Milford history museum gets a face lift

MILFORD – When Charlie Annand joined the Milford Historical Society about 18 months ago its museum and its hundreds of treasures from Milford’s past were a revelation.

“I had no idea there were so many things,” she said during a recent tour of the 19th century building called the Carey House on Union Street. But the way items were laid out needed improvement, and she set to work.

Annand has done similar work for the Peterborough site of the Sharon Arts Center and saw that the Milford museum should be immediately appealing to people as they walk in the door, which is on the south side of the building, off the parking lot.

The gift shop is now the first thing you see and the gift items are arranged in a bright, white cabinet in the front room – maps, cookbooks, calendars, books and postcards, a miniature of the Town Hall’s Paul Revere bell, and coffee mugs with the likeness of the Hutchinson Family singers, Milford’s “original rock stars” as the Historical Society calls them.

To the left of the gift shop is a screen where visitors can view some of the 50,000 Milford photos in the museum’s archives.

“We wanted people to be able to walk in the door and not be confronted by massive furniture,” said Annand, who says the museum is a work in progress.

She and other volunteers moved downstairs the Made in Milford room, which has tools used in the granite industry, photos of the quarries, a wall of post office boxes made by the McLane company.

Displaying the vitality of Milford industry in the early 20th century is a large reproduction of a photo taken in the Town Hall auditorium of the 1911 Industrial Carnival with Milford products on display. The museum also has a double-bass viola and single-bass viola made by Milford’s Darracott brothers as well as products from Lorden Lumber, Hitchiner Manufacturing, Hendrix Wire & Cable, OK Tool, Norton and other Milford companies.

There’s also a small ice cream freezer made by a company called White Mountain, as well as a French and Heald bureau, and baskets made in a Milford basket company.

In the Civil War and military history room is a framed notice from 1862 calling the entire town to a meeting concerning the “vigorous prosecution of the war against treason and rebellion.”

More changes to the Carey House are coming. Annand said the Historical Society will be working with JerriAnne Boggis to create a room dedicated to Milford’s role in the abolition movement. Boggis was the founder of the Harriet Wilson Project, devoted to the first African-American woman in the United States to publish a novel.

But for school children who visit the museum, the most popular exhibit is usually the “The Great Bank Robbery of 1874” display. As the story goes, robbers hid behind the First Congregational Church until 2 in the morning, then broke into the home of the Souhegan National Bank’s head cashier, tied up his family and put them in a closet. The robbers drilled six holes in the closet door so the family could breathe, took the cashier to the bank and helped themselves to $30,000 and bonds. The men were never caught, but the museum has artifacts, including the closet door with its six holes, a lantern used by the robbers, and pieces of cloth they used to tie up the family.

There are also many items from more recent history, and Annand enjoys hearing visitors say, “I remember that guy!”

David Palance, the Society’s president, is thrilled by the changes to the museum.

“When I took over the presidency almost two years ago I knew we needed a fresh look to the Carey House. We never realized that we had a full-fledged museum on our hands,” he said in an email.

“We had pictures professionally framed and hung such that a visitor will get a story of Milford instead of a collection of stuff. We had articles cycled out of storage and restored and mostly we created a welcoming space for visitors to come to.

“We have had great success as evident by a record number of new members and record number of visitors and attendees at our public meetings.”

The Carey House has been a town museum since 1979, after the Arthur L. Keyes Fund and the Frank E. Kaley Foundation gave the deed, and money to restore the house, to the Historical Society. It is named for Willard Carey, who practiced dentistry there between 1916 and 1944.

The museum is partially handicap accessible. For more information call David Palance at 321-6068. For information on building accessibility call Charlie Annand at 769-9512.