Stamford Historical Society celebrates 100 years of incorporation
Stamford Historical Society celebrates 100 years of incorporationBy Sarah Lipman - Stamford Advocate - 10/20/09STAMFORD -- In 1901, a small group of Stamford community members interested in history and its preservation began meeting monthly, moving from house to house. The group slowly dissolved, not meeting again until 1905. Meetings resumed that year, but they came without a formal home and official recognition from the city.
It was not until 1909 that the state recognized the Stamford Historical Society as an incorporated body -- a mission set by its first president, Col. Woolsey Hopkins, and realized by its second, Frederick G. Mather.
On Sunday, the Stamford Historical Society will celebrate its 100th year of incorporation with the opening of its newest display, "100 Years in the Making: Highlights from the Society's Collection."
The collection, partnered with a family friendly birthday celebration, opens at noon and will likely run through the spring, Society President Tom Zoubek said.
"We're trying to tell the history through stories from families, individuals and oral histories," Zoubek said.
Zoubek, who holds a doctorate in archaeology, has served as the society's president for eight years. He stepped into the position after visiting the society for a project he was working on with his students at King school where he teaches an archaeology class.
After several meetings, Zoubek was determined to be a good fit for the position and has since taken steps to improve the museum and its collection.
The society recently completed a $3 million capital campaign, which will help pay for improvements to the stone building on High Ridge Road, where its collection resides. The building now has new windows, a new lighting system and a boiler. Over the next few years, Zoubek hopes to see a new heating and air-conditioning system installed and have the society's collection be digitized.
"After all of this is completed, in a few years, we hope to apply for official museum accreditation," he said.
Before the society could call the High Ridge Road building home, however, it resided in the tiny red Hoyt Barnum House on Bedford Street. One of the oldest houses in Stamford, it was purchased from the First National Bank for $13,500, and its official opening was in October 1950.
The Stamford Historical Society remained in the Hoyt Barnum House until the early 1980s, when its collection became too large. In 1979, Charlotte Crukshank, a well-known collector of American antiques in Stamford, left the bulk of her collection -- more than 350 pieces -- and nearly $1 million to the society. The new gains forced the society to find a bigger location to display and house its new vast collection.
Zoubek said a deal with the city of Stamford allowed the society to rent the High Ridge Road building for $1 annually for 20 years. After it moved in in 1984, the bigger space led members to re-evaluate their mission.
"As we broadened our collection, we reached out to more members, too," he said. "We've since done displays on immigration, urban renewal, Poles, Irish. We became aware of being relevant and visible."
The society is run heavily by volunteers, with only two paid staff members. Zoubek said its museum sees upward of 80 volunteers every year, from as young as his 10-year-old son to Wilbur Miller, who is in his early 90s. This summer, the society saw an influx of Eagle Scouts and college students who could not find summer jobs or internships. As Zoubek prepared for the exhibit Thursday, three volunteers were hard at work helping him. Some were fluffing old costumes on mannequins from the 19th century, and others were hanging up old quilts that told the story of Stamford patch by patch.
Irma Geher said she volunteers whenever the society is preparing for a new exhibit. She is most interested in the costume and clothing on display from years ago. Originally from the Bronx, N.Y., Geher said she has been volunteering with the society since the 1980s. She moved to Stamford in the 1960s.
"I have an eye for the costume-wear since I went to" the Fashion Institute of Technology, Geher said as she tugged on the sleeve of a gold dress she believes is from the 1870s. "Some of the costumes and jewelry in the display cases are fantastic pieces of art of the time."
Margaret Bowen, who has volunteered with the society since the 1960s, pointed out the old Barnum house on a quilt, admiring the stitching.
"Everything tells a story here," Bowen said. "Even the textiles have a story to tell."
In 2005, Bowen dedicated herself to overseeing the "Portrait of a Family: The Legacy of the Davenports" exhibit, which won statewide recognition with the Connecticut League of History Award and a nomination for the national award.
It is from this exhibit that Zoubek's favorite piece comes.
"There is the most beautiful Renaissance revival frame and painting of Harriet Davenport that will be shown in our 100th anniversary exhibit," Zoubek said.
Harriet was the daughter of Robert and Content Cheseborough, of New York, who fled to Stamford to avoid a raging cholera outbreak in New York City in 1832. That summer, she met Theodore Davenport, one of Stamford's most eligible bachelors. They were married, and Harriet became a staple in the Stamford community, offering her services in women's volunteer organizations such as the Stamford Exchange for Women's Work and Civil War Ladies' Soldiers' Society.
The Stamford Historical Society's centennial is a monumental moment for the organization, Zoubek said. It hopes to begin to collect pieces that will represent more modern times, from the late 1900s through today. While the items may not be considered artifacts now, the society believes that in the future, they will be important to piecing history together.
"Historians tend to be bad historians of their own history. We worry too much about others' history that we forget our own," Zoubek said. "We're not going to forget our own history. We've become the municipal historians of Stamford, and we take it seriously."
"It's a great institution in our community. It has chronicled our history with great exhibits. It is the city's repository for historical information," Mayor Dannel Malloy said. City on exhibit The Stamford Historical Society will celebrate its 100th year of incorporation with a family event, held from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the society's headquarters, 1508 High Ridge Road. Admission is $10, $5 for ages 4 to 12, and free for children under 4. There will be music, magic, games and refreshments. For more information, go to www.stamfordhistory.org