History of the Society

The rich history of Old Saybrook found in historical homes, artifacts, documents, letters, etc. was in danger of disappearing or being destroyed if an organization to implement the preservation of these items was not formed.  A group of twenty concerned citizens decided to address this serious problem by creating the Old Saybrook Historical Society in 1958.  Under the able direction of the first president, Frank Tinsley, a noted historian, author and scientific illustrator a formal Constitution incorporating the Society was established in 1966.  Since then, this non-profit, all volunteer organization has made significant strides in its efforts to fulfill its mission…

To Preserve, Protect and Promote the History of Old Saybrook 

The first ten years brought many projects to fruition.  They began with the marking of historic homes built prior to 1800 with detailed information on their original inhabitants.  A number of these homes have since been added to the National Registry of Historic Places.  Important documents and artifacts were preserved and fund raising was targeted to acquire a suitable historic home to serve as the Society’s headquarters.  In 1971, five short years after the Society was formed, the Samuel Hart House, at the corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue was purchased.  Immediately, the Society held a series of outstanding exhibits open to the public and introduced visitation from school groups.

In 1974, the Society sold the Samuel Hart House and purchased the 1767 General William Hart House (ironically brother of Samuel) from the Congregational Church for $75,000. This home provided more interior space and an acre of land for whatever the future would hold. Now the work began in earnest to create a “campus” that would provide the means to further the mission.  Until that time, the house had been occupied and had even been the Hetty Wood School for Girls.  Not unlike our own homes, it had lived through many changes, but remarkably, had a marvelous uncompromised structure that clearly showed its history.  The task of returning it to its original beauty began.  The goal was to transform it into a “living museum” appreciated by visitors who would learn from its stories.  The gardens evolved through hard work and loving care.  Today, these award winning gardens reflect a world where beauty, sustenance and medicinal cures are all part of the campus. They are open to the public all year.

In 1998, a major event occurred. Land adjacent to the Society’s was donated, fundraising began and with the help of so many hard working members and a major benefactor, the Frank Stevenson Archives Building was built. The Society now had a building to house the thousands of records, maps, films, etc.  and two libraries in a brand new, climate controlled atmosphere.  Today, research and genealogy requests continue to come from near and far and this building is truly the “hub” for the study of history in the area.

In 2005, what had been the gardeners “potting shed” (the ell to the rear of the Hart House) was converted into a climate controlled Exhibit Gallery.  Today, it is used to highlight important historical studies and themes.  A replacement shed needed to be built for the gardeners.  And so, that same year, another benefactor, whose parents were founding members, donated the money to build the “Garden Shed” to the rear of the property.  It was lovingly built by a one of our member’s husband and son pro bono.

Work in 2011 complete restoration of basement including a dehumidification system, steel buttress work ,beams and drainage  work to stop the water intrusion, plumbing, heating and electrical updates. This commitment to stabilize led to a new copper plumbing system, updated electrical and a dehumidification system throughout the building. This huge undertaking cost $125,000 but was necessary for the future of the Society.  All of the above projects were completed and paid for in full because this organization believes in hard work, a proper maintenance plan and practicing a policy of prudence and cost effectiveness.  We work hard to keep the Society debt free and with all this have increased our endowment to a sizable amount.

We encourage an appreciation of the historical heritage of the Town by our young people.  The Society encourages local school groups by training high school students to be docents.  In addition the members serve as mentors for senior projects, college internships as well as Eagle Scouts.  Our “Hosting for History” programs have included a town-wide 375th anniversary at the Bushnell Farm, The Centennial Parade across the Connecticut River, as well as the John Whittlesey House event.  We offer a Chapman Lecture Series, free to the public, at the local library, produce historical publications, offer tours, research opportunities, genealogy classes and thought provoking exhibits.

All this was and continues to be accomplished by dedicated, hardworking volunteers, devoted members and generous supporters. We believe through this incredible effort by so many who value history, 350 Main Street will continue to thrive and enrich Old Saybrook as we learn from our past to build on our future.

We are a non-profit, all volunteer, tax-exempt organization with members from all over the Country whose mission is to investigate, preserve and maintain collections in archeology, furniture, genealogy, and historic records of the Town of Old Saybrook while encouraging the study and appreciation of this historical heritage -especially by the young people of the area.

The restored General William Hart House (1767), Frank Stevenson Archives, and the historic gardens comprise a one-acre “campus” in the village that is home to the Society

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