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New curator revives old Shelburne Falls museum

  • Elaine Parmett, curator of the Shelburne Historical Society, with an old spinning wheel and loom in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Sorting through Arms Academy memorabilia at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • A dining room display at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • An owl waits to be displayed at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy in Shelburne Falls. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • A display of house hold items at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • An old kitchen set up at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • A display at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • An old pair of spectacles on display at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Top left, an owl waits to be displayed at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. Additionally, an old pair of spectacles, above, and a hat and dress are ready for viewing by visitors. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Friday, May 05, 2017

SHELBURNE FALLS — Where can you find two antique church organs and the original Memorial Hall theater piano? Or a room-sized loom from the early 1800s, and a Lamson Factory scythe blade handle made in 1833? These are among the 2,000 historic items to be seen in the Shelburne Historical Society museum, housed in the old Arms Academy, on Maple and Church streets.

The two-story building is undergoing a massive spring cleaning in preparation for an open house on Sunday, May 7, from 4 to 7 p.m. The open house is a way to reintroduce the public to the society’s extensive collection of furnishings, photographs, family papers, and to its new curator, Elaine Parmett.

After that, it will be open Thursdays, starting May 11, from 2 to 4 p.m. It will also be open on the second and fourth Sundays of July through October.

Parmett has been on the job for about six weeks and she hopes the open house, along with the collection displays and expanded hours, will bring the building “back to life.”

Beyond the pewter dinner plates of Martin Severance (1718-1810), one of Shelburne’s original settlers, the museum has recreated early American rooms, with furnishings that have been donated by Shelburne families. Besides Colonial children’s toys, quilts, clothing and wooden yardsticks printed with the names of bygone industries and shops, the Shelburne Historical Society has church and family papers, business journals and other raw materials for historic research.

As a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate student in American history, Parmett used the Society’s records about 22 years ago to research Silas Lamson, a founder of what became the Lamson & Goodnow Cutlery. That sparked her interest in the museum and the other items in its collection, said Parmett.

The Historical Society building also now has internet and will be setting up a Facebook page.

The organs on display come from what had been the Emanuel Episcopal Church (now Trinity Church) and from the Baptist Church, near the Main and Water streets intersection, which was razed in 1955.

Parmett, who was part of the Bridge of Flowers Committee for 27 years, is just learning much of the history from the museum artifacts. “Earl Newhall was a major benefactor who made this museum possible,” she said. Newhall, who died at age 86 in 1971, left his home and part of his estate to the Historical Society. He took a lot of photographs of churches and bridges, she said; his many old cameras and photos are now part of the collection. Also Jonas Patch (1825-1909), a professional photographer in his day, also has photographs and daguerreotypes in the museum’s collection.

The Shelburne Historical Society began in 1963 and purchased the old Arms Academy from the town for $1 about 10 years later, according to Parmett. During the 1970s, the Society gathered most of its collection, with objects from the 1700s up to the 20th century.

In June, the Historical Society will host a concert by the Shelburne Falls Military Band, with refreshments at old-time nickel-and-dime prices.

The museum admission is free, although donations are welcomed and help pay for operating expenses. Also, anyone is welcome to join the Historical Society, whether they live in Shelburne or not. Current membership fees are $5 per individual, $8 per family. For more information, call Parmett at 413-625-6150 and leave a message if she isn’t in.