PRESS & ARTICLES

 

Press and Articles about the Branford Historical Society

Help Save Harrison House

Published in The Sound | May 13, 2015
By Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

BHS President Announces Donated Dollars Doubled

 

A descendant of one of Branford’s founding fathers is leading the charge to save the town’s only historic house museum.

As president Branford Historical Society (BHS), Virginia “Ginny” Page is heading the effort to buy the 1724 Harrison House, located at 124 Main Street. While many may recognize the singular red Colonial at the very edge of Main Street as the town’s only historical house museum, few may realize it doesn’t yet belong to BHS.

Founded in 1960, BHS began leasing Harrison House in 1974 at a rate of a dollar per year from Historic New England. Previously the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Historic New England is America’s oldest and largest regional non-profit historic preservation organization.

The Harrison House was bequeathed to the Boston-based organization by its last owner, J. Frederick Kelly. A noted architectural historian, Kelly had the foresight to pluck Harrison House from obscurity in 1938 and restore it to its original condition.

Last summer, Historic New England notified BHS the Harrison House was among its properties that needed to be liquidated. The organization hopes BHS will be able to buy the house, but if not, it will be sold to another owner, says Ginny.

“Historic New England wants Branford Historical Society to own the house, and as a board, we agreed unanimously that we should find a way to raise the money to purchase it,” says Ginny.

Details of the sale were finalized between the two groups in January. Now, non-profit BHS is working hard to raise community awareness about the need to support BHS in its mission to make the purchase. As an all-volunteer society, the task is somewhat daunting, but with the help of Branford citizens—especially at this time when a generous matching grant campaign has just been announced—Ginny’s confident it can be done.

“The Branford Community Foundation is going to match every individual donation we receive up to $35,000,” says Ginny. “We want to get the word out into the community that right now, everyone in Branford can make a donation of any amount and it will worth twice as much, thanks to Branford Community Foundation.”

Branford Community Foundation (BCF) connects Branford citizens with Branford causes to help preserve and promote quality of life for all, now and in the future. The decision to earmark $35,000 as a matching grant to assist BHS is also the foundation’s way of marking its 35th year, explained BCF past president and board member Eunice Lasala (also a BHS member).

“In the past, at every fifth year, we gave out the amount of the anniversary. This year, we are being pro-active and donating a matching grant of $35,000 to the Branford Historical Society to purchase the Harrison House,” says Lasala.

For Ginny and the BHS board, the grant couldn’t have come at a better time. Now, non-profit BHS is working hard to raise community awareness about the need to support BHS in its mission to make the purchase. While the Harrison House has its supporters and opens its doors to guests (as well as groups, including annual visits from Branford’s 3rd-graders), BHS has been going about its important work rather quietly.

For example, most residents might not be aware those are BHS volunteers whipping up fresh strawberry shortcake on the Town Green each June, working to raise money to maintain and preserve the Harrison House. The fundraising effort began even before the Branford Festival started up and has continued as a part of the festival weekend ever since. This year, look for the BHS Strawberry Shortcake booth on Saturday, June 20, during festival weekend.

“We’d love to have people support us during the festival, but we can’t sell enough strawberry shortcake to buy the house!” Ginny says. “So we really hope to have community support for this campaign, especially during the matching grant.”

The grant begins this month. Ginny announced the BCF matching as a highlight of the BHS annual dinner on May 7. Together with the BHS board, she hopes to spread awareness throughout the community during the grant period. BHS hopes to raise enough to not only buy Harrison House, but to help create a capital budget to assist with the needs of maintaining a building that’s nearly 300 years old.

“We’re trying to raise $225,000,” says Ginny. “We need $132,000 to buy the house, but we’re adding on money and making it a capital campaign for us to have money to also maintain the house.”

Built in 1724 by Nathaniel Harrison II, the house is a treasure trove of Branford history and the Colonial era. Beyond carefully restored architecture and living areas, the contents include artifacts, items and unique pieces waiting for the public to experience. Many have gathered and contributed over time and there is no better repository for it all than this historic home, says Ginny.

“There are so many fascinating items in this house,” says Ginny, who has always had an interest in history. “One of our oldest is a Governor Carver chair (circa 1660-1670) made of black ash from Branford.”

A member of the BHS board since 2011, Ginny served as chair of Accessories before becoming president in 2013. A Branford native and lifelong resident, she’s a descendant of George Page, one of the signers of Branford’s original town charter in 1645.

In the centuries since, many Page family members have supported and contributed to Branford’s betterment, and Ginny says she’s honored to have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.

“I’m in a position of being able to respect and honor my ancestors by helping to save and preserve this piece of Branford history.”

The Branford Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax-deductible donations to help save the Harrison House may be made online at www.branfordhistoricalsociety.org or sent via check to BHS, P.O. Box 504 Branford, CT 06405. Guided house tours begin Saturdays in June (from 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment).
For more information, call 203-488-4828 or email 
info@branfordhistoricalsociety.org.

