stamps for incoming mail (including Allen's favorite, "Out of Business") and the individual boxes with the names of residents.

Also on display is the original 1845 sign for a local plumbing business, M J Van Dusen, located on Elm Street until it closed in the late 1950s, and an original edition Century Dictionary, whose unnumbered pages appear to total several thousand. Allen calls it one of her most-used items, consulted regularly.

On Saturday, Anne Oppermann, a former Red Lion Inn employee whose father, Ejner Handberg, contributed a charming dollhouse he had crafted to the museum, will attend the opening ceremony to answer questions.

Among other guests will be Terry Shea, who lives in a home once owned by Cyrus W. Field, a Stockbridge native who financed the first trans-Atlantic cable as a founder of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Co. in 1854.

Eventually, displayed objects will be labeled, and visitors eager for more information can consult Allen or assistant curator Joshua Hall, who holds the fort on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays. At some point, a schedule of guided tours may be set up.

"I don't think people realize what an unbelievable, high-level collection this is, what is held by this town of fewer than 2,000 people," Allen said. Students often consult the archival documents for their doctoral dissertations, she said.

To honor the library's largest single, one-time private gift of $500,000 from sisters Mary Stokes Waller and Carol Fremont-Smith in memory of their late mother, Hope Procter Stokes, and their grandmother, Beatrice Sterling Procter, the library's historical collection will now be known as the Procter Museum & Archives of Stockbridge History.

"Barbara Allen worked really hard in getting feedback from residents to make this space reflective of the community," O'Neil said. "People will be really impressed with the thought that was put into it, and they'll feel welcome in this really inviting space, now fully accessible for the first time."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

If you go ...

What: Ceremony to celebrate the formal reopening of the Procter Museum & Archives of Stockbridge History in the renovated, expanded Stockbridge Library

When: 10 a.m. Saturday

Where: Stockbridge Library, 46 Main St., lower level

Museum/Archives Hours:

Tuesday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

Wednesday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Thursday: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Friday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Saturday: 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Note: On Thursdays and Fridays, the museum closes earlier than the main library. The entire building is closed Sundays and Mondays.


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