Museum director shows passion for Billsville history

December 9, 2015 by Rachel Scharf, Contributing Writer

Just down Route 2, across from the Williamstown Inn and a quaint reconstruction of an 18th century cabin, lies the Williamstown Historical Museum. Directed by Sarah Currie, it creates a slew of projects that illuminate the history of Williamstown.

Currie began working in this capacity in 2012 while the previous director was in the process of phasing out, and fully took on the position when the former director officially retired in 2013. A Williamstown native, she brings a myriad of skill sets to the museum: She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a masters of science in design with a focus on interior architecture. “Though my background is in these two very different subjects,” she said, “I’ve always really loved history and … it was nice when I came back to town that there was a position available here for me.”

Because of her deep passion for history and for the Williamstown community, the role of museum director suits Currie nicely. She particularly enjoys the interpersonal relationships that come with the job. “I love the people that I come into contact with because anybody who’s interested in history shares one of my great passions, but [also because] they’re just so interested in connecting with the community,” Currie said.

It is that interest in connecting with her hometown community that drives her work. “You can connect so deeply with your community and become more invested,” she said, “and become a better citizen and more informed when you’re connected to your town’s local history.”

In addition to directing the museum, Currie also fills a number of other local outreach roles. She is a member of the Williamstown Historical Commission, which determines whether or not historical structures up for demolition have been well preserved, a task that suits her love of history and architecture. She also works with the Williamstown Cultural District, which promotes tourism to stimulate the local economy.

As director, Currie works to help the Williamstown Historical Museum fulfill its mission. Being the only part-time employee among an all-volunteer board of 23 members, her job is to implement the museum’s initiatives. As she put it, “[I] try to help keep the gears of the museum running smoothly.”

These initiatives are widespread, with the most obvious one being putting together the museum’s exhibit, which rotates about twice a year and features various topics relating to the history of Williamstown. Currently, it features a conservation project that Currie and her associates have been undertaking for the past few years, where they have worked to preserve Williamstown artifacts using resources like the Conservation Center at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. One such artifact is the Proprietor’s Book of Williamstown. “[It is] this really fascinating piece of Williamstown’s history from its original founding,” Currie said, “[It begins in] the 1750s and it goes up to the 1780s or 1790s and details meetings’ minutes from these pre-revolutionary war communities. It’s really amazing.”

Currie also helps the museum reach out to local students. “For this current exhibit we had Pine Cobble students participate,” Currie said of their young visitors. “We have the third graders from the Williamstown Elementary School come visit when they’re doing a colonial period section, and the Buxton School students were just here the other day to take a look at some of the objects in our collection.” The museum also works to educate its slightly older citizens on their town’s history, holding monthly lectures.

“We get maybe one to two research requests a week, which is a good size for a town of our size,” Currie said, adding, “We also keep a pretty extensive collection of material related to Williamstown’s history, and we work on putting that into a digital catalog, which is also available online.”

The museum also tries to connect with students at the College.  “We’ve hired some students in the past over the summer,” Currie said. “One student worked on an oral history project for us, one worked on a census of African Americans in Williamstown and regionally and then other students have helped us with summer programs.”

Sarah Currie, Director of the Williamstown Historical Museum, is responsible for curating the displays and research for museum. Photo Courtesy of Carol Wu.

Sarah Currie, Director of the Williamstown Historical Museum, is responsible for curating the displays and research for museum. Photo Courtesy of Carol Wu.

This semester in particular, some students taking the anthropology course “Town and Gown: Investigating the Relationship of College and Community” have worked with the museum on research projects. Students have come to the museum looking for resources on topics about intersection or controversy between Williamstown and the College. Michael Ding ’18, for example, first turned to the museum for help on a project requiring him to tell a story about the Williamstown Municipal Building. He discovered that the building used to be a fraternity house with a bar where the current police locker room is and later went back to the museum for a second project about the relationship between the town police and Campus Safety and Security. “Sarah [Currie] was really helpful,” Ding said. “If you have a research topic you can just ask her and she’ll help you find the appropriate documents and books to look at.” He found the museum archives useful, adding, “It definitely did help; it’s a great research source.”

Beyond this course, however, Currie is surprised that more students don’t take advantage of the resources available at the museum. She thinks that students oriented toward local history tend to focus their attention solely on the history of the College. “The Williams College Archive has an amazing collection,” she explained, “and so I suspect that [when] their interest is activated … they seek out the archives.”

Despite the value of academic archives, she hopes that future students will use the museum’s resources to connect with the town’s history beyond the College.  “We keep the ephemera and these more sentimental pieces of Williamstown’s history that are so valuable when you want to connect to the town or remember what is here.”

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David Plater December 9, 2015 at 8:52 am

During a chance visit late last summer, I found Sarah to be welcoming and helpful. She pulled out long-stored old plats of the town to help me locate ancestral landholdings, such as the parcel where the Agard House is located (formerly Leake property). She was quite knowledgeable. I plan to keep in touch and assist when she needs it.
David Plater, Williams Class of 1958

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