Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Library Hours

Effective Monday, November 24, the new hours for the Library and Special Collections will be as follows:

Mondays, Tuesdays: CLOSED
Wednesdays through Fridays: 10-4
Saturdays, Sundays: 12-4

Note that museum hours are not affected by this change.

Monday, October 20, 2008

StoryCorps in Fairfield

What was the happiest moment of your life? What are you most proud of? How do you want to be remembered? These are just some of the questions that start a great conversation. Conversations such as these are oral histories; a way to capture the important memories, information, and opinions of those we love and admire. For four days in October, the Fairfield Museum and History Center and the Fairfield Public Library presented an opportunity to capture these stories for generations to come. The nationally-renowned oral history project StoryCorps came to Fairfield.

StoryCorps is an independent, non-profit project that records the stories of our lives. The mission of StoryCorps is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Broadcast by National Public Radio and beloved by millions of listeners and participants since 2003, StoryCorps has allowed people to capture and relive our experiences, our history and our humanity. Interviews are conducted by a family member or friend, and each interviewee is given a copy of their interview on CD. In addition, each interview is archived at the Library of Congress, the Fairfield Museum and History Center and the Fairfield Public Library.

The Fairfield Museum and History Center is the place for Fairfield’s stories; a place to learn about the stories of our collective past and a place where your own stories are told, recorded, archived, discovered, retold and relived, as the stories of today will be history to future generations.

At the Museum, stories grand and small, momentous and anecdotal, silly and serious are preserved at the museum’s special collections library in photographs, maps, manuscripts, films, and sound recordings. What was it like for your grandparents to go to school? Where were the best swimming holes and sledding hills? Who rode out the hurricane of 1938? How did people remember the milestone events that shaped their lives—the stories of love, toil, reward, disasters, of triumph and loss—and how do you remember those events in your life?

While history is traditionally written on paper, the Fairfield Museum and History Center also preserves the spoken word. Oral histories offer a depth that is often missing from our history books: a feel for the everyday texture of life at a different time. When we listen to someone’s story from their own lips, their experiences are no longer abstract; rather, they become testimonies that move us on a deeply personal level. We not only share those stories but relive them emotionally. We warmly invite you to participate in writing your community’s story by visiting us and telling us yours.

If you would like to interview a friend or family member to hear their story, we invite you to sign up for StoryCorps. Participating in the StoryCorps project is free, but spaces are limited. StoryCorps will be at the Fairfield Museum on October 3rd and October 4th, and at the Fairfield Public Library on October 10th and October 11th. Please stop by either the Fairfield Museum or the Fairfield Public Library to pick up a short interview form, or visit www.fairfieldhs.org or www.fairfieldpubliclibrary.org to download an electronic copy. In the coming months, the Fairfield Museum will continue its own similar project to collect and preserve our community’s stories. If we were unable to schedule your interview during the time when StoryCorps was in town, we will make sure that you are scheduled for a future occasion at the museum.

StoryCorps is just one of the many exciting educational programs and events the Fairfield Museum has planned. In September, the museum celebrated its one year anniversary with a festive cocktail party and presented its annual community-wide Fall Festival, complete with Native American performances. In the coming weeks you can look forward to fascinating lectures and workshops, a new exhibit opening, entertaining children’s programming and the unique monthly series Third Thursdays, which provides engaging adult education programs in a relaxed, social setting. Please visit our website, www.fairfieldhs.org to learn about all that is going on. We hope that you will find many reasons to visit the museum again and again.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome Fall Interns

The Fairfield Museum and History Center Library and Special Collections is pleased to host two processing interns for the Fall semester 2008:

Brenda Mitchell-Powell, Simmons College (Ph.D. program), will be processing the Southport Perry Family Papers.

Kelly Shand, Simmons College (archives concentration), will be processing the Sturges Family Photograph Collection.

Both collections will be available to the public in January, 2009.

Welcome Brenda and Kelly, good to have you here!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Library receives IMLS funding for recon project

August 12, 2008

Fairfield Museum Contact:
Laura Roberts,
203-259-1598 or

IMLS Contact:
Jeannine Mjoseth,
202-653-4632 or

Fairfield Museum and History Center Awarded Prestigious Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services

FAIRFIELD, CT (August 12)- Fairfield Museum and History Center has received a prestigious 2008 Museums For America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). More than 370 museums and libraries submitted applications to this federal granting agency and the Fairfield Museum’s grant received a high score.

Through this grant, the Fairfield Museum and History Center will digitize its library card catalog and make it available through the Fairfield Public Library's online catalog. When completed, the project will provide researchers with online access to the Museum's 12,000 books. The Fairfield Museum's library holds rare and important works on the region's history, decorative arts, manufacturing and trade, maritime studies, and Fairfield genealogies which will soon be more widely available to the community.

