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Scrubbing the panes of a window in time

Erving hopes to reopen museum

ERVING — Next door to the Box Car Restaurant and one of the first buildings greeting visitors from the west along Route 2 is the Pearl B. Care Building, although you probably wouldn’t know it, and for years it wouldn’t have mattered if you did.

The town historical collection has been unavailable to the public for some time now, the collection fending for itself with a leaking roof and no visitors.

“A lot of people don’t know it’s here; we’re fixing to change that,” said Historical Commission member Eric Duffy.

The commission formed this year with the goal of reopening the historical society museum, which has been closed for up to six years depending on who you ask.

“Museum” is the operative word for Chairman Cyd Scott.

Scott would prefer a museum to a collection and the volunteer commission is at work organizing the interesting objects and documents accumulated over the years into exhibits. A recent open house — the first time the doors opened to the public in years — presented visitors with an exhibit of photographs depicting the life and times of Erving’s famous, and not particularly reclusive, hermit. Another wall displays tools used in Erving’s historic forestry industry.

“Some of these things I would say are a little out of place,” Scott said, looking at a glass case containing a small collection of dental tools, including an old-fashioned tooth-extractor — wrenching was involved — next to children’s chalk and crayons.

The right-hand side of the room, formerly the town library, holds shelves with an ever-growing collection of historical materials, from law books and family Bibles to maps and scrapbooks.

Scott said the collection should be an invaluable resource for area scholars — shelves of clothing designs should draw students from the University of Massachusetts theater program, for instance — and the displays will provide a touchstone for younger students.

Scott and Duffy also hope to open the museum to the public with regular Sunday hours, to serve as an attraction and a resource for locals interested in their town’s history or their family’s place in it.

Both Scott and Duffy are transplants to Erving, but both are enthusiastically interested in the town’s history and hope to spread that enthusiasm to students.

The commission hopes to partner with the Erving Elementary School for field trips into the town’s past, to make the intangible tangible, Scott said. As an interpretive instructor for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Scott said an audience is lost if you can’t grab their attention with something tangible in the first minute. Showing a tour group a cellar hole in the woods by Laurel Lake won’t work, he said, but starting with a visit to the museum to show how those former cellar owners lived would provide the necessary hook.

That’s what initially hooked Scott. Duffy said he had seen advertisements in the town newsletter for historical commission members and eventually committed to it at the suggestion of his wife. Scott said he had half-heartedly agreed to volunteer if Duffy did, and didn’t fully commit until Duffy let him in to see the collection while looking for a hook for the aforementioned cellar program.

The commission took shape from there, with some of Scott’s fellow Conservation Commission members and others interested in local history, including Brad Peters, whose particular contribution has been the digitization and re-printing of many of the valuable or delicate historical documents.

Wherever possible, Scott said the plan is to keep the originals safe and copies on display, while copies also allow the commission to share the Pearl B. Care collection with other historical and educational institutions.

The building was once a library and barbershop, before becoming a fire station. When the station closed the building reverted to its former layout, sans garage door, and began to accumulate the detritus of a small town’s history.

As a town, Erving’s is the shortest history in Franklin County. Erving was incorporated in 1838, more than a century after many of its neighbors, but 175 years is nevertheless a lot of history for a small building to hold.

Space is already an issue, particularly with the second floor still recovering from a bad roof leak.

The open house brought many offers of donations, some from people with boxes full of stuff, Scott said. “That’s where restraint needs to come in.”

Scott is also quick to point out that what is now Erving was inhabited long before it became a town and before European settlers appeared on the scene.

Keyup Brook, immediately neighboring the house, is named for one of two Native Americans who lived in the area during the town’s early years, people about whom Scott would like to know more.

The open house was a huge success, the two said, and the commission is tentatively planning for a second event once things have slowed down after the holidays.

In the meantime, there’s work to be done. The second floor needs to be cleaned and organized and documents and textiles need to be protected, which is where this week’s special town meeting came in. Voters on Monday approved a $3,000 expense account for the commission’s volunteers to continue their work re-opening the building.

Duffy summed up the commission’s goals; “We’re here, we have this stuff, we want it to be seen.”

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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