Historical Society Envisions Expanded Haven For Town's Treasures

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: History

Helping to steer the Orleans Historical Society toward the dream of a Heritage Center are Museum executive director Gail Nessell Colglazier, board chairman Mark Carron (center), and board member Jay Stradal.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS For preservers of the town's past, the board members of the Orleans Historical Society spend a lot of time thinking about the future.

You'll have to forgive them, though, as the near horizon holds tantalizing prospects for creating a heritage center of several buildings at their location between River Road and Main Street. More room for exhibitions, more space for concerts and special events, even indoor storage for the famed Coast Guard boat from the Pendleton rescue are all in the works.

Recently, OHS board chairman Mark Carron, board member and communications advisor Jay Stradal, and executive director Gail Nessell Colglazier sat with a reporter in the Meeting House Museum to talk about the path ahead. It was like a gathering in an attic, surrounded by exhibits of the town's past with even more stored out of sight on the balcony above.

“We want to turn the Meeting House back into a meeting house,” Carron said. That will involve jacking up the 1834 building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and putting in a foundation for storage and improving accessibility.

Moving another old building to the site would provide exhibition space and storage as well as offices for administration and curatorial activities. And the board has one in mind: the 1880s building opposite Cumberland Farm on Route 6A.

“It's a classic structure,” Stradal said. “Lots of gingerbread.” A druggist conducted business there for decades.

The house is not connected to a famous sea captain or a notable past selectman, but, as Nessell Colglazier pointed out, “Most houses in Orleans were not owned by famous people.”

This house is owned by Todd Thayer, who had obtained a demolition permit but is said to favor the Society's idea to move it. The board has voted to “seriously start” discussions on doing just that.

It's thought that the move would cost $75,000 plus another $30,000 to dig a foundation; the board would ask for $75,000 in community preservation funds. A separate request farther down the line would seek assistance with renovation of the Meeting House, with the remainder coming from fund-raising. There are further plans to relocate and reuse the Hurd Chapel now behind the museum.

With more space to take the Society's treasures out of storage, Nessell Colglazier said, she could match exhibitions with related programming. In two years, for instance, Orleans will mark the centennial of the Uboat attack on Nauset Beach during World War I. Four years from now, she noted, is the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' landing on the Cape, and the museum also has much to offer in terms of the town's salt works and lifesaving tales, to name just two more areas of interest.

“We want to expand our outreach,” Stradal said, “particularly to school children. We have some programs now, but we're restricted by space.”

The transformation into what will be called a Heritage Center of several buildings will be aided by a 99-year lease for an adjacent town parking lot (where the temporary police station sits today). Carron and his colleagues were pleased to learn last month that the state Legislature had given the town approval to enter into such an agreement.

The Society takes its mission to preserve the heritage of Orleans seriously, and that includes artifacts and tales of the history yet to be made.

“We're just plain out of space,” Stradal said. “We've hit a ceiling.”

Go to OrleansHistoricalSociety.org to see a slide show of the Society's plans.