‘Olde Weston’ exhibit offers a glimpse of town’s past

Reg Bowden, president of the Weston Historical Society, and society curator Karin Giannitti get ready for the “Olde Weston” exhibit, which opens this weekend at the Coley Archive Building. —Kimberly Donnelly photo

As most people are looking ahead to a new year, the Weston Historical Society is inviting residents to pause and do a little looking back at Weston’s past.

The society is hosting a first of its kind exhibit this weekend of more than 30 photo enlargements from its archives. The varied scenes were photographed between 1880 and the 1920s.

They include a fascinating glimpse into Weston’s past, including children at a one-room school house, couples on a picnic and men in a hunting party, stores and factories in the Valley Forge neighborhood that now lies beneath the Saugatuck Reservoir, original church buildings since lost to fire, and people on front porches of houses that stood directly on dirt roads — now the main highways running through town.

Olde Weston

The exhibit at the Coley Archives Building, titled “Olde Weston,” also includes pieces like a full-sized Phaeton horse-drawn carriage from the early 1900s. It was donated to the Weston Historical Society by Julie Jones, who owned the Cobbs Mill in town for about 35 years. Karin Giannitti, the society’s curator, said the carriage was pulled by just one horse and it includes a wicker “mother-in-law seat” perched in the back.

A horse-drawn carriage is one of many historical pieces on display at the Weston Historical Society’s Coley Archive Building. —Kimberly Donnelly photo

There are some other historic pieces from Weston’s past on display as well. There is an original school bell and a child’s school desk, complete with ink well. There are dresses and other pieces of clothing, and several Civil War era pieces.

In the middle of the room is a model of the Jarvis Military Academy that used to be where the Parks and Recreation Department now makes its home, on the corner of Weston and Norfield roads.

The exhibit opens to the public Saturday, Jan. 5, and Sunday, Jan. 6, from 1 to 4 p.m. It will be open every weekend through January. The exhibit is free, but donations to the historical society are accepted.

Visitors to the bright red archive building at the historical society’s Coley Homestead — once an almost 100-acre working farm — are greeted by a large color painting of another farm that used to be across the street from Norfield Church done by Remington Schuyler in 1931.

Reg Bowden, president of the historical society, said the painting was donated by Raymond Butler Young, son of former Westonite John Orr Young, founder of Young and Rubicam advertising agency.

The comprehensive exhibit was put together by Mr. Bowden and Ms. Giannitti, with help from many other historical society members. Sharon Gilbert and Herb Day helped Ms. Giannitti choose the photos and write captions. Jim Jameson did the photo enlargements and Mr. Bowden and Larry Bauerline did most of the framing and hanging of the pictures.

The exhibit is one of the first times the Coley Archive Building has been used to its full capacity since it was opened in September 2011, Mr. Bowden said. He hopes the look into Weston’s past will inspire folks to help preserve it far into the future.

Toward that end, the society is sending an appeal for donations to help finish the Coley Archive Building — specifically to build a climate controlled archive vault and workroom.

Many people have indicated they would be willing to donate some of their “treasures that define Weston’s past” if there were a protected environment in which to store them, Mr. Bowden said.

“The completion of the vault and an office area of the archive building will enable the historical society to serve as a study and research resource for the community, offering materials and documents on a wide range of local and regional historical matters,” Mr. Bowden said.

But the society still needs about $150,000 to finish the project that was started in 2009. The society has spent about $1 million on the building so far, which came from mostly donations, plus it received a STEAP (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) grant that covered about 20% of the costs.

To become a member of the Weston Historical Society or to learn more about donating to the archive campaign, visit westonhistoricalsociety.org, call 203-226-1804, or mail donations to 104 Weston Road, Weston, CT 06883.

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