Our Shared Heritage: The Lebanon Historical Society

Our Shared Heritage: The Lebanon Historical Society

“History, I like to think, is a larger way of looking at life. It is a source of strength, of inspiration. It is about who we are and what we stand for and is essential to our understanding of what our own role should be in our time. History, as can’t be said too often, is human. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years.” David McCullough from The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For

History, local history in particular, has always been an interest to me. Today’s column is the start of an occasional series where I will share stories of our past. There are many tales of  interesting people and places here in The Last Green Valley. Some will be known to readers and some will be unknown. Each is a part of our region’s collective story. Our region is also home to several historical organizations and museums serving as caretakers for these stories and the objects that help to bring our shared heritage to life. Many of those organizations are working daily to not only tell the known stories of the region, but also explore parts of history that have been lost or ignored. History may tell the stories of our past, but the work to bring those stories to life is ongoing and relevant today.

I wanted to start by looking at the work of the Lebanon Historical Society. I know from my conversations with Lebanon Historical Society Museum Director Donna Baron, who is also a board member of TLGV, that the pandemic we have all struggled with for more than a year has had a major impact on local museums and historical organizations. Donna is hopeful that the year ahead will help us return to a semblance of normal in our daily lives.

Due to the state’s pandemic guidelines for indoor gatherings, the museum is currently open on a reservation basis only from Wednesday to Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Donna is optimistic about an announcement soon for re-opening the museum to drop-in visitors from Wednesday to Saturday. Until then the best way to make a reservation is to call 860-642-6579 or email museum@historyoflebanon.org. She is also hopeful the museum will participate in Connecticut Museum Open House Day in June and host its annual Antiques Show held in September. These fun events were cancelled last year due to the pandemic.

A visit to the Lebanon Historical Society Museum includes a permanent exhibit focused on the history of Lebanon from the time of the region’s Paleo-Indians (10,000-12,000 years ago) to 1990 with highlights about the American Revolution, as well as 19th and 20th century immigration.

Most readers will know of Lebanon’s role in the American Revolution, but perhaps did not know of the Liebman archaeological site at Williams Pond – one of only a few Paleo-Indian sites in Connecticut to be excavated. In 1994 archaeologist John Pfeiffer conducted site work and excavations there. The site is named for the owner of the property at the time of the excavation, and the Liebman family donated the artifacts to the historical society that included projectile points, scrapers and knives.

In speaking with Donna about this interesting part of Lebanon history she mentioned the ancient stone tools were made on site and that Pfeiffer determined it was probably an encampment of hunters and occupied for no more than a few days. The flakes of stone left over from making the tools are of chert and jasper, stones found in eastern Pennsylvania and New York, but not in Connecticut. This discovery sheds light on ancient trading routes and migration, another indication of an interconnected life of the indigenous inhabitants of our region.

Other exhibits at the museum include Lebanon’s role in the American Revolution, a hands-on history room popular with children and a new exhibit “Made In Lebanon.” This new installation celebrates the thousands of practical and decorative objects made in Lebanon since European settlement began almost 330 years ago. The exhibit recognizes the men, women and children whose creativity and skills shaped and used these objects. Objects displayed include a gravestone, a dance dress made in the 1950s at Lyman Memorial High School, furniture, quilts and moldings salvaged from the 1804 Meetinghouse that was damaged in the Hurricane of 1938.

The best way to learn more about the Lebanon Historical Society is to peruse its excellent website: https://historyoflebanon.org/. There you’ll find descriptions of the society’s historical buildings that have been moved to the museum grounds. You’ll find information and short films about the beautiful 1869 Parson’s Library and circa 1790s Beaumont House, in addition to a Broom Shop, Smoke House, Hearse House, woodshed and privy. Adjacent to the museum is a small visitor center, open 24/7 year-round with brochure racks filled with information about Lebanon, surrounding communities and The Last Green Valley. The society also owns and operates the Jonathan Trumbull Jr. House located one-half-mile away.

I also recommend you check out their Facebook page for activities at the museum as well as interesting postings about Lebanon history. Find them at: https://www.facebook.com/HistoryofLebanon

The Last Green Valley is full of fascinating cultural and historical resources. Our shared stories and heritage spreads beyond the boundaries of our individual communities and helps define who we are as a people. The human story of this beautiful region stretches back thousands of years. I hope you’ll join us as we work together to enjoy our shared heritage, to care for our history and pass on these important stories to the next generation.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in and explored the region for over 40 years and can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

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