at 18 Main Street in Sharon, Connecticut has been the home of the Sharon Historical Society & Museum since 1951. The house and contemporary addition are home to our galleries of historical and contemporary exhibitions, as well as our offices and reading room. Our collections include American furniture from colonial to colonial revival, decorative arts, and iron-industry related artifacts, portraits by folk artist Ammi Phillips, an archive of historical texts, and an archive of photography, including the works of Frances Kelsey and George Marckres documenting Sharon’s history. In addition, we have a public reading room featuring a collection of Sharon and Connecticut history resources, family and property records, and maps.
The Gay-Hoyt House, 1830
The Sharon Historical Society: A Brief History
The Sharon Historical Society was formed by a group of twenty-one Sharon residents on January 20, 1911. Organized under the name Poconnuck Historical Society (Poconnuck referring to a tribe of Native Americans which had resided in the area) the name was changed to the Sharon Historical Society at a meeting held on January 22, 1918.
According to its constitution, the mission of the Society was “to collect and preserve in some suitable place such articles as may tend to illustrate the life and history of the early settlers of this region, and to create and foster an interest in local history and tradition.” To this end, the executive committee reached an agreement with the trustees of the Hotchkiss Library to allow the Society to use the two upper rooms of the library at no charge.
The first public meeting was held on July 11, 1911. Although mention is made in the minutes of “exhibits”, the early meetings were primarily devoted to the reading of papers prepared by the members. Unfortunately, copies of the early papers (with few exceptions) have not been preserved.
In 1951, Miss Anne Sherman Hoyt, former president of the Board of trustees, bequeathed the brick Gay-Hoyt House to the Historical Society. Upon receiving the house, the financial situation of the Society made impossible to maintain the building. The rear “barn” or “studio” was sold, and the Society entered into an agreement with the Nightingale Shop, operated for the benefit of the Sharon Hospital. The shop was granted the use of the first floor of the building in return for assuming the building’s maintenance. At this time the Hotchkiss Library needed the space occupied by the Society and requested the removal of its collections at the most convenient opportunity. Archival and artifact collections were brought to the upper floor of the Gay-Hoyt House.
Early in 1965, the shop closed. By this time, the Society, through the generosity of its friends, had established an endowment fund, the income from which would go towards maintaining the house. A complete renovation and redecoration was performed in the spring of 1965. The museum was formally reopened on July 10, 1965 and some two hundred people attended the event.
Strictly a volunteer operation from its founding, the Society recognized the need for a paid curator and in 1988 hired Sarah D. Luker at ten hours per week. In her position as curator, and later as the occupant of the second floor apartment, Sarah worked tirelessly to improve both the museum and its community image. Under her leadership, the museum began a “CPR” program (Care, Preservation & Restoration) of its collections; archives and library collections were preliminarily organized; the bylaws were updated; regular museum hours were maintained; a gift shop was opened; books and pamphlets were published; and a schedule of changing exhibits was implemented.
Compiled by Liz Shapiro
April 30, 2004
* The early history of the Sharon Historical Society was excerpted from an article by Edward D. Thurston, Jr., entitled, “The Gay-Hoyt House”, published in the Lure of the Litchfield Hills magazine in 1966.