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Editorial: History’s trail: Let our museums serve as guides


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Our local history runs wide and deep.
And if you are fortunate to live here, its extraordinarily easy to educate yourself about what came before in these very hills and valleys that we now call our home. But what you learn if you spend some time in our many museums is that we are living on what is just the peak of a very old mountain that has grown tall over time with the habitation of Europeans and long before them, our Native Americans, people who have made this land home.

Among the more familiar museums are those in Old Deerfield: Historic Deerfield Inc., which consists of about a dozen antique houses, and Memorial Hall Museum, which teaches us about colonial New England in person and online all the way back to dinosaur days.

But there are others, many others.

Admittedly, most of our museum organizations look backward to the time of European settlement and not much beyond, although this area was probably settled by Native Americans at least a dozen millennia before the Pilgrims stepped ashore in Plymouth.

Founded in Deerfield in 1870 as the first historical society in western Massachusetts, today the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association touts itself as a “vibrant regional organization, supporting the Memorial Hall Museum and Library, Deerfield Teachers’ Center, Indian House Children’s Museum, and Community Outreach projects.” It offers a look at deep history going back to the age when dinosaurs roamed this valley, through its Impressions From a Lost World online exhibit on the region’s connection to the earliest academic study of dinosaurs, and through its Jurassic Roadshow outreach program.

Memorial Hall offers a comprehensive look at colonial life in New England, including the early sometimes violent interactions between Europeans and natives.

Historic Deerfield Inc., perhaps the better known Deerfield museum, offers docent guided tours of the colonial homes filled with period furniture and furnishings and detailed information on the way of life in our region in the 16th and 17th centuries.

At the other end of the spectrum are the hyper local museum collections that have been proudly curated by individual town historical societies of the towns of Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. These are the people who have really dug deep into the roots of their own villages and towns, whose roots go back 300 years and more, and where you can still find houses that were among the first built in those times, inhabited to this day.

But we also have specialty museums of different sorts like the Old Greenfield Village, a collection of buildings filled with the artifacts of yesteryear assembled and curated by one man without the benefit of a nonprofit museum organization.

Also in Greenfield is the Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, which tells the story of tool making in Greenfield, which at one time, like “Tool Town” Athol, was at the forefront the nation’s machine tool and hand-toolmaking industry.

Shelburne Falls has its trolley museum with its active 19th century vintage trolley, which once connected the West County village to the outlying villages of Colrain.

There are so many opportunities to learn about how our forebears in these hills and valleys worked and prayed, fought and played, in ways that have shaped our lives and shaped our land. It’s that knowledge that helps us set our own roots here.

Yes, our local history runs wide and deep like our Connecticut River. And, those fortunate enough to call this place home have these museums and their historians to prove it.


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