If you would like a copy of the article, click the PDF file.

Help Save The Harrison House (PDF)

 

Golden Opportunity for Historical Society

Harrison House
Published in The Branford Eagle | May 20, 2015
By Bill O’Brien

 

 Harrison House

What started out to be routine meeting between the tenant and the landlord turned out to be an opportunity of a lifetime for the Branford Historical Society.

The story unfolded at the historical society’s recent annual meeting held at the Owenego Inn when members learned the historical society has been given the chance to buy the historic Harrison House for $132,500, instead of leasing it as they have since 1974. The 1724 Harrison House is located at 124 Main St.

​Ginny Page, president of the historical society, told the members how the prospective sale came about. “About a year ago, Jane Bouley (the town historian) and I met with Historic New England, an organization which owns the Harrison House. We anticipated getting another 20-year renewal of our lease at a dollar a year, but instead they offered it to us first (to purchase) as they saw us as the best match for the sale.”

“They told us they very much approve of how we cared for the house and property for 40 years, and to help us they would give us two years to come up with the funding.” Historic New England now oversees 36 historic sites, spanning five states and four centuries of New England life.

Ginny Page and Jane Bouley

Bouley, a longtime member of the historical society, and also a past president, was the main speaker at the meeting which drew about 100 people. She reported that the Harrison House was built in 1724 and passed on to a variety of owners over the years, the last being J. Frederick Kelly, a well-regarded architectural historian of the time.

“He purchased the house in 1938 to restore it to its original condition. He wanted to preserve it for posterity,” Bouley said.

The story unfolded at the historical society’s recent annual meeting held at the Owenego Inn when members learned the historical society has been given the chance to buy the historic Harrison House for $132,500, instead of leasing it as they have since 1974. The 1724 Harrison House is located at 124 Main St.

​Ginny Page, president of the historical society, told the members how the prospective sale came about. “About a year ago, Jane Bouley (the town historian) and I met with Historic New England, an organization which owns the Harrison House. We anticipated getting another 20-year renewal of our lease at a dollar a year, but instead they offered it to us first (to purchase) as they saw us as the best match for the sale.”

“They told us they very much approve of how we cared for the house and property for 40 years, and to help us they would give us two years to come up with the funding.” Historic New England now oversees 36 historic sites, spanning five states and four centuries of New England life.

Strawberry Shortcake And More

Page said after their meeting with Historic New England, she and Jane “just looked at each other stunned and bewildered. Our first thought was… What the heck are we going to do? And a second thought was ‘we can’t sell enough strawberry shortcake to purchase the property,’” a humorous reference to the society’s major fundraising activity at the Branford Festival each year.

After hearing about the offer last year, the board approved the purchase of Harrison House. Since then they have worked for eight months, getting advice from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, finalizing the lease to cover that period and getting an appraisal. “It was an eight-month learning curve, a true education,” Page said. “We signed our two- year lease last December 31 and our campaign began January 1, 2015.

Board members and officers for the current year include L-R :Josh Russo, Mike Russo, Anne Hitchcock, Maryann Hall, Ted Eastwood, Nancy Gaylord, Virginia Page, John Daley, John Ifkovic, Mary Hitchcock and Anthony Solomine. Not present were Joe Naylor and Matt Radulski.

“Not soon after, the board made a decision that since we were asking for money, we should ask for more,” she said. The reason? “Seeking more funds would create a financial reserve for Harrison House and take care of ongoing expenses that will be beneficial to the community and to Harrison House.

So the funding campaign was increased to $225,000, which will allow the historical society to fund other projects and needs, such as programs, access or larger maintenance projects.

Enter Eunice

After the historical society sent an informational letter to their members about the turn of events, Page said she received a call from Eunice Lasala.
“Well, if you know Eunice, then you understand. She reaches out and she reaches far.” Lasala is a member of the historical society and a leader in the Branford Community Foundation. The call from Eunice blossomed into a truly exceptional partnership between the BCF and BHS.

The Community Foundation kicked off the campaign, offering a matching grant to the historical society for $35,000, matching individual donations dollar for dollar.

“This offer is outstanding and exceptional,” said Page. “We are so excited and thrilled and grateful. If we can raise $35,000, then with their match of $35,000 we will have $70,000 toward our goal.

“Tonight is the kick-off of this grant and I anticipate it will hit the ground running,” she said.

Current Community Foundation president Stephanie Farber said the foundation was thrilled to provide this grant to help the historical society purchase the Harrison House.

The meeting concluded with reports from various board members. Then Bouley gave the membership and officers “A Guided Tour” history of the Harrison House, including its architecture, families and importance to Branford.

Donations may be made by sending a check to: Branford Historical Society, P.O. 504, Branford, CT 06405
or by visiting the Historical Society’s website and using Paypal.

