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Historical Society Hails Approval of ‘Good to Great’ Grant

The Darling House Museum & Koan Farms Can Thrive Together

The Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society hailed the Woodbridge Board of Selectmen’s unanimous acceptance of a state grant awarded to the Society to make improvements to Thomas Darling House museum.  The Board of Selectmen’s vote was the last step in the Historical Society’s quest to secure the $48,000 “Good to Great” from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

“This grant, when matched by $16,000 in our funding, will allow us to enhance the experience of visitors to the Thomas Darling house and expand our program offerings by providing kitchen space, repurposing an unused portion of the museum, modifying a washroom in the adjacent caretaker’s cottage so it is accessible by the public, and installing a sprinkler fire suppression system,” said AWHS President Alexia Belperron.

The Thomas Darling House, built around 1772, is home to the Historical Society’s museum, made possible by a gift from the stepdaughter of the last living Darling family descendant owner, who willed the contents of all buildings on the site to the Society in 1973.  The house was purchased by the Town of Woodbridge as part of an open space acquisition, primarily funded by the federal and state governments.

“The Darling House is a living link to Woodbridge’s history that the Historical Society and Town have partnered on since the Town purchased the building and property,” said Historical Society Vice President Mary Dean.  “We have worked tirelessly to create and maintain the museum and its collections in a way that not only preserves many artifacts of Woodbridge history but finds new and interesting ways to share them with the community.”

In a letter to the Woodbridge Board of Selectmen, Belperron and Dean said that the Selectmen’s vote “should be an occasion of shared accomplishment” for all concerned.  “It will be,” they wrote, “if we work together to resolve a concern that has arisen regarding the status of the caretaker’s cottage adjacent to the Darling House.”

‘The Darling House Museum and Koan Farms can thrive together’

There has been a museum caretaker living onsite since the Historical Society built the caretaker’s cottage 45 years ago, and every year that arrangement has saved the Society and the Town thousands of dollars in maintenance and utilities costs as well as contributing security and support for the museum.

This arrangement has recently been interrupted because the Town permitted the farmer of a small farm on the property (Koan Farms) to continue to live in the cottage even though he is no longer museum caretaker.  This arrangement is due to end on December 31, but the Society is still waiting for reassurance from the Town that this is just a temporary departure from the management agreement and that it can soon install a new museum caretaker in the caretaker’s cottage.

“Our museum needs a live-in caretaker who will work directly with us on the Good to Great-funded improvements.  Without a caretaker in residence, we do not see how we can go forward with the Good to Great Grant in terms of making our matching contribution and implementing it.  The caretaker is an essential part of that endeavor and all our operations.”

Belperron and Dean noted that their latest meeting with the Town in late September showed “movement in the right direction,” on two fronts.  The Society offered a model template for a new agreement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a property like this that is managed by a historical society and owned by another party.  “We [also] offered a solution to provide a home for a farmer on site, both exploring a temporary option and contacting a noted architect on ideas to design a historically appropriate permanent home.”

They asked to continue their discussions with town officials and requested the Board of Selectmen to bring the matter before their November meeting.  ‘The Darling House Museum and Koan Farms can thrive together,” Belperron said.

“Partnership between the Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society and the Town has provided the people of Woodbridge with a vital and unique historic asset for generations,” the letter concludes.  “We have great history together, and a bright future, and we ask for your support in getting there together.”

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