Terry Markisohn knows there are valuable artifacts from Middletown’s 250-year history out there, perhaps tucked away in an attic or hidden in storeroom and mistaken for junk.
And as president of the Middletown Historical Society, she knows it’s her job to help track them down, wherever they might be hiding.
“It’s our mission to preserve the oral and written history of this wonderful town,” she said. “But the really exciting part comes when we’re fortunate enough to find and preserve those physical objects from our history that you can have people actually come in, look at and feel like they’re a part of that history.”
Just such an object turned up late last year when former Middletown Hardware Store owner Jerry Buckworth unexpectedly handed a quaint-looking tin coffee pot to historical society chairman Dave Matsen.
George Contant, a trained historian who works part-time for the historical society, was intrigued by the piece, particularly the brass plate affixed to the side that indicated it had been manufactured in Middletown by Eliason & Benson Dealers in Stoves & Tinware sometime after 1873.
“There was a lot more manufacturing here than people realize, from roofing material to decorative iron work and farm equipment,” Contant said. “Most likely, Moore & Culbertson, who owned the hardware store in town from 1869 to 1888 purchased the pot to resell it or perhaps use it, but never did. Fortunately for us, it remained in that building for the Buckworths to find and preserve as a very cool reminder of Middletown’s merchant and manufacturing heritage.”
Contant said preserving and educating residents about the town’s heritage is becoming increasingly vital, especially given its robust growth in the last 20 years.
“As people move into the area, they want to know what Middletown is all about, how it got started and how it has changed over the years,” he said. “That unique history would be lost without a group like this and we’re working desperately to ensure it doesn’t get forgotten.”
Founded in the 1980s as an offshoot of the St. Georges Historical Society during a campaign to save the former Middletown Academy building that it now calls home, the Middletown Historical Society is still in what Markisohn describes as its infancy
The historical society hosts monthly presentations open to the public at no charge and recently made its digital collection of Middletown Transcript archives from 1868 to the 1990s available to the public in exchange for a $10 annual membership each Friday, as well as one Wednesday and one Saturday a month.
But it has not hosted a new, major exhibit of its extensive collection since the 150th anniversary of the town’s incorporation in 2011. That exhibit closed last fall.
Page 2 of 2 - Markisohn, who took over as president in 2011, said that will change this spring when the historical society hopes to kick off a two-year exhibit called, “Middletown Goes to War.”
In preparation for the exhibit, the historical society is also undergoing renovations and upgrades designed to better preserve its collection.
At the same time, Markisohn is hoping a new book about the history of Middletown written by former Transcript editor Shauna McVey, in conjunction with the historical society, will help raise awareness about the organization and its mission when it hits store shelves on Feb. 17.
“Our only fundraiser, the Olde-Tyme Peach Festival, which the historical society has organized since 1994, has provided us with the ability to do a lot more and fortunately our five-member board has the consciousness to do it,” she said. “We’re expecting this year to be a big leap forward for us.”
In the meantime, the historical society is continuing to look for those all-but-forgotten objects that will help mark a place in the town’s history.
“Some things that might look like junk to someone else might just be valuable to us,” she said. “We’re always willing to take a look at what people have. We’d much rather they give us a chance to look something over than have a potentially valuable artifact lost to the trash heap.”
To reach the Middletown Historical Society, call (302) 378-7466 or email them at email@example.com.