by Kate O’Farrell [UVM Community News Service]
CRAFTSBURY – On a Saturday morning in September, the Craftsbury Green is bustling with farm stands and children running among the stands and trees. The green is lined with buildings, and one stands out. On one corner of the green is a small white building with a big mission: the Craftsbury Historical Society.
The Craftsbury Historical Society operates out of the Babcock Museum, the old house of the Babcock family, which now holds artifacts from the town’s past. The society is open twice a week for visitors and has been open since 2004.
The society has lost members over the years, as members have aged out, and now there are a few people in charge of the building and organization. The Historical Society has felt a level of disengagement from the town as it is “pretty traditional,” member Don Houghton said. “I think there’s a disconnect between people wanting to come and thinking that this historical society has anything to do with their history.”
The society has started a project they’re calling “Craftstories,” where Houghton asks community members their personal stories of how they came to be in the town. As Houghton said, the drive behind the project has been “to make the historical society more of a viable institution within Craftsbury.”
The project is designed to reach out and connect the past with the ever-changing present of Craftsbury. “Craftstories” is a project where Houghton takes recording equipment and stations himself around the town, capturing the many stories of Craftsbury. He has collected around 12 stories already. As Houghton said, Craftstories is “an amalgam of Craftsbury and history and stories.”
The project started recently, as Craftsbury celebrated its 100th “Old Home Day” in August. Houghton used his skills as a schoolteacher to generate different ideas for engagement with the town, and “Craftstories” was born.
“Craftstories” is an open-ended project. Houghton is hoping that the longer the project continues the more it will convince people that they themselves have something to do with the history of the town. Those who are drawn to the town through attractions such as the Craftsbury Outdoor Center may initially think that they aren’t a part of the town’s history. “Craftstories” wants to dispel this notion.
One of the stories comes from Valerie Morrison, a Craftsbury resident since 1974. Morrison arrived to teach at a school in the town which is no longer operational. She said that she has seen changes in town in her time there. Morrison married a farmer and noted that there are “fewer and fewer” farms in Craftsbury as the town changes, and the most prominent farm is now a factory farm, not one of the family farms that used to be prevalent in the area.
Currently, Houghton is uploading the stories digitally to SoundCloud and eventually, if the Society gets WiFi in the building, he hopes to have the stories playing when visitors visit the Society.
The “Craftstories” project has struggled with engagement so far, although Houghton regularly posts on Front Porch Forum and stations himself around various spots in town with his recording equipment to collect stories. Houghton isn’t discouraged, and said, “I think it’s eventually going to pay off.”
The project is designed to re-engage the Historical Society with the town, although the project also provides families with the opportunity to document their own history for now and posterity. As Houghton said, “It’s going to provide some families a chance to get their story out there and have it in a permanent place so members of their family can reference it.”
As the town continues to change, the Historical Society wants to remind the community that history is not just a thing of textbooks or artifacts but is right here in the stories of every family and community member. As Houghton said, “We’re just a small historical society trying to save what’s worth saving.”
The Craftsbury Historical Society is open Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon