Ex­pan­sion brings his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety into 21st cen­tury

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Borsuk

GREEN­WICH — To stroll down Strick­land Road th­ese days is to step into a Green­wich of the past.

Tune out trucks and cars rum­bling over­head on In­ter­state-95 and it’s easy to imag­ine your­self as an 1800s trav­eler, just off the train and ar­riv­ing at Toby’s Tav­ern, the build­ing newly re­stored to its orig­i­nal in­car­na­tion as a rail­road ho­tel.

Per­haps there you’d have run into Childe Has­sam, John Henry Twacht­man or other mem­bers of the Cos Cob Art Colony, who boarded next door at the Bush-Hol­ley House as they painted Green­wich’s Im­pres­sion­ist mark on Amer­i­can art.

But ven­ture onto the grounds of that house and the two build­ings and you’ll quickly re­turn to the present — very much so.

Where once there were cramped quar­ters and lim­ited ex­hi­bi­tion space is now a brand new mu­seum, 10,000 bright square feet where vis­i­tors can re­search, shop, re­lax over a cup of cof­fee or take in ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions, sev­eral of which al­ready are planned.

“We are the new Green­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety,” said the so­ci­ety’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, De­bra Mecky, as she led a pri­vate tour last week of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s new cam­pus, fresh off a $12 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion that has rad­i­cally re­de­fined one of Green­wich’s old­est cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions.

“We are a des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple in New Eng­land and New York who come here be­cause of the strong na­tional story we have to tell about the site’s con­nec­tion to the Amer­i­can im­pres­sion­ists,” Mecky said. “That’s some­thing that is truly a trea­sure right here in our own com­mu­nity, and we should show it off.”

The pub­lic is in­vited to get a first look at the ex­panded and mod­ern­ized cam­pus Satur­day when the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety hosts an open­ing day party start­ing at noon. Live mu­sic, crafts, games, food and drink will be on of­fer, as will free tours of the new ex­hi­bi­tions, ex­panded archives and gallery space.

The trans­formed cam­pus is de­signed to en­hance ac­cess to Green­wich’s his­tory, which has been the mis­sion of the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety since it was founded in 1931. In keep­ing with the mix of old and new, the mu­seum of­fers ex­panded ar­eas for the archives and the col­lec­tion, and also im­proves ac­ces­si­bil­ity via new park­ing lot, glass en­trance­way and el­e­va­tor.

From the sec­ond floor gallery, vis­i­tors can look out on new gar­dens recre­ated via archived jour­nals to look as they did dur­ing the time of the art colony.

The ex­panded ex­hi­bi­tion space will host works from the art colony and show Green­wich’s his­tory on a time­line mark­ing the agri­cul­tural, in­dus­trial and res­i­den­tial ages of the town. There also will be ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions, in­clud­ing the first ma­jor of­fer­ing “His­tory Is…,” which will look at the many ways peo­ple can ex­plore their sto­ries.

“It’s partly a mes­sage that his­tory is ac­tu­ally all around us and all the dif­fer­ent ways you can tap into that story,” Mecky said.

In 2019, there will be an ex­hibit on the 100th an­niver­sary of women get­ting the right to vote, and ex­hibits about great es­tates and gar­dens in town to tie in with the gar­dens on the new cam­pus. In 2020, an ex­hibit will fo­cus on Twacht­man, a founder of the art colony who of­ten painted scenes of Green­wich, in­clud­ing Cos Cob and Round Hill Road.

“There are so many ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties here for us to con­nect with our com­mu­nity,” Mecky said. “His­tory is so im­por­tant be­cause we live in an age where peo­ple tend to think in black and white terms, and it’s ei­ther all right or all wrong. There’s a lack of hu­man­i­ties be­ing taught in our schools, and there’s not enough nu­ance and per­spec­tive. If we can draw peo­ple in with our beau­ti­ful new fa­cil­ity and tell th­ese sto­ries, it will be a real ben­e­fit.”

Beyond the gal­leries, ex­panded re­search ar­eas and ar­chive space will wel­come those study­ing Green­wich.

The ren­o­va­tion was pri­vately funded, and came in a year ahead of sched­ule, largely be­cause fundrais­ing ef­forts were so ro­bust. So­ci­ety lead­ers had planned on three years of fundrais­ing, but needed only two, a for­tu­nate turn that also freed them to de­vote more en­ergy to de­sign and vi­sion.

“A lot of care­ful thought went into the plan­ning process,” Mecky said. “We have a new strate­gic plan in place. We’re gear­ing up for a reac­cred­i­ta­tion by the Amer­i­can Al­liance of Mu­se­ums this com­ing win­ter. I think the amaz­ing thing is how smoothly it tran­si­tioned from the plans to what we’re ac­tu­ally look­ing at. There was no ex­ag­ger­a­tion in our plan­ning. It re­ally is true.”

The fundrais­ing will not stop with the end of con­struc­tion. The Green­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety is es­tab­lish­ing an $8 mil­lion en­dow­ment for pro­gram en­rich­ment and to cover op­er­at­ing costs; and to sup­port pro­grams like the on­go­ing part­ner­ship with Hamil­ton Av­enue School, which it hopes to ex­pand to Ju­lian Cur­tiss and New Le­banon schools.

“We see rais­ing the ad­di­tional amount as a long term project that will con­tinue till com­ple­tion and that planned giv­ing and lega­cies will play an im­por­tant part in achiev­ing this goal,” long­time Green­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety sup­porter Peter Malkin said.

Satur­day’s party is free and open to all, but it is sug­gested that peo­ple reg­is­ter on­line at wich­his­ or by call­ing 203-869-6899.

“We’re feel­ing re­ally good,” Mecky said. “We’re re­ally ex­cited about of­fer­ing the com­mu­nity a new fa­cil­ity that’s go­ing to speak to our fu­ture. I think that’s the key thing here. This pro­vides for the next hope­fully 25 to 30 years of pro­gram­ming. It’s go­ing to al­low us to do ex­panded pro­gram­ming in a new way that we hope will ap­peal to au­di­ences that per­haps didn’t think of the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety as a des­ti­na­tion.”

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The re­newed and ex­panded Green­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, in­clud­ing Toby’s Tav­ern and the new ar­chive and gallery, left, and store­house, right, nears com­ple­tion in Cos Cob. The fundrais­ing cam­paign re­stored the his­toric tav­ern, ex­panded the park­ing area, made the site ADA ac­ces­si­ble, and built a new state-of-the-art ar­chive and gallery space. The cen­ter will cel­e­brate its grand re-open­ing on Satur­day with a rib­bon-cut­ting, tours, live mu­sic, kids ac­tiv­i­ties, and food and drinks.

Green­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor and CEO De­bra Mecky shows the ADA-ac­ce­si­ble path from the gallery to the Bush-Hol­ley House.

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Green­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor and CEO De­bra Mecky shows off the lobby of the re­newed and ex­panded com­plex in Green­wich on Thurs­day.

The new gallery and archives at the ex­panded Green­wich His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. The fundrais­ing cam­paign also re­stored Toby’s Tav­ern, ex­panded park­ing and made the site ADA ac­ces­si­ble.

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