Recollections from Past Presidents
1978 – 1980
My involvement in the Sheffield Historical Society began around 1978. There had been a newspaper article in the paper about a collection of glass
plate negatives that had come to the society from Orchard Shade by way of the Smiths. Carrie Smith Lorraine had been a photographer at the turn of the century and took many pictures of Sheffield, some of which were used as postcards and for sale to tourists. One of my hobbies was antique photography, and I offered to print some of the negatives. This involvement led to the production of the book for the 250th Anniversary of Sheffield. Being one of the younger members of the Society, they asked if I would be willing to serve as Vice-President and then President. All in all, I spent fourteen years as an
officer (President twice!) and board member.
As president in those early years, a lot of our time was spent fund raising. It was at this time that we expanded the annual antiques show to an
indoor show in the hockey rink at Berkshire School and hired Jackie Sidelli to be the manager. The Show was highly successful and for me one of the highlights was showing Barbara Streisand where the nearest phone was so she could check out a colonial highboy. I also remember actress Sigourney Weaver asking Virginia Drury for her recipe for mint tea. The first few years, I was also the overnight guard in the hockey rink. My only intruder was a skunk after some dealer’s lunch.
Another highlight was the purchase of the house just to the north of the Dan Raymond House. Some in the Society thought it ought to come down to make an expanded parking area. I was not willing to entertain that idea, and then Roger Drury came to the rescue suggesting that the “Dewey Hat Shop” could become a Family History Center. We all know how well that turned out. It has become a mecca for genealogical and historical research.
It was about the time when I was Vice-president that we got the bequest from Sally Scanlon. It changed the Society in a number of ways. We were no
longer a Society that had to hold bake sales to pay the mortgage. It allowed us to initiate a number of projects, but we also lost the shared experience of
sacrifice and pulling together to save the Society. While the work was often long and hard, it helped bring us together. On the other hand, as the members
aged, it was a golden opportunity to complete initiatives that had only been a dream several years before without burdening the membership.
As my family grew, my involvement declined but I still enjoyed the What’s-It program that began when Milt asked me to be his assistant.
Catherine B. Miller
1980 – 1986
Lillian Preiss and Milton Barnum, two of the founding members of the Sheffield Historical Society served as the first and second presidents respectively. It
was an honor to serve as the third president from 1980 – 1986 during which time there was much activity as the fledgling Society grew.
At this time the Dan Raymond House which had been purchased by Milton Barnum and F. Edward Warren for the Society was in disrepair. In 1980 the Society developed a plan for the restoration and furnishing of the house, but was not able to move forward due to a lack of money.
In 1982 the Society was the beneficiary of $300,000 from the Estate of Sally Scanlon, thus enabling work to begin. The restoration was begun in earnest and at the same time an endowment was established. The DRH was nearly completed, except for the furnishings in time for the 250th Anniversary Celebration of the Town of Sheffield in June, 1983. Many members of the Society donned 18th century costumes and marched in the parade or rode on the SHS float which depicted several historical moments in Sheffield’s history.In that same year the Society sponsored the Covered Bridge Ramble which was a running race that involved Sheffield’s two covered bridges. A scholarship for a Mt. Everett senior was also established.
In 1985 the outdoor flea market, established by Carl and Sally Proper and held each June on a field of the Massini’s on Route 7A was changed to an indoor antiques market at the Berkshire School. A professional manager handled the show which involved 100+ dealers. This was a large revenue generator for the Society for a number of years.
In 1986 Greg Farmer of the New England Historical Services prepared a narrative on the history of the Dan Raymond House which provided insights for the interior furnishing. The Society purchased the Mark Dewey Hatter’s Shop at the same time established a 10 Year Goals Committee under the leadership of Roger Drury. The Committee made several recommendations, one of which was to renovate the Hatter’s shop and make it a center for historical and genealogical research.
1997 – 2000
The Society had grown in stature and programming to the point that the Trustees decided a professional director was needed. A search was instituted and Dennis Picard was hired. Within a year he inventoried the entire collection, established a comprehensive tool display in the Carriage Barn, set up the first Spirits Walk in a local cemetery, established A Place in Time, an onsite historical experience for local elementary students, re-created the march of General
Ashley’s troops (Shay’s Rebellion) and provided an array of monthly programming.
In 1998 the Society was able to acquire the Old Stone Store, a structure built in 1840 for mercantile purposes and operated as such continuously until the early 1990’s. A capital campaign was organized and the Society raised $225,000 to restore the building. The local community was very supportive as the campaign statement indicated that the building would be used for exhibits which would involve the local community. The Old Stone Store opened in 2000 with the first exhibit being many of the photographs of Carrie Smith Lorraine a local photographer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first Festival of Trees (now Festival of Holidays) opened in December 2000.