"The Fairfield Museum and History Center is honored to receive this important grant from IMLS," said the museum's executive director Michael Jehle. "It is a strong endorsement of the museum's efforts to make its collections and resources more freely available so that Fairfield and surrounding communities can learn more about their fascinating history."

“This project is a model for community collaboration,” said Regine Heberlein, the museum’s Librarian. “The museum’s holdings complement the Public Library’s in wonderful ways, and the Public Library has given the project its wholehearted support. As a result, we’re effectively creating a union catalog for the community, where the holdings of the Public Library, the Pequot Library Association, and the Fairfield Museum are all searchable through one easy portal.”

"As repositories of our nation's treasures and our nation's history, museums are positioned to play an integral role in the education of their communities. Museums for America grants support projects and ongoing activities that build museums' capacities and help these institutions serve their diverse constituencies to the best of their abilities," said Dr. Anne-Imelda M. Radice, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services

"I am grateful the Institute of Museum and Library Services has awarded this funding to the Fairfield Museum and History Center. This project will enable the entire community, including families, students, and teachers, to access the region's rich history through a diverse collection of digitally archived materials,” said Congressman Christopher Shays. “I am supportive of increased investment in our communities' libraries, which provide access to technology, promote literacy and serve as a center for community learning."

Museums for America is the Institute's largest grant program for museums, providing more than $17 million in grants to support the role of museums in American society to sustain cultural heritage, to support lifelong learning; and to be centers of community engagement. Museums for America grants strengthen a museum's ability to serve the public more effectively by supporting high-priority activities that advance the institution's mission and strategic goals.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.

About Fairfield Museum and History Center

The Fairfield Museum and History Center was established in 2007 by the Fairfield Historical Society. The 13,000 square-foot museum presents engaging exhibition galleries, a special collections library and reading room, a family education center, an 80 seat theater overlooking Fairfield's Town Green and a delightful museum shop. The Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history of Fairfield, Connecticut and surrounding regions for present and futuregenerations. The museum provides educational programs to schools in and
around Fairfield County, and helps to enrich the cultural and social life of the area. The Museum has quickly become an integral part of Fairfield, serving nearly 10,000 visitors in its inaugural year.

The museum, located at 370 Beach Road in Fairfield, CT, is open seven days a week. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors, members of the museum and children age 5 and under are free of charge. For current program and exhibition information, visit www.fairfieldhs.org and for group tour reservations and information, please call 203-259-1598.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A few of our favorite things

July 24, 2008

Fairfield Museum Contact:
Laura Roberts,
203-259-1598 or

The Fairfield Museum and History Center’s Library is one of Connecticut’s real treasures, and an invaluable repository of Fairfield’s rich historical legacy. The Library’s extensive collection of 8,000 reference works, monographs, and journals helps researchers contextualize individual documents and historical events. Its strengths include the areas of crafts and manufacturing, maritime studies, Fairfield genealogies, and historic preservation. But the best, most valuable part of the Library is its Special Collections which contain extensive manuscripts, rare books, and other “special” formats including historical photographs, maps, atlases, and ephemera. Collectively, the Fairfield Museum’s Library collection provides an important resource for the preservation and study of Fairfield’s history since its founding in 1639.

The museum’s ephemera collection is a special treasure trove of Americana. “Ephemera literally means ‘spanning a day’—that is, documents made to be used and discarded within a very short period of time,” explains Regine Heberlein, the museum’s librarian. The museum’s ephemera collection contains a wealth of materials including ticket stubs, broadsides, pamphlets, train schedules, advertisements, labels, road maps, menus, and postcards. Never intended to withstand the test of time, these documents were frequently produced cheaply, e.g. on thin and acidic paper that embrittles with age and can be extremely delicate and difficult to handle or exhibit. “Yet they hold a special appeal in primary source research because they afford us a glimpse of everyday life, a lingering sense of period atmosphere,” Heberlein says. “I think of them as time capsules.”

Another favorite of researchers who come to visit Special Collections is the Museum’s historical photograph collection. The over 3,000 items retrace the history of photographic processes, from daguerreotypes and calotypes to salted paper prints, albumen prints (which use egg white as a binder), ambrotypes, tintypes, gelatin prints and platinum prints. A collection-within-the-collection is the museum’s early photo album collection, a format that the invention of the tintype or ferrotype—a positive image on a tin backing—made popular in the 1850s. The tintype holds a special place in American history: due to its affordability, light weight, and durability, it became the prevalent keepsake of Civil War soldiers and their families. “A frequent misnomer for the tintype is ‘daguerreotype,’” explains Heberlein. “Daguerreotypes are negative images on a silver-coated copper plate. They are much rarer than tintypes and are immediately recognizable by their mirror-like surface. Owners of daguerreotypes sometimes think their photograph is faded because it is visible only at certain angles of light.”

