by LISA CAPOBIANCO
Honeymoon slippers, butter churns and a Pot-Belly stove are just a few of countless items that depict the lives of Bristol residents from 1860 to the beginning of the 20th century.
From men and women’s clothing, to tools and hardware to mourning jewelry, the Bristol Historical Society’s new General Store has brought to life hundreds of artifacts that were once all hidden in storage.
Bristol Historical Society volunteer Tom LaPorte, who worked closely with a group of other volunteers on the renovation project, said these artifacts are typical items that could be found in a general store.
The space that now houses the store once served as a storage area for the historical society.
“We had to get everything out of there,” said LaPorte, adding how the room was in disrepair.
Historical Society volunteers Carol Denehy and Emily Taillon, who arranged the store, found inspiration through all of the artifacts. As they sorted through each item, Taillon and Denehy said everything fell into place.
“It all evolved,” said Taillon. “We had such joy out of finding some little treasure.”
“As soon as you saw them, you started to visualize how you could use them,” said Denehy.
The historical society will unveil the General Store to the public during Museum Magic on Saturday, June 10, which also marks CT Open House Day. The all-day event will kick off at 10 a.m., and people who step inside the store will get a chance to guess at what various artifacts are. Other exhibits housed in the historical society also will showcase activities for the whole family, including the Memorial Military Museum.
When sorting through all of the artifacts, Denehy and Taillon decided to focus first on highlighting items from Bristol in the 1860 to the early 1900s. One major part of Bristol’s history during that time period was the two dozen or so dairies that delivered milk to residents, including Elton Dairy and Echo Farm.
“This will become a rotating exhibit, so when people come in, they will start to see changes in here,” said Denehy, pointing out the seamstress work of the women’s clothing from that time period.
Some of the items in the store were even once belonged to notable Bristol families—like tea sets used by the Ingraham family and clothes worn by the Barnes family.
“This represents our industrial families because so many of these clothes came from Barnes, Ingraham, Sessions families,” said Denehy.
Among other notable Bristol names showcased in the store are Harold Hayden—an architect who designed the World War I monument and many other buildings in the city.
“He was Bristol’s pre-eminent architect,” said Denehy.
The planning stages of the project began in June 2014 when Tom Dickau, the past president of the Bristol Historical Society, found a photograph of a previous general store display that the historical society sponsored. After the idea was approved, student volunteers cleared out the storage area where the new general store now stands.
Funded by a grant from the Thomaston Savings Bank Foundation and a donation from local resident Judy Paul as well as financial or in-kind services from other community members, the project involved many helping hands from individuals and local businesses, including The Window Shop, volunteers Ruth Ann Graime and Claudette Dekoe, and Elliot Nelson, a former owner of a painting company, among others.
“The three years in processing speaks to the extensive involvement by many people,” said Dickau. “Individuals and committees have contributed volunteer time, finances, energy and ideas that have create an outstanding venue and legacy of which the BHS [Bristol Historical Society] can really take pride.”
The General Store is not the only new project at the historical society, which now has a new reference library.
Overseen by volunteer Ellie Wilson, the library is equipped with a complete card category, a microfilm reader and other files for any members of the public interested in conducting research. Historical society volunteer Bob Adamczyk worked with Wilson the project by cataloguing all materials into a collection database.
While adjustable wooden shelves created by local carpenter Ray Saucier provide a variety of reference materials like old yearbooks and an extensive collection of city directories, the center of the library displays a table that once belonged to Albert Rockwell—the founder of New Departure.
“We were fortunate enough to have this table that was in storage upstairs,” said LaPorte, as he pointed out the original chairs that came with the table. “It’s just a great centerpiece.”
The library, which will bear the name, “Memorial Library,” will have a plaque dedicated to about a half dozen historical society members who contributed to the project in one way or another, said LaPorte.
“This is going to be open to the public,” said LaPorte. “It will be a major source of Bristol history for people that are doing all types of research.”