2006 – 2009
Talking about my tenure as president of the Sheffield Historical Society means
talking about the incredible support given by members and friends of the
Society. I'll take advice from Jim Miller and not name all those who helped for fear of leaving out
someone. Suffice it to say that SHS has an unbelievable cadre of thoughtful, caring, and hard-working
A lot happened in those years. In 2007 Joanna Hurlbert resigned and we found Joanna Jennings, who made our newsletter and posters and press stunningly attractive. It's important to have a good face to present to the public and she madethat happen for us. We lost things that Joanne had done, such as the education program, but MCAS and the Massachusetts Frameworks in the schools also affected that. We continued the Spirit Walks and our collaboration with the library in presenting a program for Martin Luther King Day and tours of the Dan Raymond House.
The board worked hard at fundraising, particularly the Pigge Roast which morphed into the 3-Roast Feast and the tag sales and silent auctions. Berkshire School sent a posse of students and staff to help with April cleanup, allowing us to open up the view of our back property from the town's new parking lot. We also cleaned up the upstairs of the Dan Raymond House to create an apartment for Joanna and in the process de-accessioned non-historical things that were just gathering dust.
We held two annual retreats to examine our goals and reset our path, including past and present active members of the Society. One of the highlights of the second was the pleasure Milt Barnum's joy--knowing how much it meant to him, a founder, to realize that the Society was strong and in good hands.
We continued to have tables at Sheffield in Celebration when it went over to the town park, thus highlighting the depth of knowledge and artifacts of the Mark Dewey Research Center.
When the town of Sheffield neglected to notice our 275th anniversary as a town, the Society put on the party on our grounds. The committee put together a charming event with costumed portrayers, food and drink, demonstrations, and Morris dancers—a fitting community gathering. As for other special events, the summer garden party at Hester Velmans' and Peter Cherneff's was one of the nicest events we ever put on. It was an iffy day weather-wise, but the spirit and camaraderie made everyone thrilled to be there.
Exhibits in the Old Stone Store took a great jump when Kathy and Tom Tetro used both floors to present their museum-quality wicker exhibition. That was followed by Wendy and Stephen Leigh's Red, White, & Blue exhibit the following year. The third year was followed by the Little letters exhibit which moved also into the Dan Raymond House.
For all of these events there was a core of wonderful people who gave of their “time, talent, and treasure.” Sheffield's historical society has earned a reputation for excellence deserved because of these people.
2009 – 2012
It is difficult to reflect on my time solely as president of the Sheffield Historical Society because that time is blended in with nearly 30 years of being around the Society as a member, board member and officer and my sense of timelines are not that great!
My fond memories of the Society, however, remain sharp and go back to the early 1980’s when Rene’ and I were weekend visitors staying at the Staveleigh House, then owned by Society Past President, Dorothy Marosy and past Board Member, Marion Whitman. Marion and Dorothy were responsible for creating our addiction to the Sheffield Historical Society; introducing us to the Friday night program at Dewey Hall and told us about the Turkey dinner and invited us to attend. For those who missed this memorable event, at that time, in the fall, the Society would put on the most fabulous turkey dinner known to mankind. Imagine if you will, a large number of turkeys being cooked by founding member and past president, Milt Barnum, while other members were collecting squash for cooking by the Society’s outstanding archivist and outstanding baked squash cook. Imagine then, squash and potatoes arriving at the Sheffield American Legion Hall for pealing and cleaning by members, cooking and application of lots of milk, butter and spices to become the best mashed potatoes and squash you have ever eaten; especially when dear departed Virginia would make the gravy! Couple all of this with kids from the middle school that are being trained and directed for two seating’s of community and visitors by former president Catherine Miller. The programs, dinner and people connvinced us Sheffield was the center of New England history, believe me, we were hooked! After that my involvement with the Society grew as we grew from first weekenders to record holders for number of nights at the Staveleigh House, then seasonal renters, then property owners, then to second home owners finally residents of Sheffield!
One of the events I loved the most and one that really got me active beyond membership was a program we held many years ago in Old Parish Church. The program was a “story telling and sharing” program where we invited four world war two veterans and I acted as moderator/host to introduce them as individuals, let them tell their story and then engage in dialog with the others and audience with myself acting as facilitator. The second Society president and founding member, Milt Barnum, was one of the four and let me tell you at times there wasn’t a dry eye in among the four, the audience or the
moderator. Most of them are now gone and it was one of those once in a life time experiences.