The majority of documents in the Fairfield Museum’s Special Collections are donations from members of the community. And even after centuries, historical papers still turn up in nooks and crannies during house renovations and estate liquidations. “Earlier this year for example, we received a bundle of love letters from the 1940s that the owners of a house in Southport found inside an attic wall during remodeling,” says Heberlein. “Some had cement droplets on them.” The museum collects exclusively documents and objects that tell Fairfield’s history. Collections are often transferred to the museum by heirs or family members who wish to see the records cared for professionally in order to ensure their preservation and availability for future generations. A very significant collection acquired by the museum earlier this year is the Sturges Family Photograph Collection, which was donated by Elizabeth Meyer of Orange, CT. The collection seamlessly complements other collections of the Sturges family already housed at the Fairfield Museum. It documents one branch of the Sturges family, in particular some descendants of Philo Shelton, who was the first Episcopal priest ordained in North America (in 1785) and acted as a lay reader in Fairfield after the British invasion in 1779. The collection contains genealogical information, photographs, a scrapbook, and manuscript material pertaining to the family of Helen Hope Sturges, daughter of William Shelton Sturges and Julia Anna Thorpe Sturges. “What makes this collection a special pleasure to work with is that the donor meticulously annotated the photographs. That helps us tremendously in identifying the individuals in the pictures and assembling a more complete story,” says Heberlein. The collection is currently in processing and is anticipated to be available for study later this Fall.

Scholars travel from across the United States and abroad to consult the Museum’s Special Collections. Over the past year, the collections have been perused by visitors from 26 states and 4 countries. Researchers frequently work with the library’s extensive genealogical and local history collections to complete their genealogies, research family lore, locate a family property or grave site, or investigate the ownership history of their house. “The genealogy collection at the Fairfield Museum and History Center is unique. Its core was built from private collections starting in 1902, and it has grown to over 300 linear feet of sources from New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and other states with ties to Fairfield,” says Rod MacKenzie, Genealogist. “In addition, the museum has an extensive biography collection that helps researchers reconstruct the stories behind the dates. It’s a special pleasure to assist visitors who are looking for information about their Fairfield ancestors.”

In addition, scholars from research institutions use the collections for work on topics as varied as the history of an individual artifact which traces to Fairfield, the biographies of prominent national figures with family roots in Fairfield, and particular Fairfield events in the context of national history.

The Fairfield Museum and History Center’s Special Collections Library is open to everyone and access is free to Museum members. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 10-4; Thursday, 10-6, and Saturday and Sunday, 12-4; closed Monday. Manuscripts and other special collections items are made available upon request twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and research appointments are always available. The Fairfield Museum and History Center staff are happy to help and look forward to facilitating your exploration of our community’s rich history.

View of Southport Harbor from the Sturges House
(Image digitally stitched by library staff)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rethinking the Pequot War

By Kevin McBride, Ph.D., and David Naumec (Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center)

Researchers Kevin McBride and David Naumec from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center will provide a free lecture at the Fairfield Museum and History Center on Thursday, June 19 at 7pm.  The lecture, entitled The Great Swamp Fight, will discuss battle sites of the Pequot War and preliminary findings about the Pequot Swamp in Southport.  The lecture is intended to be a show and tell format, encouraging public

participation.  The researchers welcome ideas, theories, speculations or questions regarding the Pequot War or a particular battlefield site. The research team is also very interested in personal viewpoints and perspectives of the war, and encourages attendees to bring found objects that might date to the battle.

After more than 370 years the Pequot War (1636-1638) remains one of the most controversial and significant events in the Colonial and Native history. The war has been debated, discussed and analyzed for centuries in hundreds of articles, books, narratives and films. Often lost in the works of scholars and antiquarians is the fact that the Pequot War lasted more than two years, consisted of dozens of battles and skirmishes extending through Rhode Island, Connecticut and eastern New York, and was as much an inter-tribal war as it was a Pequot-English War.  The Pequot War forever changed the political and social landscape of southern New England. The massacre at Mystic Fort, as was the English intent, demonstrated to all Native people in southern New England and elsewhere the English ability and will to wage total war against real and imagined enemies. The defeat of the Pequot left a power vacuum in southern New England that initiated forty years of inter-tribal warfare as the Mohegan and Narragansett competed to replace the Pequot as the most powerful Native tribe in the region.

