Living history

Williston Historical Society preserves town’s past

Jan. 26, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Middlesex resident and WCVT Classic Vermont Choral Hour host Linda Radtke (above) performed a program of songs celebrating Vermont history as part of the Williston Historical Society’s annual meeting, held Jan. 24 at the Williston Federated Church. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

If you veer left when you enter the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston, you might suddenly find yourself in a time warp.

The workaday drag of modernity will fade away as you open the door to the Vermont Room and are confronted with the pleasantly musty smell of the old books and relics of Williston antiquity.

The preserved treasures are myriad:

A wedding dress and veil worn by Harriet Burnett in 1929.

A pair of ladies shoes, circa 1890.

A portrait of Sylvia Warren — the pioneer of local library sciences — who served as head of the Williston Public Library from 1905-1955.

Then there’s a time capsule, unscathed from the ravages of time — its wood crafted in 2000 as part of a Williston Central School eighth grade challenge project that might someday be instructive to Willistonians of future millennia.

Such mementos from Williston’s past were preserved through the efforts of the Williston Historical Society, a group founded in 1974.

Ginger Isham, who joined the Historical Society in 1977, told the Observer in an e-mail that her interest in the group was based both upon her family’s longstanding local ties and her desire to learn more about the town’s history.

“Reading the history of our town written by local folks made me feel proud of those who are no longer on this earth who saw the importance of saving and preserving our town’s history,” Isham wrote. “I get so excited about the Historical Society and think how grateful we all should be today for the group that started the society who are no longer with us.”

The Historical Society has been headed since 2006 by Terry Macaig, chairman of the Williston Selectboard and a two-term State Rep.

“When I was in school, I couldn’t care less about history, but as I got older, it seems to be something I’ve gotten interested in doing — especially Williston history,” Macaig said. “I’ve lived in Williston since ’66 and have seen the town grow and some of the things that have happened in town, so it’s always great to get involved and try to see what happened in years past, even before I got here.”

In addition to the many historical items memorialized in the library, the Historical Society is trying to preserve the town’s oral tradition.

“We try to get people in town active and try to do oral histories with some of the old-time folks in town, to try and get their slant on what happened in the town in past years,” Macaig said.

The Society was also instrumental in commissioning the construction of the statue of Thomas Chittenden — the first governor of Vermont and the founder of Williston — that currently stands on the village green in front of Williston Central School.

“We were given an endowment and were able to have a likeness (of Chittenden) made, because no one ever knew what he looked like,” Isham said.

There are currently about 60 members in the Historical Society, which had its annual membership meeting on Jan. 24. Upcoming events include the annual Independence Day ice cream social and the Vermont History Expo, which will be held in June in Tunbridge.

And although 2012 has just begun, the society is already looking forward to 2013, when Williston will celebrate its 250th anniversary.

Macaig said it’s too soon to announce any definite plans for the town’s sestercentennial, but he assured that the milestone will be celebrated in style.

“We’re working on it,” he said.