Annual Meeting Recap, and a Call for Volunteers

In case you were not able to attend the annual meeting this past Saturday, here is a recap of my presentation about the current and future direction of the Society.

Faced with severe challenges, things looked pretty grim in the summer of 2016. The Museum building was closed for mold remediation after a flood; the membership had fallen to dangerously low levels, and the Society was faced with a serious financial shortfall.

The old interior summer 2016  while undergoing renovations

But from darkness, light: Over the past year, the SHS has gained a new, pro-active board dedicated to bringing the Society into the 21st century. The work began by introducing a set of new, streamlined by-laws that better reflect the realities of today’s volunteer organizations; completing the flood and mold remediation of the entire interior and the collections; and re-inventing the storage and exhibit space to better utilize both the building and the artifacts.

Our renovated conference and meeting area

But a collection is just a bunch of objects until it’s used to tell a story: our story.

A student investigates a particular painting at the Oakland Museum of Art. Notice too that some of the framed panels on the walls are interpretive flat screens.

With the introduction of affordable flat screens over the last decade, there has been a revolution in the way small museums are able to interpret their collections. The Society intends to embrace this new technology with gusto, with plans to secure grants in 2017 to purchase the screens and create new, digital interactive displays with rotating special exhibits. These exhibits will showcase objects in our collections, and will be designed to work equally well in the museum, in the classroom, and online.

For 2017 and 2018, the Society will focus on three aspects of Southborough history that have greatly influenced the way we live today.

The first was the coming of the railroad to Southborough. The Boston to Worcester line is the second oldest in the country, dating to 1835, and brought about dramatic change in the way people viewed themselves and the world. In a single year, Southborough left the 18th century and headed for the 20th.

Our second theme will focus on women and domestic life in the 19th century. Southborough was the second most productive agricultural land in the state by the 1870s, and most residents lived and worked on farmsteads tended by women. The days were long, and unbelievably hard — a fact little appreciated by the youth of today. We’re going to be taking a look back at what it took to tend a home, hearth and bring a meal to the table 150 years ago.

The museum and old burial ground sit adjacent to where once a Nipmuck village stood. The first peoples of this place, the Nipmucks, are almost entirely forgotten today, and deserve a more thorough look as the founders of the place we today call Southborough.

Finally, the Society Board is dedicated to bringing Heritage back to Heritage Day, and we’ll be organizing a set of activities in and outside the Museum to complement festivities on St. Marks Field.

Lastly, we are now once again in a position to accept volunteers. The first opportunity is May 13, empty the trailer day, when the remaining objects in our collection come out of storage. We need able backs and legs to help make this happen.

We have openings for 2-3 curatorial volunteers to prepare our photograph and paper collections for digitizing by the Boston Public Library in their Digital Commonwealth Project. The work is Mac-based using Filemaker, which is a pretty simple database program. The task is mainly assigning accession numbers to photos and transferring content information to the database. As the Historical Commission will be supervising this work, there is a possibility of a senior tax position as well.

We’re also looking for experienced editors and writers familiar with Word Press to edit and publish content on our website, including this blog.

And finally, in conjunction with myself and our new Treasurer, Rebecca Deans Rowe, we’re looking for people experienced in writing grant applications to help fund our activities.

It’s been a challenging but rewarding year. Let’s make the next even better!

With heartfelt thanks to everyone for their amazing support,

Michael Weishan,
President

Our New Candidates Preservation Forum

The old burial ground, through the talented eye of Allan Bezanson

Dear Friends,

It was a big win for historical preservation last night at Town Meeting. All the preservation CPC articles were funded, including those of the Society; the Adaptive Reuse Bylaw was passed with close to 90% agreement (a remarkable feat for a zoning regulation) and the Main Street Registrar District was funded. The only cloud on the horizon was the authorization to sell the historic Fayville Village Hall. The Selectmen, though pledging to work for preservation of the exterior, refused to commit to that in writing, and a last minute amendment to place a permanent preservation restriction on the building before sale (full disclosure – proposed by me, but advocated this past August by the Historical Commission) failed after the selectmen again argued it wasn’t necessary.  (A preservation restriction would have preserved the restored facade and open space on the property in perpetuity. At present, the building has no such protection, and once sold, will be out of all Town control.)  Admittedly the selectmen pledged transparency and full cooperation with the citizens in determining the fate of the parcels, but we currently have only their word – which has gotten me to thinking. How binding is the word of a board whose members may or may not be in place when final decisions are made on multi-year projects like this? Mr. Cimino is retiring, Mr. Rooney has already resigned, Mr. Kolenda is in a highly contested race for re-election, and Mrs Phaneuf is up next year, most likely before the disposition of Fayville Hall. So if there is no written guarantee, what do we have? There is also the issue of “executive session,” which has been used extensively by the Selectmen for recent real estate transactions, and excludes the public from deliberation. It’s pretty hard to be “transparent” behind closed doors.