Irrespective of the historical significance of the war, the war continues to live on in the individual and collective memories of the descendants of the Colonists and Native peoples of southern New England.  Each year members of the Pequot Tribe gather on the anniversary of the Mystic Massacre for a “First Light” ceremony to commemorate and honor the hundreds of Pequot men, women and children who were massacred at the Mystic Fort on June 11, 1637.  The Townspeople of Groton, Old Saybrook and Fairfield memorialized the war through pageants, plays and monuments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The John Mason statue, erected in 1889 at the site of the massacre, was removed to Windsor in 1996 and subsequently vandalized, is testimony to the ongoing debate about the war and its legacy.    

In spite of centuries of research, debate and discussion, the Pequot War remains one of the most mis-interpreted and least understood events in the Colonial and Native history of early America. Native groups through the region sought to ally themselves with the English to pursue their own political and military goals. The numerous letters and narratives of the war testify to the complexity of Native social, political, diplomatic and military relationships in the region. Natives fought alongside the Pequot throughout the war in a loose “confederacy”, and include the Western Niantic, Mohegan, several Nipmuck bands from northeastern Connecticut, the Sasqua of  Fairfield and the Quinnipiac of New Haven. There is evidence the Quinnipiac participated in the Pequot attack on Wethersfield on May 4, 1637; one of the most significant events in the war.  This attack justified an English declaration of an “offensive” and “just” war against the Pequot, and led directly to the attack on the Pequot fortified Village at Mystic a few weeks later. 

In recognition of the historical and contemporary significance of the Pequot War, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (MPMRC) has embarked on a multi-year research project funded by the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to identify and preserve battlefields and historical sites associated with the Pequot War.  The primary goal of the project is the identification of prospective battlefield sites and obtaining physical evidence of a battlefield through archaeological investigations.

The MPMRC has partnered with the Office of the Connecticut State Archaeologist, the Connecticut State Historian and many local historical societies, research centers and museums from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York to undertake a comprehensive study of all aspects of the Pequot War. The early phases of research include identification and analysis of primary narratives, accounts and descriptions of the war, a review of scholarly and antiquarian works, analysis of Inter-tribal diplomatic and political relations, analysis of Native and Colonial military strategies, understanding tactics and weapons, analysis of artifacts associated with the war, and a review of historical and contemporary perspectives and images of the war. 

The Fairfield Swamp Fight is one of the most significant events of the Pequot War and has become the main focus of research in the last few months. The numerous narratives and accounts of the battle provide valuable information on English and Pequot military tactics and weapons (including the only known reference of the use of firearms by Pequot warriors in combat), as well as important insight into the relationship between the Pequot and their native allies and tributaries. 

The Fairfield Swamp Fight is also significant because it marks the first time during the Pequot War that English policy and practice regarding war captives and combatants is clarified. Native warriors and sachems were systematically executed by the English, while women and children of high social/political status who could rebuild the shattered Pequot tribe were sold into slavery outside of the colonies. Approximately two dozen Pequot and Sasqua women and children were sold into slavery to English colonists at Providence Island off the coast Nicaragua and the Isle of Nevis in the Lesser Antilles. The remainder of the 180 women and children captured at the Fairfield Swamp Fight were sold or given to English colonists in Connecticut or Massachusetts Bay

The settlement of Fairfield which occurred less than a year after the Fairfield Swamp Fight was a direct result of the battle that took place at Pequot Swamp. When the Sasqua surrendered to the English in the midst of the battle they ceded all rights to their lands by right of conquest. The core group of the first Fairfield settlers, including notable Connecticut colonist Roger Ludlow future governor of Connecticut, were primarily soldiers who fought at Fairfield Swamp.

In the centuries following the end of the Pequot War, the Pequot Swamp Fight continues to be memorialized as a seminal event in Colonial and Native history.  In one of the historical ironies of the Pequot War, the memory and name of Pequot people, declared to be extinct in the Treaty of Hartford, continued to persist in the many monuments, places and  edifices that bear the Pequot name in Fairfield-  a lasting testament to the legacy of the Pequot War.

Fairfield Museum and History Center is located at 370 Beach Road in Fairfield CT, behind Old Town Hall.  For more information about this lecture and all the other events and programs the museum offers, please visit www.fairfieldhs.org or call 203-259-1598.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Welcome Summer Interns

The Fairfield Museum and History Center Library and Special Collections is pleased to host three summer interns:

Nate Nagy (Columbia University) will re-house and inventory the Architectural Drawings Collection.

RJ DiDomenico (Southern Connecticut State University) will reformat our finding aids using Archivist's Toolkit.

Steve Antonelli (University of Connecticut--Storrs) will assist in conducting an inventory of our general and rare book collections.

A warm welcome to Nate, RJ, and Steve!