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Middlebury Community House's Lynne Boie with students Eric Haas and Danny Zhang.

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Students Lend Expertise to Help Preserve a Piece of Town History

August 27, 2014

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. -- Two Middlebury art history majors put their museum skills to work for the community this summer in a historic preservation project at the Middlebury Community House. Eric Haas ’15 and Danny Zhang ’15 (who has a joint major with political science) were both working as interns at the College's art museum when they were asked to conduct an inventory of objects at the historically significant building.

Built in 1816, the Community House has served as a hub for social and educational gatherings since it was donated to the people of Middlebury in 1932. Even a quick walk-through of the Federal-style house brings visitors face-to-face with portraits bearing names familiar to every Middlebury student, such as Battell, Stewart, Seymour, and Swift.

Now, the building is in the midst of a major transition to a community music center, a use that Lynne Boie, of Partners for the Middlebury Community House, said the Swift family would approve. "Mrs. Swift loved music — studied piano at the Paris Conservatory — and her family was just so happy at this idea," said Boie.

Boie also realized that it was time for a detailed inventory of everything in the house. "We said, 'Before everything changes dramatically here, let's take a look at our history and record it.'"

Working independently, Zhang and Haas numbered, measured, and photographed 80 objects, providing a short description for each. Room by room, they looked at clocks, mirrors, paintings, desks, andirons, lamps, and much more, generating a list of the historic items. The final result was a user-friendly electronic chart that can easily be updated by Community House volunteers as the inventory changes over the years.

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The Middlebury Community House on Main Street.

"Getting up close to a piece, you can see how it's been used in the past, especially if you're seeing damage or marks," said Haas. The stories associated with the pieces — a clock that was a wedding gift, for example — help bring to life the history of the people who lived in the house, he said.

Sharing their museum skills with the broader community is an experience students cherish, said Meg Wallace, registrar for the College Museum, who oversaw the project. "It reinforces their collections-care lessons from working in the museum, but it also gives them a glimpse into the history of this beautiful little town where they are spending the better part of four years of their lives."

 

By Stephen Diehl; Photos by Paul Dahm