Historical Society Plans to Open Museum on Bedford Day

August 10, 2023
Local artist Jan van Steenwijk, a longtime advocate for Bedford’s new museum, has been working on panels for several months. The museum will officially open on Bedford Day. Courtesy photo

The Bedford Historical Society has targeted Bedford Day – Saturday, Sept. 23 – to formally open the town museum in Old Town Hall, 16 South Road.

Paul Purchia, chairing the society’s Museum Committee, said the opening will also mark the 130th anniversary of the society’s founding. 

“An 1893 ledger book of the initial meeting will be on display,” he said.

The centerpiece of the opening will be a series of 30 panels depicting centuries of Bedford’s history presented along the circumference of The Great Room on the third floor.

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Local artist Jan van Steenwijk, a longtime advocate for the museum, said he has been working on the panels for several months, investing dozens of hours. The individual six-foot prints feature photos, etchings, and brief explanations, he said, beginning with the town’s Indigenous population and proceeding all the way to the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

The panels depict not just the landmarks known to generations of schoolchildren – the Two Brothers Rocks, the Bedford Flag – but also images particular to specific eras in the town’s timeline.

Purchia said Joan and Frank Gicca, longtime leaders of the Historical Society, are underwriters of the project, which is “going to be really neat.” The prints are now being coated with acrylic to protect them, van Steenwijk said.

The museum opening culminates several years of explorations and negotiations for the space. For decades the Historical Society was based in the police station, but those rooms were incorporated for police purposes in the recently-completed planned renovation and expansion.

Here is a fictional view of one of the two prison cells when the Old Town Hall was still a Town office, housing the library and the police station. Courtesy photo

Documents and archives, along with Historical Society officers, were relocated to the vacant ground floor of Old Town Hall. Several years ago, a study identified the second floor as an ideal museum site, but that space is also the home of Bedford TV’s studio, training area, and administration.

Last year, the Select Board and the museum agreed on a compromise pilot plan, with the society presenting exhibitions on the top floor. Results of an ongoing municipal space needs study will help determine permanent arrangements.

Meanwhile, Purchia said he and his group are working “to help get the museum off the ground.” Town Historian Sharon McDonald, Kara Kerwin, the society’s former executive administrator, and Lee Yates, former society president and executive director, are consulting with the former executive director of the Lexington Historical Society, Susan Bennett.

“They are doing document research and preservation of stories and artifacts. We are giving them the space they need to do their jobs and preparing a welcoming area for visitors to the museum.

“We sometimes get lost between Concord and Lexington, but there’s a rich local history that we are preserving, we are researching, and we are documenting,” Purchia said. “A lot of dedicated volunteers are preserving stories and artifacts. Now we will be able to share them with museum visitors.”

On Bedford Day, the first floor will feature exhibits of artifacts and documents, Purchia said. “Jan is building museum-quality display cases to showcase some of the artifacts, like the Job Lane Bible,” he reported, and the Carlisle Historical Society plans to donate a six-foot display case.

There are cosmetic improvements as well, Purchia said. The Facilities Department improved the flooring and plans to paint the Great Room and treat windows to filter out light that could be harmful to historic objects.

After Bedford Day, Purchia said, plans call for the museum to be open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays when the society office is open. The museum will open on weekends as well when volunteers can be scheduled to staff it, he added, and “it also will be available when we have events, such as the cultural district celebration, pole-capping, and Bedford Day, when people are out and about.

“One of the keys to having a successful museum is rotating exhibits,” Purchia noted. He also said the society is “trying to find ways of expanding the exhibits to the schools, bringing artifacts to schools and the library so that folks have opportunities to see what we have.

“There’s a lot more than just the Bedford Flag unfurled at North Bridge,” Purchia said. “It’s a wonderful collection, and I’m just excited that we finally are going to be able to present it to visitors.”

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