Open W-F, 12-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm | (860) 364-5688

Open W-F, 12-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm | (860) 364-5688

Saving History

By Myra Plescia  |  Fall/Winter 2023

History may be viewed as a vast and unwieldy topic (especially if you are a student cramming for an exam). However, history is also a story of individuals, provides context for what happens in the present, and helps us more deeply understand ourselves and the world. With a passion for local history, Bob Loucks has been a dedicated collector of the personal materials of Lawrence VanAlstyne, an individual who had a significant impact on Sharon. Thanks to his generous gift of the VanAlstyne collection to Sharon Historical Society and Museum (SHSM), we will now be able to delve into, and share with you, the life of Lawrence VanAlstyne using his own personal journals, photos, letters, and much more.

You may know Lawrence VanAlstyne (1839 – 1923) as Sharon’s unofficial historian and the author of several books including Diary of an Enlisted Man, Burying Grounds of Sharon Connecticut, Amenia and North East New York, and Births, Marriages and Deaths in the Town of Sharon, Conn. At SHSM, we regularly refer to these books, which have recorded information that can’t be found elsewhere. Bob Loucks’ collection will allow us to go beyond the books that VanAlstyne authored and begin to learn more about the individual man who was also a soldier, family man, Sharon resident, and historian, as well as gaining greater insight into Sharon as it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

As we began sorting through the containers of materials, which include personal letters, handwritten journals from the Civil War, typewritten manuscripts, photographs, and boxes we have yet to open, I could not help but wonder how Bob Loucks came to be in possession of such an extensive collection. Was VanAlstyne a relative of the Loucks or was Bob intrigued by a fellow Sharon historian and wished to know more about him? The answer turned out to be a combination of both factors.

John Loucks, Bob’s great uncle, married Lawrence VanAlstyne’s sister Sarah Elizabeth in 1860, creating a lasting connection between the Loucks and the VanAlstyne families. Walter Loucks (Bob’s great grandfather), his brother Leonard Loucks, and Lawrence VanAlstyne all served in Company B of the 128th Infantry New York and became close friends. Prior to the Civil War, both families were living in North East (Amenia), New York and after the war, both families moved to Sharon. Bob recalls bicycling to his great aunt Hattie’s (Walter’s daughter) house in Lime Rock and being entertained by stories about Walter and Leonard Loucks, Lawrence VanAlstyne, and their experiences in the Civil War.

As personal stories can often do, this early sharing sparked Bob’s interest in history, and which only grew stronger after reading Diary of an Enlisted Man. As he grew older, Bob began actively seeking out materials relating to the Loucks and VanAlstyne families. While some documents and photos stayed in Sharon over the years, others were scattered throughout New York and the northeast. Bob has traveled to Troy, NY and Springfield, MA to purchase items from dealers who specialized in historical documents and had come into pos-session of VanAlstyne materials. Acting on a tip from another dealer in Pine Plains, Bob was able to recover boxes of materials that had been stored in a hay mow on the Hudson River north of Rhinebeck. Bob is still actively collecting and regularly peruses the internet to search for materials about the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and, of course, anything related to the Loucks and VanAlstyne families.

Leonard Loucks
Walter Loucks

We are just beginning to sort through this extensive collection and have found a variety of fascinating items including a pin commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation, one of Lawrence VanAlstyne’s lieutenant’s bars from his Civil War uniform, and photos of him at the dedication of Sharon’s Civil War monument. Volunteer Nancy Cohen is working on transcriptions of VanAlstyne’s letters that he wrote while serving in the 128th Infantry Regiment and the 90th Corp d’Afrique Reg-iment in Louisiana, which give a full description of his life as a Union soldier, including entries about his experiences on the battlefield, perilous journeys en route to each engagement and skirmish, and everyday life in between. We have also found VanAlstyne’s original 1909 typewritten manuscript for his book Diary of an Enlisted Man, which was
later published in 1910. Another manuscript is titled Sharon Recollections, which covers everything from the early history of Sharon to the arrival of telephone service.

Cataloging and preserving this collection will take months to accomplish, but they will be months filled with discovery that will ultimately lead to a greater understanding of both Lawrence VanAlstyne and the town of Sharon. We are planning a future exhibition to share materials from this extraordinary collection so that you also can travel back to this pivotal time in history through these well documented experiences. With these materials, VanAlstyne is still serving as a local historian and helping us understand how lives like his helped shape the town of Sharon that exists today.

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