A particular highlight of my term as president was success the Society achieved during my first year; primarily as a result of the projects started by
the past president and board members. The Society teamed with the Sheffield Land Trust to jointly produce a joint exhibit at the Old Stone Store, “Voices from the Field.” This was an effort that involved creating the story of the current status and past history for every farm still operating in Sheffield.
This included interviews with current and past owners of these farms to capture the oral history to couple with photos from the Society’s Carrie Smith
Loraine collection of glass plate photography, material from the archives of the Society’s Mark Dewey Research Center and land records and photographs from the Sheffield Land Trust. A special reception was held for the farms and families and it was one of the warmest, well received events we’ve held in the Old Stone Store. The exhibit went on for several months, was a huge success with the public and all of the materials are keep archived at the Sheffield Land Trust for future use by either organization.
In that same first year and leading into the second, was another of the major events I look back at as a highpoint of my time as President of the
Society: the “Little Letters”. The letters, written between 1807 and 1837, were written between Little family members in Sheffield and Connecticut and were the words of everyday life of those times, speaking of health and death and accidents in a busy family. The Society reached out to members, the public and to antique dealers in the area to mount an exhibit that ran in both the Old Stone Store and the Dan Raymond House where the Little family lived at one time. A Friday program was put on regarding penmanship, writing, etc. in support of the exhibit as well The Society and multiple dealers curated these multiple events and represented a real step forward in the Society working with others outside the Society for exhibits and programs.
My second year as president brings forth dreams and nightmares of books, books, books and more books! Early that year, we received word that Ursula Kilner, a long time member of the Society has passed away in Illinois and left her collection of Historical Genealogy materials to the Society. Ursula was a very well known, prominent genealogist. Our Society Archivist and I were thrilled about the Mark Dewey Research Center gaining some new materials. I
think the correct words at this time would have been: “be careful what you wish for.” When Jim Miller and I went to the house to see what we’d acquired, let me just say, her collection numbered thousands of books. No exact count was made, but the number was between four and six thousand by most estimates. The good news was, “Wow! Now we can not only pick which ones we want, we can help other societies and even raise some money from selling others!” The bad news was the thousands of books had been all packed and needed to be unpacked, sorted, cleaned at least a little and transported to …………….???? Who has available storage for 4-6 thousand books? We used every idea we could come up with to make this happen. Jim Miller and I spent many, many hours arranging the books in the Kilner house so people like Rusty Mott could take a look and help us find any high value items,
so Jim could decide which ones would be of value for the MDRC. Philip Detjens became one of the book crew to the point where I wondered if he accepted the position as President of his Alumni Class at Princeton because it would be less work! It was a lot of work for a lot of people over many months.
After having several dealers make multiple trips to the Kilner residence and moving a lot out that way, we had a two month sale at the Old Stone Store
that opened with book dealers from all around the area lined up to get in on the opening morning. Other than some old encyclopedias that may still be in the shed behind the carriage barn, our current President, then Vice President helped me cart the remainders up to the big sale at the Mall in Lanesborough the fall of that year and end a long but rewarding project. It was typical of the success of the Society: many people pitching in as needed to make what
needs to happen, happen.
A funny thing about the book experience was when Jim and I went down to the Kilner house; I realized that I knew the place! About ten years before,
Jim, Catherine, Rene’ and myself had gone into the basement of this old 18th century schoolhouse to pick up a freezer and refrigerator that had been donated to the Society. This was best described as a near-death experience. I’m convinced the items had been teleported to the basement or the house had been built over them! To this day, I’m not sure how we did it.
My last year as President had a lot of fun and new things for the Society. We had an Intern from the Southern Berkshire School District, Taylor Neil, working with Jim Miller in the MDRC and hope that connection will continue in the future with other students. Participating in the 250th Anniversary Celebration Parade in Great Barrington was a lot of fun and it was great to be part of the 275th Anniversary of Old Parish Church.
My strongest memories of and about the Society, not just as President, are the many, many others who were here as members and leaders who dedicated not just their treasure, but their even more valuable time and talent. Many of these, some past presidents included, are no longer with us, but constantly in my thoughts and are sorely missed.
Sheffield Historical Society
Dan Raymond House Museum | Mark Dewey Research Center | Old Stone Store
159-161 Main Street, P.O. Box 747, Sheffield, MA 01257
Dan Raymond House Museum | Mark Dewey Research Center | Old Stone Store
159-161 Main Street, P.O. Box 747, Sheffield, MA 01257