The Cornwall Historical Society was established in 1964, bringing together interested and involved citizens to have oversight of the long-existing Historical Collection of the Cornwall Free Library.
In an informational letter to fellow townsmen, the incorporators wrote that the Society “has been organized for the purpose of collecting, preserving and exhibiting the rare books, documents and other objects of interest that tell the story of Cornwall’s past. It is not only the privilege but the duty of our generation to take steps to protect and preserve the flavor and reality of our community. “To do this, we ask the cooperation of our fellow townsmen and former townsmen.” The letter expresses the expectation of a future historian, for whom material must be assembled. “As many of you know, there is already a valuable collection of Cornwall Historical materials, dating back to Indian days, in the vaults of the town library. . . . We hope to attempt a listing of such material. . . . We would like to help the present and succeeding generations understand how the Cornwall they know or will know came to be what it is.”
The Society recognized the need for a home for the artifacts and documents that had been collected and stored at the Cornwall Free Library under the direction of long-time librarian Miss Emily Marsh. When Miss Marsh died in 1966, the Society took steps to purchase her home for its own home, and with the help of the community and benefactors this hope became a reality. Archives were moved from the Library to the Society building, and in the early 1970s a vault was constructed to protect the most valuable items.
Over the years, the Society has produced exhibits during the summer and held programs on various historical themes. The Society’s publishing program includes important reference materials including town meeting minutes, census and vital statistics, and transcriptions of early historical accounts by our town historian In 2001 Cornwall in Pictures was published, which later received an award from the American Association for State and Local History for its “extraordinary quality.”
In 2003 the Society hired consultants to help the Board study and set strategies for the critical issues it faced in governance, collections, facility management, visibility, community involvement, programs and finances. The Society reaffirmed its mission and vision, developed a strategic plan, hired a part-time curator, increased its hours, and increased the number of exhibits.
Three years later, the Board tackled the most daunting challenge – a review of the space needs at 7 Pine Street. The Victorian building was deteriorating, and the arrangement of rooms, typical of living quarters, made exhibit space challenging. In 2007 the Board embarked on a capital campaign to match a $250,000 Connecticut state grant, and began a complete renovation in 2008. A year later in July 2009, the collection, which had been stored in two houses and two barns during construction, was moved back to a wonderfully improved home. The carriage barn had achieved its next persona: an historical society with appropriate galleries for exhibits and secure storage for the collections.