Historic Northampton gets $150,000 matching gift

  • Greg Walwer, an archaeologist from Guilford, Conn., helps Oliver Johnson, left, and Jonah Johnson, both 10, of Northampton, sift dirt they excavated with their sister, Annabel Johnson, 13, during an archaeological dig Sept. 22 at Historic Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/12/2017 9:40:21 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Historic Northampton has received a $150,000 matching gift from an anonymous donor, which its co-directors say will allow it to continue to expand the organization’s efforts and offerings.

“We’re exceedingly grateful to the donor,” co-director Elizabeth Sharpe said.

“This money is just going to be transformational,” her co-director, Laurie Sanders, said.

Established in 1905, Historic Northampton is dedicated to the preservation and exploration of the city’s history. In addition to owning three historic homes on Bridge Street, it also has 2½ acres of park-like land in the city.

Its collection of artifacts, meanwhile, numbers some 40,000 pieces. Among them are artifacts from famed Northampton preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards and a nationally known dress and textile collection.

“Scholars come here,” Sanders said.

The donation coincides with Historic Northampton’s annual appeal. Through March 1, any donation to the organization will be matched, up to a combined total of $150,000. This translates potentially into $300,000.

“It’s coming at a terrific time for us as an organization,” Sanders said.

She said Historic Northampton is experiencing a renaissance in programming. This includes more interactive activities for families and young people, a new examination of the history of social movements and social reform, and the organization’s Living History Series, which features living individuals who have helped to build Northampton through such areas as the arts, activism and business.

Additionally, Sharpe noted that some of the money will go toward artifact acquisition and preservation. Plans are also underway to open the Historic Northampton-owned Parsons House to the public in 2019.

A new core exhibit will also be premiered by the end of the year.

“Made on Main Street,” is set to run for 18 months, and will chronicle the changing face of Main Street from the 18th century to the present day.

Sanders noted the iconic nature of Main Street and its intractable association with the city for many people.

“Their first image, often, is of downtown Northampton,” she said.

“We’re working on it now,” said Sharpe, who noted that Historic Northampton is currently combing through archives and old newspapers for material.

One thing that Sharpe noted that the research has uncovered is a paid exhibition of a 30-foot-tall painting of Niagara Falls that was held in 1800, an event that appears to have been the city’s first art exhibition.

Another element of the exhibit that is being researched is how the city was transformed in the 1970s and ’80s. Numerous locals, including Gordon Thorne, are being interviewed for this.

Another section of the exhibit, “Seen and Heard on Main Street,” notes how Main Street has been used as a crossroads of ideas, including for such events as parades, protests, and for being the route down which Jonathan Edwards made his way with a slave he purchased in 1731.

Historic Northampton has one full-time employee, two part-time employees, and three people who are paid workers in a small capacity. It also has three interns and about 10 dedicated volunteers.

“Historic Northampton is having a real impact on the community,” said the anonymous donor, in an email statement released by Historic Northampton. “My hope is that this gift will inspire others to further the organization’s mission and its capacity to achieve its highest potential.”

Those interested in donating to Historic Northampton can do so at its website, www.historicnorthampton.org.

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