Small museums tell big stories
by Mike Eldred
May 22, 2014 | 4349 views | 0 0 comments | 114 114 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Harris House
An original British Army uniform is on display at the Harris House Museum in Dover.
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DEERFIELD VALLEY- The valley’s rich history is on display in several local museums operated by volunteer members of historical societies. Two of the museums, closed during the winter, will open their doors over the next few weekends.

Harris House, Dover

The Dover Historical Society’s Harris House, located on Route 100, opens Memorial Day and will be open weekends, from 10 am to 4 pm until October 12. Harris House is located in West Dover Village at 103 Route 100. Contact them at (802) 464-7351.

Harris House offers a treasure trove of authentic local artifacts, most from the 19th century. But some are even older. One of the museum’s oldest exhibits is a genuine British Army “redcoat” uniform.

According to historical society president and museum curator Liz Sistare, the uniform’s origin is mysterious. “It was dropped off by an anonymous donor who said she had purchased it at a tag sale, and wondered if the historical society would like to have it.” Historical society members, and presumably the anonymous donor, initially thought that the uniform was a reproduction. But a subsequent examination by an expert indicated that the garment was a rare and historic original.

Other displays in the museum’s “military wing” include a drum carried by Vermont soldier Milo B. Field through a dozen Civil War battles, including the Battle of the Wilderness, in which Vermont played a key role despite losing more than 1,800 soldiers. The military wing also includes displays from local soldiers, airmen, and women who served in conflicts from the War of 1812 to recent actions in the Middle East.

The Harris House kitchen is highlighted by a long sink carved out of a single piece of soapstone, and an antique Glenwood kitchen stove. The sink was removed from a local farmhouse.

Other interesting displays include a Brattleboro-made Estey organ and a “portable” organ nearly as large but with handles on either side, a collection of early wooden skis, and maple sugaring equipment. One of the most unusual displays, and one that might escape the notice of the casual visitor, is of two early wooden water pipes along with fittings used to connect them. The pipes, in use during the 18th and early 19th centuries, were made from logs hollowed out by use of a long auger. The ends were chamfered or tapered on either end to accept a fitting that created a (somewhat) watertight seal. Although many of the pipes have rotted away, at least two pipes were unearthed in Dover and donated to the historical society.

The Dover Historical Society has several events and special displays planned for this season, starting with a doll collection on loan from East Dover resident Mary Lou Raymo. Raymo’s collection includes modern and antique pieces, including a Princess Diana doll, porcelain dolls, and family heirloom dolls. The display is located in the South Room at Harris House.

Other events include a pie sale during the Blueberry Festival on July 26 and 27, a commemoration of the War of 1812 on August 10, as well as a commemoration of the Battle of Bennington on August 16. The museum will also hold its annual apple pie sale on Columbus Day.

Green Mountain Hall and No. 9 Schoolhouse, Whitingham

The Whitingham Historical Society will open their museum and headquarters at Green Mountain Hall, in Whitingham Village, on Sunday, June 1, and will be open every Sunday from 2 to 4 pm until “sometime in September, it depends on the weather,” says historical society president Stella Stevens. The building is located on Stimpson Hill, in the village center, behind the Whitingham Community Church. During operating hours, museum staff can be contacted at (802) 368-2586.

Most of the displays and artifacts at the museum were donated by local families, and offer a look at life in a rural farming town from the 1800s to the modern era. Special collections include a photographic history of the construction of Harriman Dam, sugaring equipment through the ages, and school yearbooks and photos. The museum houses an extensive collection of family photo albums, as well as photos of events such as Old Home Week. The room is also packed with old tools, household appliances, furniture, and clothing.

Stevens says two of the exhibits of particular interest are the switchboard, which once connected Jacksonville and Whitingham telephone customers. Historical society member Betsy McKinley says an exhibit of kitchen utensils put together by Shirly Coombs also attracts a lot of attention – wherever it goes. “We took it up to the Vermont Historical Society expo and it was the most popular thing in the place. People would come up and say ‘Oh, we had one of those!’ or they’d be puzzled.”

The museum has an extensive collection of farming tools. This year the historical society has invited Paul Wood, an expert in farm implements of New England, to speak on Sunday, August 10, at 2 pm. His presentation includes a slide show with examples of implements.

“He’ll also identify and describe the use of tools that people bring in with them from the attic or the barn,” McKinley says.
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