A new home for old treasures; Historical Society Museum gets a facelift.
MILLBURY - The town of Millbury has its own bronze medal winner from the Olympics - an Olympics that happened 100 years ago. Lawrence Atwood Whitney won the bronze in the shot put in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden.
His story is one of dozens of historical facts, artifacts and memorabilia on display at the newly refurbished museum of the Millbury Historical Society.
With the town celebrating its bicentennial this year and next, the museum received a facelift and reopened this summer in the Asa Waters Mansion with new exhibits and reorganized displays highlighting local soldiers, athletes, and colorful characters, as well as businesses and business owners.
Volunteers worked January to June to make the museum more visitor-friendly. As they went through boxes and scoured the mansion's attic for historical gems, they found some treasures and sparked memories from their own Millbury childhoods.
"We are getting into our own history by learning about others' history, which is great," said society board member Diane Brisson.
A photo of the old car hop restaurant on Route 20, the Flying Saucer, reminded Ms. Brisson of her high school days.
"Everyone went there! The day we all skipped school as seniors, I remember the principal and the vice principal sat in their car (at the Flying Saucer) writing down names," Ms. Brisson recalled, laughing one day recently at the museum.
In addition to Olympic medalist Whitney, the museum also brags about Millbury's other accomplished town residents.
As a boy, President William Taft spent summers in Millbury visiting his grandparents. Later, as president, he and his wife visited his Aunt Delia Torrey at her Elm Street home, across the street from the Asa Waters Mansion.
On display at the museum is a Christmas ornament depicting Taft and his wife in their steam-powered automobile, the first vehicle used at the White House and the same vehicle Taft brought to Millbury in 1910. Coincidentally, the White House Historical Association introduced the ornament this year to honor Taft as the first motoring president. The ornament is for sale at the museum, and also available through the WHHA.
"They got in that car, which he brought on the train, and drove right around the corner, about two feet, to the Second Congregational Church," said volunteer Sharon Anderson, describing Taft's 1910 visit.
Another exhibit honors Paul Giorgio, who climbed Mount Everest in 2001, bringing his Millbury High School T-shirt to the top and returning with an Everest rock to add to the museum's collection. "That's one of our proudest accomplishments," said Historical Society President Frank Gagliardi.
One corner of the two-room museum is devoted to wealthy recluse Martha Deering, who spent summers in Millbury as a young woman, then lived here in her later years until her death in 1997. Her property is now owned and managed by the state as the Martha Deering Wildlife Management Area.
Treasures from the attic include military uniforms from World War I and World War II, now on display in the museum. Another find was a scrapbook containing photos of all Millbury soldiers who served in World War II.
"Every one of these names has a story behind it. It just makes me very humble," said Ms. Anderson, a board member who helped refurbish the museum. "I just find it amazing - there's a story behind everything."
Visitors can take a guess identifying items on the "What is it?" shelf, an assortment of odd-shaped parts the volunteers came across but could not name, said Jerilyn Stead, a board member who helped with the reorganization. "That's our favorite section," she added.
The museum's photo bins are popular, containing more than 500 photos of town residents, events and natural disasters. Photos can be copied at the museum.
In one high school photo, Ms. Stead recognized her father's classmate, so she scanned the dozens of faces until she found her dad's young face in the middle of the back row.
"People come in and they discover the photo bins and end up staying an hour. It's the old story that a picture is worth a thousand words," Mr. Gagliardi said.
The museum is open three times each month, with dates and times posted on the Historical Society's website, millburyhistory.org. The town's bicentennial celebration runs through July 4, 2013. Activities include a monthly tour of the Grass Hill section of West Millbury on the second Saturday of each month, and a revolutionary war reenactment Oct. 20 and 21. Information is available at www.millbury2013.com.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/CHRISTINE PETERSON
CUTLINE: (1) This ornament at the museum depicts President Taft and his wife in their steam-powered automobile. (2) Historical Society President Frank Gagliardi with board members Sharon Anderson, left, Diane Brisson and Jerilyn Stead. (3) Visitors can try to identify items on the "What is it?" shelf, an assortment of odd-shaped parts the volunteers came across but could not name. (4) Millbury's Lawrence Atwood Whitney won the bronze in the shot put in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden. (5) Historical Society board members Sharon Anderson, left, and Diane Brisson.