Exploring The Last Green Valley: Museums help preserve the region’s story


Exploring The Last Green Valley: Museums help preserve the region’s story

Too often, we don’t recognize the treasures in our own backyards. Living in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor means there is a rich array of both natural and cultural resources within reach.

When thinking of a museum to visit, we often go to larger institutions in cities such as Hartford, Boston, Providence or Worcester, Mass., neglecting the smaller local museums and historical associations in our corridor towns.

The Last Green Valley has larger museums such as The Benton Museum of Art and the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at UConn, Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich, and Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., that have informative exhibitions, preserve significant collections of art and/or artifacts and, as is the case with Old Sturbridge Village, represent an entire recreated 19th-century village. These institutions are known well beyond the National Heritage Corridor. It is, however, at our smaller museums where the stories and material culture of local people and communities are told. These community-based museums and historical societies help care for and interpret the past, defining our region and its unique identity.

Some of our homegrown museums maintain a specific type of collection or preserve the history of a well-known or infamous person, a specific town, or area of work and leisure. Here is a list of several important museums in The Last Green Valley preserving and interpreting the family, work and community life important to our region’s identity.

The Blue Slope Farm & Country Museum in Franklin has an amazing collection of agricultural implements that help bring life to our agricultural past. From wagons to hand tools, the museum collection represents the non-mechanized eras of farming.

The Windham Textile & History Museum/The Mill Museum is in the former headquarters of the American Thread Company and tells the story of the company, the people that worked there, and the important role of the textile industry in the development of the region and our country.

The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic is the place to learn about the history of not only that critically important transportation industry to our region, but to also learn about the tools, the buildings and the trains of our country’s past.

The Optical Heritage Museum in Southbridge preserves the story of the founding and worldwide prominence of the American Optical Company, from eyeglasses to development of optic technologies that transformed the world of vision and lenses.

Killingly Historical and Genealogical Society not only maintains collections of artifacts related to Killingly history but is also a repository of helpful genealogical information for families from throughout the region.

The Finnish American Heritage Society in Canterbury is dedicated to preserving and sharing the heritage and culture of the Finnish people who came to Eastern Connecticut.

Our region was home to many people who had a significant impact on our region, the state, the country and the world. The homes of several notable citizens are now museums open to the public. These institutions preserve the artifacts and stories associated with a notable individual and are vital to our regional character and identity.

The Brooklyn Historical Society & Daniel Putnam Tyler Law Office houses an exhibit on General Israel Putnam, exploring the fascinating life and exploits of the farmer and citizen soldier who became a legend in his own day.

The Lebanon Historical Society is one of our largest “local” historical organizations, charged with telling the town’s rich revolutionary history and more. It regularly changes its exhibits in its museum space.

The Clara Barton Birthplace Museum is the childhood home of the founder of the American Red Cross. The museum tells the life story of a fascinating woman who had a huge impact on our country.

The Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary at Trail Wood – CT Audubon Society in Hampton is the former home and property of the renowned nature writer Edwin Teale. The property and buildings are open to the public.

The Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury tells the story of courage and determination of our Connecticut State Heroine when she operated the first school for black girls in 1833.

The Huntington Homestead/Governor Samuel Huntington Trust, Inc. is the birthplace of Samuel Huntington, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and distinguished statesmen during the Revolutionary War.

The Ashbel Woodward Museum in Franklin was once the home of the town physician, noted local historian, antiquarian and Civil War veteran.

Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House in Lebanon is the home of the son of the Connecticut Revolutionary War governor, who also served as Gen. George Washington’s secretary during the war and later served as governor of Connecticut.

The Leffingwell House Museum/The Society of the Founders of Norwich was the home of the Leffingwell family. It now preserves the history of life in 18th century and is home to the Society of Founders of Norwich.

The Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry is a Connecticut Landmarks property and the family home of Connecticut State Hero Nathan Hale.

Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, managed by Historic New England, was the summer residence Woodstock native Henry Bowen, a successful New York businessman with extensive political and business connections.

Other museums focusing on town and local history include the Thompson Historical Society and Ellen Larned Memorial Building, the Tourtellotte Memorial Room and Museum in Thompson, the Woodstock Historical Society and the Plainfield Historical Society. The Norwich Historical Society maintains the history and visitors center in Norwich, where it has an exhibit. It also provides numerous programs that highlight the city’s history.

For a listing of many of the museums in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor check out TLGV’s Explore Guide. You can get a copy by calling (860) 774-3300 or check it out online at thelastgreenvalley.org, go to the “Explore” tab and choose “Online Explore Guide” to find a searchable, electronic version of our printed guide.

Each quarter TLGV hosts and organizes “Historical Happenings” when we visit a museum or historical site in the National Heritage Corridor to learn about their collections and mission. The next Historical Happening program is Saturday at the Finnish American Heritage Society in Canterbury. For more information and to RSVP contact me at bill@tlgv.org or by calling (860) 774-3300.

We live in a region full of interesting museums providing exceptional programs and exhibits. The value and number of our smaller local and larger regional museums has a deeply positive impact on the quality of life of our region’s residents and visitors. I hope you’ll visit them often.

Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.


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