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Volunteer Spotlight: Help the Lebanon Historical Society get its own place

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2021 9:52:13 PM
Modified: 8/14/2021 9:54:39 PM

The Lebanon Historical Society is looking for volunteers as it begins its plans to raise money for a home of its own.

The historical society is currently based at the Marion J. Carter Homestead in downtown Lebanon, but it does not own the mansion, instead renting space from the board of trustees that maintains the space for community groups to use. The Lebanon Historical Society exhibits at the homestead are rarely open to the public.

“We’ve outgrown this space,” said Stephanie Jackson, of Canterbury, N.H., who was raised in Lebanon, is a descendent of Marion Carter and is a member of the historical society’s board of directors.

The Lebanon Historical Society has exhibits set up throughout the house. There’s a room dedicated to New Hampshire politicians and another that focuses on schools. Marion Carter’s bedroom is outfitted with multiple mannequins wearing period clothing.

“We’re all sort of intermingled with Carter House items,” said Nicole Ford Burley, Lebanon’s city historian and curator for the Lebanon Historical Society.

As mandated by the trust, the building has mainly been kept as it was at the time of the 1961 death Marion Carter, the granddaughter of lauded New England merchant Henry Carter. While the rooms are lovely, it can be hard to fit more than a dozen people in one space for a presentation. The historical society does not pay rent to use the space, but it does pay for utilities.

There are also rooms full of papers and items that need to be archived, an extensive process that the society is seeking volunteers to help with. The bottom floor of the building has a climate-controlled concrete vault where photographs and other archival documents are stored. But it’s quickly filling up.

“It’s really time to have our own building,” Ford Burley said.

Due to space constraints, the historical society has had to turn away people looking to donate larger items — such as manufacturing equipment — relevant to the city’s past. Ford Burley estimated that only 5% of the society’s collection is on display, and there isn’t space to set up rotating exhibits.

“It got all of us on the same page … that we need to start looking,” said Mary Jane Thibodeau, the society’s treasurer and a longtime West Lebanon resident. “Mostly, we need to get more community involvement.”

The group is in the process of organizing a fundraising campaign. They are open to buying an existing space or even finding land to build on. Ideally, the nonprofit’s new home would remain close to downtown Lebanon. There would be a big room big enough to fit a larger crowd for presentations, exhibit rooms and plenty of space for the extensive archives. There are also dozens of signs that are now in the Carter House’s attic that they would like to display.

“None of us are fundraisers, so this is new territory,” Ford Burley said.

The goal is to find a space and make the transition within the next few years. The society does not have an exact cost estimate, but Ford Burley expects it to be in the $1 million range, depending on what they find and the renovations needed. The historical society has about 60 members who pay $10 per year in dues.

“We need to be able to endow it,” Thibodeau said. “Our annual dues will never be able to run a house.”

The members of the historical society recognize that they can do more to promote their organization in the community. In years past, they’ve had an exhibit set up on the backside of the bandstand at Colburn Park. The Carter House is open for guided tours a handful of times a year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve worked to raise their profile on Facebook, engaging with people who grew up in Lebanon and now live outside the Upper Valley.

The historical society is also in great need of volunteers to help sort and archive items. Volunteers — and members — do not need to be Lebanon residents. All that’s needed is an interest in history. Training will be provided. High schoolers are welcome to volunteer.

“We need about 30 to 40 new members,” Jackson said.

Editor’s note: For those interested in volunteering or joining the historical society, contact Ford Burley at nicole.ford.burley@gmail.com, or visit lebanonnhhistory.org or Facebook: “Lebanon Historical Society, Lebanon, N.H.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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