Virginia Page and Jane Bouley

Board members and officers for the current year 

Stephanie Farber(L) and Ginny Page.

First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove and Eunice Lasala attended the event.

If you would like a copy of the article, click the PDF file.

Golden Opportunity for Historical Society (PDF)

Historical Society Wants to Buy Harrison House from Out-of-State Preservation Group

Published in The Shoreline Times | March 03, 2015

By Barbara Carlson
bcbarcar1764@gmail.com 

(Peter Hvizdak – New Haven Register) The room called “the hall” holds a dining table at the Harrison House of Branford at 124 Main Street. The Harrison House is up for sale. The Branford Historical Society has been leasing the house and now wants to buy the house and the barn that goes with it. Friday, February 19, 2015

BRANFORD >> If the owner of the pre-Revolutionary Harrison House in Branford wanted to advertise the house for sale, the ad might look like this:

For sale in two years or maybe three: On 2 acres, a very old (built in 1724) “two-over-two” saltbox house known as the Harrison House and a not-so-old (circa 1850) barn, conveniently located on Main Street in the Canoe Brook section of Branford. Buyer will have to keep the buildings in museum condition; preservation experts will visit the house annually to make sure buyer is treating the house properly and not making any changes without permission. Priced at $132,500.

Not a bad price, and to the Branford Historical Society both exciting (“We’ll own a piece of Branford history,” says Ginny Page, BHS president) and daunting (“We simply cannot sell enough strawberry shortcake to buy this house,” she adds). Selling shortcake at the Branford Festival each year is the society’s main fund raiser.

For 40 years, the BHS has carefully maintained the Harrison House, the barn and lawns — without owning the property, although it owns the artifacts collected through the years. The owner since 1947 has been a Boston nonprofit organization called Historic New England.

BHS has leased the property from HNE for $1 a year, with 20-year lease agreements. But last year, when the second 20-year lease was up, HNE granted only a new two-year lease (with an option to extend the lease a year) and informed Branford that it would be “deaccessioning” (museum-speak for selling) the property.

When the organization was first founded in 1910, it bought “lots and lots of endangered properties,” according to an HNE spokesperson. But for the last few decades, HNE has been selling — partly to fill gaps in its collection. The deaccessions don’t mean that Boston totally forsakes a property. A property is sold with a preservation easement, “a tool that allows a property to be protected,” says Joe Cornish, HNE preservation services manager. The easements, he explains, are tailored for each property and cover the exteriors and interiors of buildings, the landscape and outbuildings — to prevent subdivisions.

Cornish reiterated that he is confident that the Branford Historical Society will be able to raise the sale price. But the BHS people remain on edge — what if they can’t find the money? What would happen to all the wondrous belongings in the house and the barn? The holdings are amazing.

On a frigid bone-chilling day recently, Joe Naylor, who directs the Harrison House guide program, escorted visitors on a path through the snow to the barn where he elaborated on the background of the very motley collection of old stuff:

There is a mail buggy that was drawn by a horse to deliver mail in the outlying district (as it was considered) of Pine Orchard. A man named Burt Shepard drove the buggy from 1902 until 1923 when it was replaced by a truck

There are farm tools — pitchforks and axes, an augur, block and tackle. There’s a sharp-toothed, two-man saw that a plaque says belonged to Eli Whitney.

There are store or office signs that speak of the commercial side of Branford —
There’s a fence post that was part of the 50-inch high fence or palisade that early settlers built to surround the town to keep out wild animals, it is widely believed. Naylor doesn’t like that theory — he thinks it more likely the fence was to keep farm animals from straying.

There’s more stuff back in the house – the two-over-two house, which means two rooms on each floor. On the first floor, in the room called the hall, most of the daily living took place — the cooking, the eating, the spinning. A loom and two spinning wheels are here. The parlor was reserved for more formal activities. If the minister came to visit, explains Naylor, he would be received in the parlor.

So some of the artifacts in the parlor reflect its formal use. There’s a tiptop table crafted in 1760, another table built of wide boards, of even earlier vintage, 1710. In the massive corner cupboard there’s an etched flip glass that supposedly Lafayette drank his flip from when he passed though Branford on his way from New York to Boston in 1824. Flip is an alcoholic drink, a mix of juices and wine or stronger stuff. As Naylor tells of this Lafayette journey, the flip glass evokes a life-size picture — the now elderly Lafayette stopping at the Towner Tavern near the town green, cheered by the throngs that hailed him on his route, perhaps feeling celebratory and thinking a flip was called for…

All now possibly on the endangered list. Because, the BHS website says, if the society can’t buy the property, the “museum would be lost, its artifacts scattered…and the flavor of Main Street would change.”

Anyone who wants to save the Harrison House (and the flip glass and the mail buggy) may send checks to
​Branford Historical Society, P.O. Box 504, Branford CT 06405.

If you would like a copy of the article, click the PDF file.

Shoreline Times Article (PDF)