It would seem to me then that now is the ideal time to ask the candidates running for Selectmen this May their views on historic preservation, which includes to my mind, preservation of historic landscapes and open space, preservation of historic buildings and townscapes, funding of future preservation projects, and the candidates’ opinions on how best to preserve the historic nature of Southborough. In that spirit I have framed seven questions for our candidates, and I have already extended an email invitation to each to share their views via the comment section.

TO THE CANDIDATES FOR SELECTMEN:

  1. Given the argument above on the fluidity of Town board makeup, would you commit now to placing a preservation restriction to protect the exterior of Fayville Town Hall before it is sold? If not, why not?
  2. Study after study has shown that taxes on single family homes don’t cover their cost to the Town, and each new build actually contributes to higher rates for everyone. (Sometimes, astronomically so, as we learned at town meeting: sending a single student to Norfolk Regional Agricultural costs 46K/year!) Given that, what would you propose to limit further development and increase the quality of life for current residents?
  3. If the majority of home-owners in a particular area of Town favored the creation of an historic district, would this have your support?
  4. Would you support the Town acquiring any open parcels that come out of agricultural use to prevent their development?
  5. What other ideas do you have to promote and protect the historic nature of Southborough?
  6. What plans might you suggest to revitalize the Main Street area economically and aesthetically once the road improvements are done?
  7. And finally, if plans were developed for a cultural corridor linking the Library, the Old Burial Ground, the Museum, the Town House, St Marks church and the cemetery, would you be generally supportive of such an idea?

 

Important Town Meeting for Historic Preservation: April 25th 2017 at 7 PM

Dear Friends in History,

As part of our expanded mission to encourage historical preservation in Southborough, we wanted to make you aware that there are quite a number of questions at April 25th’s Town Meeting that have a direct effect on historical preservation in Southborough.

Articles 15 & 16 are requests from the Historical Society to finish the climate control work at the Flagg school, and to seek CPC funding for curatorial work on the collections. We’ve made vast strides since our flooding disaster, but we still have a long way to go. This year we will begin working with the Digital Commonwealth Project, digitizing the vast majority of our paper collections to make them widely available for the first time. The curatorial funds we are requesting are a critical step in this process.

Article 17 seeks funds to remove invasive species from the Breakneck Hill Conservation Land. These protected acres are an important part of our agricultural heritage, provide much needed recreational space, and deserve our active support.

Article 21 suggests raising the limit for tax support for our seniors from 1000 to 1500. This valuable program allows seniors to work off a part of their real estate taxes, and starting next year, the Historical Commission will open a slot for a senior to work on the Town’s Historical Records. This helps seniors, and helps the Town.

Article 24 opens the historic Fayville Town Hall to sale. The Historical Commission has voted to support this measure ONLY if the Town first approves Articles 26-30, Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings, proposed by the Historical Commission. The purpose of this bylaw is “to allow for and provide incentives for the adaptive reuse of Historical Buildings in  a manner that ensures compatibility with their surroundings and that preserves their historical nature and appearance. This section is intended to promote the preservation of Historic  Buildings by allowing Historic Buildings to be adapted for a purpose other than that for which they were originally built, thereby enhancing the community’s appearance and preserving Southborough’s architectural legacy for future generations.”  The bylaw encourages reuse through various means, mainly by more ample interpretation of our existing zoning laws in order to support the reuse, rather than the demolition of historic structures. For example, if you have an old barn, you might consider installing a small rental unit to help pay the mortgage, or open that home-based business you’ve always dreamed of. Most importantly, this bylaw grants approval authority to the Planning Board (where it belongs) rather than to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which in previous years has proven capricious in its rulings. If Articles 26-30 pass, then the Fayville Town Hall (Article 24) can be converted into condos or retail or affordable housing. Without their passage, the Hall has no such protection.

Article 34, which was also proposed by the Historical Commission, seeks funds to at last complete the National Register District for the Main Street area. This is the final piece of a project that has been going on for almost 20 years with considerable investment of time and funding. When complete, the area will receive its designation from the US Secretary of the Interior. This naming has proven a critical preservation step in other communities, fostering restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures in the area, while providing positive support for property values.

Whew! Quite a line-up!

If you care about historical preservation in Southborough, this is not a meeting to miss!