SANDOWN – Prompted by the seeking of a couple of grants, the board of selectmen has been looking more closely at the historical society’s train depot museum over the last few weeks.
Coupled with some changes the board is looking to make there, the historical society membership has been cleaning up both the interior and exterior of the museum and making it more neat and welcoming on the outside and easier to navigate its many historical treasures on the inside. The depot houses a wealth of artifacts that tell both the story of Sandown through the decades and that of the larger region.
Members of the board have expressed pleasure at those changes, and selectmen Brenda Copp and Terry Treanor have been taking an active role in working with the society to come to some compromises on the structure.
The building itself is owned by the town, as well as 10 feet around it. The rest is state property. Recently the heat was shut off at the building and the fuel tanks were removed, the culmination of concerns over the cost to heat the structure in the winter, when few use it. The town voted against a warrant article at last Town Meeting to insulate the attic, and after that the selectmen made it clear that it was in the best interests of the town’s purse to cut the heat.
The building costs the town about $3,000 per year to heat. That’s more than the town hall, another old building, but one that is used year round. The depot was erected in 1874. It was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and on the New Hampshire Registry in 2011.
Following the failure of the warrant article, selectmen’s office assistant Paula Gulla began seeking grants to improve the building. It was during that search that officials began to realize that they had to be careful with what was done to the structure to make sure it did not get removed from either the state or national historic register.
Through that process, and in meeting with experts in historic preservation, they learned that had the building been insulated as planned, it could have been in jeopardy of losing its historic register status. At the same time, historical society president Bruce Robinson brought plans to the selectmen to replace the windows and doors of the building, something that may also have caused issue with the historic registers.
It was then that the board, on a suggestion by Treanor, decided to draw up clear duties and responsibilities between tenant and landlord. In response to that decision, the board sent out a letter to the society asking it not to change anything further on the structure until all the particulars could be written down.
Copp is currently working with Gulla to review similar agreements between historical societies and towns to draw up an appropriate document for Sandown. They plan to bring something before the board at their Sept. 9 meeting.
Treanor noted that such a document was important to protect all parties.
Both Copp and Treanor said they don’t see a need for the agreement to stipulate any rent or other costs for the historical society, though some other towns have such agreements.
“I’m looking for who is responsible for what areas and what is allowed to be done there, because it is a town-owned building,” said Copp. She added that she’s not looking to make the society feel micromanaged.
As part of that effort, and in light of the heat being shut off, the board is seeking an inventory of the artifacts in the museum and who owns them. While both Copp and Treanor conceded that it wasn’t going to be an easy task, they said it was an important step to take.
While the heat being shut off is a small issue in artifact longevity, the board has noted concern that fluctuating temperatures and humidity could cause an issue, and they want to make sure that if any of the items are on loan to the society, the owners should be informed. And they are hoping to contact the owners of any artifacts.
The artifacts removed from the depot may be stored in one of the train cars outside. The selectmen have suggested potentially getting a climate-controlled storage facility for the items.
Robinson did not return multiple calls for comment on this article and for what the society has been working on.
Treanor noted that the board does not want an adversarial relationship with the society, but rather a partnership. He said Robinson and the rest of the society deserve a lot of credit for the efforts they’ve made at clean-up. The outside looks good and the inside has been streamlined and made easier to navigate, he said.
Both Copp and Treanor noted that some of the changes made help give the impression of walking back in time when someone enters the depot. During its peak, the Worcester, Nashua and Portland line on which the Sandown depot was a stop handled the largest volume of freight traffic of any unsignaled, single line track in the country, at its most active seeing 18 freight trains a day and six passenger trains.
Longtime curator Bertha Deveau has been dealing with some health issues and hasn’t been in on all of the changes. While her daughter Pat Teague said she’s personally in favor of the changes being made, she conceded that Deveau does like to see things remain the same.
Deveau is expected back to the depot soon, helping tell the stories of the artifacts she knows so well.
Treanor noted that Deveau has long done a great service to the town through the museum, but important changes were being made. While the heat has been shut off, the selectmen aren’t looking to close the building completely until Nov. 1. Then the pipes will be drained and everything made ready for the freezing months.