Our Building

It is appropriate that our Historical Society has as a home a building that itself has an interesting history. It was built c.1885 by John Thomas Andrew as a barn to his house next door, to which he had moved in 1861 from a farm in West Cornwall. (Mr. and Mrs. Andrew had their photograph taken with their most valuable possessions.) This barn was a Victorian example, large, shining white with carved gingerbread decoration, and topped with a big cupola and weathervane.

John T. Andrew (1811 – 1887), pictured standing before his barn, had been educated at Yale and Yale Divinity School and had attempted both the pulpit and a teaching job, but due to a “bronchial affection,” had turned to farming and stone work. He built a cut-granite slab sidewalk along part of Pine Street, and some of the stones of our current walkway are reputedly cut by him. Pictures show the stone walk beside the handsome wrought-iron fence, and the unpaved road. The fence was donated as scrap metal to the war effort in the 1940s; a few of the stone posts are still standing.

The next owner of the property was Charles Cyrus Marsh, his wife and two daughters. He was a contractor, carpenter, auctioneer, and undertaker. The handsome barn housed his horse-drawn hearse, and later also his Model-T Ford. C.C. Marsh and his daughter Marion are pictured outdoors together, and their house has grown with a second story. Daughter Emily Marsh (1892 – 1966) stayed in Cornwall in the house with her parents, and filled several roles in town. She was an active member of the First Church of Christ (now UCC) and served as organist for 40 years. She was the librarian for the Cornwall Free Library from 1920 until 1962. When her parents had died, she decided to convert the barn to her home and to sell the big house. Work by George Crosby, designed by Cornwall architect Ralph Myers, took place in 1953. The barn doors were removed, double-hung windows and a standard door inserted, and the cupola replaced with an oversized brick chimney. On October 24, 1954, town residents turned out for a housewarming party. Miss Marsh enjoyed her home, cultivated her vegetables and flowers, and collected Cornwall memorabilia until her death in May 1966.

In September 1966, the Cornwall Historical Society took steps to purchase the building for $14,000. The Society had been incorporated in 1964 but had no home for a collection. Nor did it have the funds to pay the mortgage. So the Marvelwood School, which was then here in Cornwall, used the building as a dormitory and paid rent to the Society. Finally in February 1967, determined to gain the needed space for its historical uses, the Society launched a campaign to raise the money to pay off the mortgage. Generous citizens came to help. On Sunday, November 12, 1967, the Cornwall Historical Society held an opening tea to celebrate the installation of the Society’s collection in its own home. In the 40 years of ownership, the Society made few changes to the building except to add a vault for its most precious collections.

In 2007, the Society received a STEAP grant to make necessary structural changes to preserve the building and to add needed exhibit space. The Society raised funds from the community and friends for these basic renovations and to return the building to its historic look by altering the front of the building, removing the chimney, and adding back the cupola. The building was open to the public in 2010.