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What’s New at the Orange Historical Society…?

What’s New at the Orange Historical Society…?

Do you have a few minutes?  Let me start by saying thank you to our local readers for the support you have given us during our year of despair.  Well, maybe not despair but frustration at not being able to hold our annual fundraisers but, we were able to open the Academy in June of 2020 with the health department’s sanction and our antiques, books and collectibles were available and purchased. The Great Give Program, Sponsored by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven was a tremendous boost to the start of 2021 with so many of you donating to this annual program.  Our heartfelt thanks go to you all.

We were not going to stop working on outside sources for grants and to that end, we were highly successful.  The Fred A. DeLuca Foundation continued to support the restoration of the Bryan-Andrew House and this time it was for the exterior which was the responsibility of the town but it became ours and the foundation stepped in to complete the clapboard replacement on three sides with a new coat of paint.

A year earlier, in 2020, Connecticut Humanities kick started the repair and replacement of the southside clapboards of the Bryan-Andrew House through a grant which then led the way to complete the restoration with the DeLuca Foundation.

The Eagle Scouts have been a part of the Bryan-Andrew House through the years and 2019 & 2020 were two years that saw beautiful stone walls built in the back courtyard.  Miles O’Sullivan started us off with the northside wall in 2019 with his Eagle Scout project having cleaned up the yard the year before with his life skills effort.  Jason Byun built the west wall in 2020.  Each of these young men added to their project with other items needed such as gravel around the house and the courtyard itself, planting trees and yard clean-up.  Both areas needed to be graded for proper drainage and eventual planting of Myrtle, a groundcover, that was accomplished by OHS staff members.

One might ask where did they get the stones and rocks for the wall.  This was not as easy as you might think. Many years ago, when the Goddard School was built, river rock was unearthed from the Saybrook River next to the excavation.  It was the piles and piles of rocks that the contractor gave OHS that both Miles & Jason used to build the two walls. Recently, a car or truck hit the south wall along the street for the 2nd time, so the river rock will be needed to repair it.  That will need a hefty grant to accomplish that task and perhaps out of the range of a scout project, I’m afraid. Since it is town property, perhaps a municipal grant can work there.

Our most recent outdoor project, coordinated by Zack Geremia, for his Eagle Scout project, was moving the woodshed built by Sean Ayoub in 2018 to the side yard as it had been built before we had ever dreamed of building a wall and it covered the beautiful stonework done by Miles a year later.  Zack’s team added additional gravel around the house for drainage,

added rock boarders to the gardens, restacked the small east driveway wall and mulched the gardens, sanded and painted the Bilco Doors, while adding gravel under back staircase for drainage. With funds from this effort, he arranged to have a colonial style bench built by B-A restoration contractor, Edd Oberg to be put in the courtyard.

With Scouting being of great importance and the Eagle Scout the highest award, an indoor project was undertaken by Peter Ivanov in cleaning out the back room of the Academy of assorted items no longer useful, cluttering a perfectly useable space with air conditioners, obsolete doors and the like.  The room will be used to augment the Orange Historical Society museum and antique shop but will be turned into a children’s learning center for the Town’s Bi-Centennial in 2022.  Adjacent to the 19th century schoolroom visitors will learn about the town as it was in 1822 with hands on items, games and treasure hunts.  Peter’s group discarded the “junque”, painted the walls, floor and ceiling, washed down two sets of shelves and will be building a small enclosure for storage.  As a donation, new lighting was provided with this project.

Chance Thompson, one of our board members recently graduated from The Sound School in New Haven but before that she organized 5 of her fellow students to do a fall clean-up at the Bryan-Andrew House, a nice time for cider and pumpkin donuts.

Not all of our needs can be solved with scouting, and school teams, although as you can see our young people have added greatly to the Orange Historical Society’s efforts to promote history.  One unsung portion of OHS is the Mary Woodruff Research Center on the 2nd floor of the Academy.  Here, over the last 9 years, Bob Belletzkie and President Ginny Reinhard have been sorting and filing historical documents, once housed in bags and cardboard boxes as they were donated from hither and yon.  So much history of the Town of Orange is now in Mylar and filed in appropriate archival boxes and file drawers.  But without help, how do we find a copy of a deed from the 1800’s?  Well? You computerize! Yes, we were given a $5500,00 Grant from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven for just that and a unique data base written just for OHS.  They heard our plea and sent us all that we asked for.

A few additional items that evolved for this project were sponsored by the Orange Lions Club with $500, allowing us for on-site training and set up of our equipment not included in the original New Haven Grant.  Soon we will be starting entry of our documents and would certainly

welcome volunteers who know their way around a MAC.  The computer is also set up with parallel for Windows.

We have often looked to the Orange Foundation for help and this year was about the most unexpected of all with the complete project of lighting both the front of the Bryan-Andrew House and the back parking area, adjacent to the barn.  The two other historical buildings, managed by the Orange Historical Society, have identical signage, the Academy having been donated by the Orange Foundation last year, so this grant will fund the third one as well. The original Eagle Scout sign, made by Rich Breitenbach will remain, tucked into the lilac trees along with a small lantern once hung by the last owner of the home, Kate Emerson.

My story would not be complete without reporting a grant, not available to historical societies but to municipalities, known as the STEAP Grant which stands for Small Town Economic Assistance Program. Orange was one of 94 towns eligible through the 2020 reinstatement of funding with an order by Governor Lamont.  Board members Marlene Silverstein and Christy Somerville took on the application process, a daunting one to say the least to allow the town to apply for matching funds for extensive repairs to the Stone-Otis House which includes repair of clapboards that have proven faulty, unable to retain paint and windows, damage by dampness with interior ceilings peeling from the damp conditions as well. The bids for this job will come from town hall.

So, there you have it, a history of efforts by the Orange Historical Society to keep afloat in a most difficult time financially, emotionally and physically but we did it and will continue to work toward maintaining the historical buildings put in our charge and make the history of our town available to everyone.  Watch for the summer opening of the Stone-Otis House in July! For the Bryan-Andrew House call 203 795-3106 for reservations and The Academy is open every Saturday from 10-3 with antiques and collectibles.  Come see our new room.

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