Founders Day to honor Garden Club, lecture on Lord Jeff Amherst on tap

Last modified: Monday, February 15, 2016

AMHERST — Landscaped gardens at private homes, well cared for plantings surrounding municipal buildings and flowers throughout the downtown commercial district illustrate the continued importance of a century-old organization to the town, according to the leader of the Amherst Historical Society.

For Georgia “Gigi” Barnhill, the president of the historical society, these elements that add beauty to Amherst are among reasons to present the 10th annual Conch Shell Award to the Garden Club of Amherst at the Founders Day Celebration Saturday.

“I think of this as one of the cultural legs that our community is built on,” Barnhill said in a phone interview Monday.

The award, to be presented at a ceremony in the Goodwin Room at the Jones Library, 43 Amity St., beginning at 2 p.m., recognizes the club’s milestone, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, and its maintenance of the 18th century garden at the society’s Simeon Strong House at 67 Amity St.

Founders Day coincides with the founding of Amherst — and its separation from Hadley — on Feb. 13, 1759.

As a relative newcomer to Amherst, Barnhill said she is endlessly impressed with members of the Garden Club, who make gardening more than just a hobby, and have, in fact, created a cultural phenomenon. This has spurred other organizations, such as the Amherst Business Improvement District, to invest in flowers and plants that beautify downtown.

“I attribute part of that to the influence from the Garden Club,” Barnhill said.

The club also holds the annual plant sale that supports the activities of other Amherst organizations and pays for a scholarship for a horticultural student to attend the University of Massachusetts.

Barnhill said the club has also demonstrated “careful stewardship” of history that includes depositing its records in the special collections at Jones Library and having a historical display in the library’s atrium.

Lord Jeffery lecture

The celebration also features the annual Mabel Loomis Todd Lecture, which aims to have scholars bring new perspectives to historical issues.

Following the recent decision by Amherst College’s Board of Trustees to drop Lord Jeff as the college’s unofficial mascot, this year’s talk will be particularly topical, with the focus on the legacy of Lord Jeffery Amherst.

Kevin Sweeney, a professor of History and American Studies at Amherst College, will give the presentation, examining what did and did not happen after then-General Jeffery Amherst’s July 1763 suggestion that blankets be used to spread smallpox among American Indians living in the Ohio Country and around the Great Lakes during Pontiac’s War.

The presentation is expected to offer new insights that arise from looking closely at outbreaks of smallpox and its spread in North America during the 1750s and early 1760s.

Conch Shell Award

The Conch Shell Award was first given in 2007 and takes its name from the conch shell, or “ye auld kunk,” which was used to call people to Sunday worship, town meetings, social events and celebrations in Amherst. The shell was cheaper than purchasing a bell that would have been too expensive for the 18 families that originally settled Amherst.

The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served at the Strong House following the program.

For more information, visit or contact or call 256-0678.

Meanwhile, the “History Bites” series, held at the Strong House, begins Friday.

This twice-monthly lunchtime lecture series starts at 12:15 p.m. with a presentation by William Flynt of Historic Deerfield titled “Telltale Timbers: a New England Dendrochronology Primer.”

Lectures will also take place March 4 and 18 and April 1, 15 and 29. The museum opens for the season in May.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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