Curator Kristen Wands shows off textile collections at a behind-the-scenes talk in 2019. Photo by Sue Tait Porcaro.

In August of 1921, George E. Crosby used local newspapers to invite anyone interested in forming a historical organization in Windsor to meet at Town Hall on September 1. Seventeen people showed up, and out of that meeting evolved the Windsor Historical Society we know today.

The constitution and bylaws published in the Society’s first annual report in 1922 provide clues to the questions those seventeen people must have asked. Questions like:

  • What should we name ourselves?
  • What is our purpose?
  • How should we organize?
Windsor Historical Society exhibit

Windsor Historical Society exhibit (probably in Town Hall), early 1950s. WHS collections 2001.54.59, photo by Philip F. Ellsworth Jr.

Among the things this little group decided was that the Windsor Historical Society of Windsor, Conn. would become a membership organization that held regular meetings; collected artifacts and documents; identified, preserved, and marked historic sites in Windsor; recorded current history for benefit of future generations; published documents and pamphlets; and prepared for the town’s Tercentenary in 1933.

The fiscal year of 2021-22 marks Windsor Historical Society’s centennial year, an exciting time as we plan how to move the Society forward. The “What is our purpose?” question is as relevant today as it was a century ago.

We are known for public programs, similar to the “regular meetings” spelled out in the first bylaws. One significant difference: our “meetings” or programs are open to the public with reduced fees for members. We now see public programming as a key strategy for both holding our members close and reaching out to new audiences. And programming provides a forum for real-time civic discourse, which we feel is important in a rapidly virtualizing world.

Who should we seek to serve through our programming? Area students and seniors enjoy our programs, but what about people of color? What about families? How can we better meet their needs and their desires with history-based programs? And how do we continue to meet the changing needs of our seniors and school students?

The founders of the Society felt it was important to collect historical items, but also to document current history. We agree with their thinking, and technology helps us to follow in their footsteps. We scan historic documents and images to help preserve fragile originals, and record oral history interviews.

But what happens when we are offered actual three-dimensional items from the 17th-21st centuries? Collections storage space is at capacity, but we can’t responsibly stop collecting if we truly believe that history is an evolutionary process that began yesterday and encompasses the experiences of every Windsor resident, past and present. So how do we continue to collect and preserve artifacts that tell our community’s stories?

Our mission directs us to share what we have collected and preserved. Social media is a great way of doing this. And yet, our current physical exhibition space is quite limited. How can we share more of our collections with the public? Are there ways of moving exhibitions outside our walls? Or expanding our walls? Are there ways of increasing our capacity to plan and execute more exhibitions? And we are always asking the question: what does the public want (and need) to experience?

The questions we ask of ourselves and of our community today will guide our next decades, just as the questions posed by that small group of founders and their successors guided Windsor Historical Society through the past century. And answers will come, as they always do!

 

By Christine Ermenc, executive director