By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — The Berlin and Coos Historical Society marks its 25th anniversary with a celebration Sunday, Sept. 6 at the Brown Company Barn Museum from noon to 4 p.m.
The celebration will highlight the society's latest achievement — the restoration of the Brown Company barns and the development of a museum in the larger barn.
The larger barn will be open for the public to see the displays and there will be chairs set up for the public to relax and share stories. Food will be available.
From the beginning, the historical society has been a visible and active organization with a mission " to educate a broad and diverse public about the county's rich history, culture and ethnic roots with an eye to showing their significance to our lives today."
In its two score and five years, the historical society has created a permanent home at the Moffett House Museum and Genealogy Center, restored the former Brown Company barns, helped with three local history books, assisted with a video on the history of Berlin, and organized the Maynesboro Stud Memorial Ride. The society is also a resource center for researchers seeking information about the city and county or people tracing their family history.
The Moffett House has become a repository for an ever-growing collection of historical artifacts and documents. Inside is everything from the old Cascade post office counter and silent actor Lew Cody's make-up case to an old bird's eye map of Berlin and the last sheet of paper produced at the pulp mill.
Currently stored at the house are approximately 2,500 historical objects, 1,612 photographs, 3,413 historically related books and documents, and 3,004 binders. In addition, the house contains the largest library of genealogical material north of Manchester.
The Moffett House is open Tuesday through Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m. — the only historical society in the North Country that has regular hours.
There was no active historical society when a small group decided to form one in 1990. The group met monthly and hosted small exhibits in places like Berlin city hall. A few years later, the society was part of a local group that acquired the Brown House from James River Corporation and formed the Northern Forest Heritage Park. But the society separated from the park in 1996 over what current society Vice President Walter Nadeau said were different missions.
At that time, with their artifacts in storage, the society looked for a new home. Nadeau said the board of directors contacted owners of a number of properties in the city to see if any might be interested in turning them over to the society.
Mary Moffett offered her home at 119 High St. to the society. With a grand total of $6,000 in its treasury, the society gratefully accepted the donation. Built around 1890, the house served as the office and treatment center of Dr. Irving Moffett — an osteopath who practiced in Berlin until his death in 1993. His restored office in the basement of the house is part of the museum.
The society moved into the house and held a grand opening in the summer of 1997 to formally dedicate the Moffett House Museum.
Nadeau said over the years, the society has invested an estimated $100,000 in the Moffett House including a new furnace, roof, windows and paint job.
He said all of that work has been paid with money raised by the society through various fundraisers and donations. He said the society has never borrowed money for any of its projects.
At the urging of curator Odette Leclerc, the society set up a genealogy center at the house that has proved to be very popular with researchers.
"More people come here to do family research then look at the objects," Leclerc said.
In 2002, the society turned its attention to the two Brown Company barns on the East Milan Road. Owned by the city, the barns were some of the city's oldest structures and steeped in history. But they were in need of major repair and some members of the society hesitated to take on such a major undertaking. Eventually the city turned ownership of the barns over to the society. With several grants and matching in-kind labor by society volunteers, $190,000 has been invested in restoring the barns.
One of the barns is used to house the popular barn sales the society hosts monthly through the summer and fall to raise money. Furniture, books, china, sports equipment, electronic gear — all pre-owned and donated to the society — are sorted, organized, and offered for sale at bargain rates.
With the restoration now complete, the larger barn is being converted into a museum — displaying larger artifacts such as an early photo copy machine, logging equipment, a Krisp Kreme can and many items from the paper mills.
Two years ago, the society organized the Maynesboro Stud Memorial Ride, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Maynesboro Stud line of Arabian horses. The event drew national attention in the horse world and over 50 horses and riders participated.
The society assisted in the production of the documentary film "At the River's Edge: An Oral History of Berlin, New Hampshire," providing much of the research and use of the Moffett House.
Three society members have put together books on the history of the city and mills. Society Curator Raymond Daigle has written "Berlin Mills on the Androscoggin River," Jackley Nadeau published Berlin Postcard Book, and President Renney Morneau did "Images of America-Berlin."
Berlin native Paul Gilbert developed a webpage for the society and the society continues to scan and put documents online. The entire Brown Company Bulletins are online and there are links to sites such as Beyond Brown Paper at Plymouth State University, which contains the extensive Brown Company photo collection.
Currently the society is in the process of digitally cataloging the entire collection at the Moffett House with the assistance of a $2,400 grant.
The driving force behind the historical society is its board of directors, which includes President Renney Morneau, Vice President Walter Nadeau, Treasurer Robert LaFrance, Curators Odette Leclerc and Raymond Daigle, and members Arlene Lambert, Medora Snigger, Barbara Barbieri, and Janice Ely. There are about 300 members in the organization. For more information about the historical society go to berlinnhhistoricalsociety.org.