The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
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10-31-05 Preserving the Memory of a Community’s History
A community is in jeopardy of losing the memory of its history if the community has no historical society, as stated by Al Klyberg, Director of Rhode Island’s Historical Society.-- This is a true statement that reflects the value of local historical societies.
Gilford is fortunate to have an historical society. Gilford’s historical society, the Thompson-Ames Historical Society, was founded by a group of concerned citizens sixty-two years ago, in 1943, when the town’s farm-way-of-life was fast disappearing.
The town folks realized that as the farms were being sold out of their families and the families were downsizing there would be little left for their children, grandchildren, and future generations that would reveal what a small community based on farm life was really like – the memory of the community was in jeopardy!
The idea of creating an historical society for Gilford was a natural solution. In that way items that had been essential on the farm but which would be superfluous to down-scaled living could be given to the historical society mot only for preservation but also for accessibility in a museum setting dedicated to promoting educational opportunities.
George Ames, who had grown up in Gilford, learned of the newly-developing plan. He decided to buy the then-vacant Union Meetinghouse, a church which had been built in the center of Gilford Village in 1834, and to give the historic building to the society as a meeting place as well as a museum site. He also coined the name “Thompson-Ames Historical Society” to honor the lineage of both his father and his mother.
Over the years many, many people stepped forward as volunteers to record history as well as display and preserve the historic items that benefactors have to the society. Furthermore, the efforts of volunteers kept up the museum building and grounds. By the 1980s the Union Meetinghouse was filled to over-flowing with items that helped keep alive the memories of the town’s farm-centered history.
One of the first responsibilities that the citizens delegated to Thompson-Ames Historical Society was to research the names of Gilford citizens to be memorialized for their roles in the armed services. This historic research was compiled into a book designated at a town meeting to be kept and preserved in the historical society’s museum. The names were inscribed on a monument that was placed in front of the society’s museum/meetinghouse. Eventually the monument was relocated to the triangular island in front of the Town Hall, now part of the Gilford Community Church complex.
Two other big responsibilities given to Thompson-Ames Historical Society along the way were in respect to celebrations and parades denoting significant town milestones. In 1962, Esther Peters, then-President of Thompson-Ames Historical Society, helped coordinate the celebration of Gilford’s 150th anniversary. In 1987, the town’s 175th anniversary celebration was coordinated by a group of T-AHS members, including Adair Mulligan, who went on to become author of the 1995 book The Gunstock Parish, A History of Gilford, New Hampshire, published by T-AHS.
In 1990 when membership in Gilford’s Grange had dwindled to about a dozen persons, the members turned in their Grange Charter and gave to Thompson-Ames Historical Society the Mt. Belknap Grange build, which is on the National Register of Historic Places as the John J. Morrill Store of 1857. – This gift enabled Gilford’s historical society to reorganize the museum collections into several distinct theme display areas in its two museum buildings and to offer annual educational field trips for students enrolled in Gilford’s schools. At long last space available in the Grange building enable T-AHS to create a long-needed office in which to centrally locate the society’s extensive archival collections.
Members of Thompson-Ames Historical Society eagerly apply themselves to preserve and celebrate the cultural history of Gilford. Energies and resources of the society continue to address maintenance of the museum buildings themselves, each valued not only for its historic significance but also as shelters for the museum collections housed there.
In 1997, when $15,000 was needed to restore the structural integrity of the Union Meetinghouse through the use of steel fletches, Greg Dickinson helped guide T-AHS’s necessary fund raising.
By 1999 it was apparent that Thompson-Ames Historical Society could no longer hobble along using the old methods of record keeping that relied on use of a large ledger in which museum accession records had been kept during the society’s first forty-six years. The computer age was here and T-AHS had to take the bull by the horns and create a computer-centered modern office!
Greg Dickinson suggested that the time seemed appropriate to approach the Town of Gilford to request that a line item be included in the Town Budget to contribute $10,000 a year towards T-AHS’s ability to preserve the cultural history of Gilford. $10,000 a year would enable the society to have a two-days-per-week employee to computerize collection information and serve as collection manager in a far more efficient manner than would be the case if several volunteers without adequate knowledge and training tried to address the society’s needs.
At Town Meeting in March of 2000 the citizens supported the idea and did so each year through the year 2004, the last year in which Gilford held an annual Town Meeting. At each public hearing, town folks got up and spoke in favor of a $10,000 line item of support for T-AHS.
Members of Thompson-Ames Historical Society, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, learned how to fund raise and write grant requests to meet the costs of building preservation and restoration as well as to fund purchasing a computer and other equipment needed to set up an office. During the period from 1997 through 2004, the society was able to receive much-needed grants and donations.
At present, Thompson-Ames Historical Society is faced with a different scenario in respect to its request for line item support in the form of $10,000, ear-marked for collection management expenses. The Selectmen recommended to the Budget Committee only $5,000 of the $10,000 requested. The Budget Committee accepts the Selectmen’s recommendation but awaits citizen input during the public hearings in January and February.
Thompson-Ames Historical Society is experiencing the financial crunch of escalating prices, including in respect to fuel oil, as it tries to continue meeting the expenses associated with maintaining the museum buildings and educational programs that provide access for the public. It is sincerely hoped that the public will continue to speak out in favor of collection management support so essential to Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s efforts to make accessible to the public the archival materials and other museum items.
Today’s article is the first in a series that will be written to address the collection management work of Thompson-Ames Historical Society.