June 17 – Gilford Steamer
What is the Thompson-Ames Historical Society all about?
It seems a natural for a town to wish to have its own historical society in order to keep alive memories, artifacts and archival documents unique to its own origin and development.
An unusual thing about how Gilford’s historical society came about is in respect to timing.
Like most Americans in 1943, the attention of Gilford residents was focused on World War II. And yet on November 18, 1943 Gilford residents succeeded in creating their own historical society in order to preserve and celebrate their town’s cultural history.
Unlike most towns, Gilford’s historical society is named after the family lineage of benefactor George Ames who bought and gave the historic Union Meetinghouse to the society as a museum and meeting place more than 60 years ago. At that same time George Ames coined the name Thompson-Ames Historical Society for Gilford's historical society.
Every once in a while we Stop to take stock of the efforts of Gilford’s historical society to preserve and celebrate our town’s cultural history.
Our thoughts immediately turn to the vintage museum buildings themselves. Both the 1834 Union Meetinghouse (which is on the NH State Register of Historic Places) and the Grange Museum Building (which is on the National Register of Historic Places as the John J. Morrill Store of 1857) are in quite good condition for buildings 170 and 147 years old respectively. Thanks to generous support from individuals and local businesses as well as through grants, the physical integrity of both buildings has been preserved. Both have up-to—code electrical wiring, refurbished windows protected by dead light storm panels, up-to-date furnaces with humidity control, and reshingled roofs.
Steel fletches reinforce the Meetinghouse s roof rafters which are 40 inches apart. The Grange building benefits from insulation as well as a poured concrete floor. The exterior paint of both buildings was refurbished two years ago and new signs were hung a year ago, while the old signs with their peeling paint are on permanent display indoors.
Maintaining the historic museum buildings helps protect the museum collections housed within. Since museum collections are vulnerable to light, the storm panels are covered with a film to filter out ultra-violet rays, shades to block out light are engaged when the buildings are not in use, and fluorescent bulbs have been replaced with incandescents. Volunteers, aware of the negative impact of extremes of temperature and humidity, check thermometer and humidity gauge readings frequently.
To divert rain, rain gutters have been carefully reconfigured and down spouts have been installed while ground pitch has been adjusted to prevent ground water from accumulating near the buildings. This aspect of grounds maintenance is on—going, with more attention needed at this time to bring in more soil to bank against the foundations in Spots.
The Thompson—Ames Historical Society museum collections and the museum buildings themselves are open to the public at least 1,000 hours each year. Offerings for the public during 2004 number 20+, including monthly meetings and programs from May through December, plus at least a dozen Saturday morning specials which range from programs for youngsters to those that appeal to old-timers who still thrill at recalling the good old days. Open Houses and demonstrations are included in the offerings. All this is made possible by the volunteers who generously give of their time and talents.
At least 15 field trips, of 2 hours each, are provided for Gilford students each year, mostly in May and June. Students look forward to these field trips and learn about their town’s history first hand.
At the Grange Museum Building, theme areas include the Hallway of Historic Signs, the 1857-1909 Historic Store, the 1940s Grange Kitchen, and the 1800s Homestead Room, as well as six Grange Hall display areas upstairs. Special field-trip experiences offer students the opportunity to try their hand at work that children used to do on the family homestead, receiving mail at the store and purchasing penny candy, and creating a square towards the construction of an A B C Quilt.
At the 1834 Union Meetinghouse, visitors can visit 8 theme areas —namely Farm Area, School Days (which includes desks from Gilford's one—room school houses as well as from the 1939 consolidated school), Church Corner, Victorian Room, Winter Sports, Town Hall, Military Area, and Architecture and Workmanship (with highlights including horse—hair plaster on hand-split lath, solving problems caused by 40-inch spaced roof rafters, and ringing the church bell).
At the c1838 Rowe House, visitors experience the unique Greek Revival Cape constructed of bricks made on site by Gilford’s "Renaissance Man" Benjamin Rowe) which comes to life with the authentic vintage furnishings of a Gilford native who revered and helped save for posterity one of Gilford’s unique treasures.
Another aspect of Gilford’s cultural heritage is found in the many archival documents which have been entrusted to Thompson—Ames Historical Society. These are fascinating treasures that give special insight into our town’s past. One aspect of this portion of the collection is the oral history tapes that allow the listeners to hear the voices of residents, who are no longer with us, share their recollections of what life was like at one time in our town.
We invite you to stop in at the museum buildings during our 10-4 Open House on Saturday, June 19 and/or to participate in the Quest scavenger hunt during those same hours as Gilford celebrates its 192nd birthday which is officially June 16th, Founders Day. The volunteers are always eager to share with visitors our town’s wonderful cultural heritage.
Also, the public is invited to join in the many and varied opportunities that await those who wish to become Thompson—Ames Historical Society volunteers. For further information, please telephone 527—9009.