Council OKs Historical Society’s Plan To Reuse Colburn Park Welcome Center

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2018

Lebanon — The shuttered information booth in Colburn Park could once again opens its doors to the public this summer, hosting temporary exhibits from the Lebanon Historical Society’s collection of artifacts and memorabilia.

The City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to give city officials and historians the go-ahead needed to re-open the booth, which is owned by Lebanon but was operated for decades by the Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce.

If all goes well, volunteers could use the space during the warm months for revolving exhibits that would show off some of the historical society’s under utilized collection.

“This seems to me like a really excellent use of that space,” said City Councilor Karen Zook, who recently served on Lebanon’s Arts and Culture Task Force.

That group looked at the empty information booth as a potential space to increase downtown’s cultural offerings, and cataloged it for future use, she said.

“It would be really great to get some of those (artifacts) out of storage and where the public can see them,” Zook added.

Councilor Erling Heistad agreed, saying he’s “delighted” that someone found a use for the space.

The chamber operated the booth every summer until a few years ago, when volunteers saw a drop off in visitors seeking information.

“The reality was the advent of the smartphone had spelled the end of the information booth because everybody has an information booth in their pocket,” said Rob Taylor, the chamber’s executive director.

Volunteers would report spending a full day inside the booth and seeing only a handful of people, who most frequently asked for directions to the nearest bathroom, he said.

When the chamber gave up the booth, Taylor said he made several recommendations regarding its future. One was to turn it over to the historical society.

“The shame is that they don’t really have a place to exhibit their stuff,” he said. The society has a large collection of artifacts and documents from Lebanon’s past, but it mostly just sits in storage, Taylor added.

“I think it could be a neat little place,” with some new paint and a little elbow grease, he said.

Lebanon City Historian Ed Ashey welcomed the City Council’s decision on Wednesday night, saying the historical society will now begin planning how it could manage the booth. Like Taylor, he also worried about visitor turnout and a lack of volunteers willing to devote time to the small space.

An information booth itself is a part of Lebanon’s history, and has greeted visitors to downtown since the 1930s, when a small, freestanding booth was photographed on East Park Street, according to the late historian Robert Leavitt’s Lebanon, New Hampshire in Pictures.

The second booth was built into the bottom of the Colburn Park Bandstand, and photographed in the 1950s with a sign telling people its care was “supported by the Chamber of Commerce.”

Both that bandstand and booth were replaced around 1960 with the current brick structure that hosts the city’s summer concert series.

It’s not yet clear when the booth will reopen or what days the historical society will choose to man it. Ashey said the group was awaiting the City Council’s decision before discussing formal plans for the space’s future.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.