The Woodman Museum hosted the Centennial Gala in July, 2016 in which curator Thom Hindle shared his thoughts about his over 40 years of service at the Museum. For those who missed this heart-felt speech, please read it below:
I must admit…..The WOODMAN has been a really fun place to hang out. I started coming here in the 1950s as a small boy growing up in Dover….Mr. & Mrs. Berry were the live in curators. We would enter through the big front door….NO POLAR BEAR. So, to set the record straight…I HAVE been here longer than the polar bear. A guest book and the donation box. There was no admission.
Mr. Berry got to know us and would let us roam around….sit on the floor face to face with the alligator…look at jars filled with strange creatures in the marine room…the snakes and birds up on the second floor.
In the early 1970s while teaching photography in New Jersey, I was asked by trustee Phil Foster to curate a display in the Hale House. I had the pleasure of working with Ann and Bob Dwyer, the last live in curators.
After moving back to Dover I got involved with the Historical Society and the new Heritage Group conducting neighborhood walking tours. I reacquainted with museum trustee Bob Whitehouse who had replaced Phil Foster…. And I began volunteering at the museum, helping Bob with exhibits and setting up for the lectures at Dover High School.
In 1996 I was asked to replace Bob as a trustee…there still was no admission and no money coming in except a little interest from the trust. That first year the furnace quit in the Woodman House with winter coming. No money to repair and we had to petition the court to use trust money.
We again requested the court to establish an admission policy….we started a membership drive along with the first fundraising campaign and published a member newsletter in 1997. An operations account and a restoration account for donations was established. The Hale House had a roof leaking, bricks coming apart, gutters with holes as big as golf balls…chimneys beginning to come apart.
The first major donation received was from Senator Jack Chandler, grandson of Lucy Hale and William Chandler, in the amount of $25,000. That allowed restoration of needed repairs at the Hale House along with renovations to the interior, removal of 1950s fluorescent lighting and window blinds on the second floor and replace with period lighting and paint. 18th century furniture was re-arranged to make the rooms appear as they might have during Hale’s time.
Memberships and donations into the restoration account, allowed us to take on a project every winter when the museum was closed…the marine/shell room completely redone…mineral room moved into science cabinets donated from the old high school, bird exhibits cleaned…taxidermy repaired, walls painted….a new mill exhibit…Senator Hale items re-arranged into a room setting, nautical and fire exhibits organized…garrison house re-wired and track-lighting installed. This work continued right through last year when the third floor Civil War Room was completely remolded and exhibits re-arranged.
The biggest project and fundraiser was acquiring the Keefe House in 2005. Raising $500,000 dollars and five years renovating two floors to create a library and additional exhibit galleries….in 2014 a carriage barn exhibit opened and last year the Keefe House Gallery at the Woodman.
In 1998 we started a cataloging project to list and identify all the collections. Two volunteers, my son Jason and Ed Wentworth took on the project. Jason with pencil and paper going from case to case and Ed with our first computer compiling lists of artifacts and creating categories. AND when we finally acquired the Keefe House we were able to create library space for all the old documents and books stored on the third floor of the Woodman House. A box at a time, or an arm full of books, Ed carried across the lawn to the second floor where we now had computer space and a real museum catalog program. Ed entered each item and created shelf space. And after hundreds of hours and many trips from the old attic…. documents were finally archived and stored properly. Last year Ed retired, after volunteering at the museum for twenty years…he helped get thousands of historic documents organize.
If it were not for Ed’s dedication and willingness to tackle this project, many historic documents might still be stored in old cardboard boxes rather than cataloged in a data program and stored in archival boxes.
Quite a lot was accomplished with very little staff and even less funds…however, the museum has come from the tired old museum that was open Tuesday – Saturday from 3 – 5 pm…. to one of New England’s finest early 20th century science, art and history museums.
A truly unique museum experience where grandchildren can come from across country to visit and see the item that was donated by their grandfather years ago…. on display for all to enjoy. A museum where you go from room to room and see exhibits unrelated to the one previous…an adventure around every corner. A museum where you can stand face to face with a saddle used by President Lincoln and a 10 foot polar bear. See the finest military rifle collection in New England and a baby chicken with four legs.
It has been a privilege to have served as trustee chair in the footsteps of the first trustee chair, Col. Daniel Hall. AND to serve in the footsteps of the museum’s first curator, Melville Smith, who also came to Dover as a photographer, opening a portrait studio in the Bracewell Block in 1895. I have enjoyed watching small children sit on the floor and look at the same alligator and snakes that I enjoyed almost 60 years ago. Sharing the history of Dover and the Woodman with visitors from all over the country. Seeing several generations of families visit over the years….and enjoying visitors in their 50s and 60s saying that they have not visited since third or fourth grade. Having the ability to become involved with all of the museum’s collections and share the stories about how some items ended up at the Woodman. AND being involved in accepting and displaying many very interesting items like a mastodon tooth or an autographed portrait of Bill Cody.
You are all here giving me praise and credit for helping make these things happen. However, none of these changes or accomplishments would have been possible without my wife Mira allowing me to spend more time at the museum than I did at home….for stepping in and helping after Mrs. Couture retired and no one was available to open and close…Mira was behind the counter while I did the tours. Since 1916 with Melville Smith and his wife Mary, to Raoul and Llyr Couture, Mira and I are the last husband and wife curators. Thanks to Mira for spending our birthdays, anniversaries and many long holiday weekends together, here at the Woodman.
Thanks to Dave Torr and Ray Ouellette, trustees that had confidence in me back in 1996 when I started suggesting changes to the way the museum operated. To all the trustees, past and present for serving the wishes of Annie Woodman … each contributing to the needs of the museum during the past one hundred years.
AND most important… THANKS to many of you here this evening… you were always there for me during these years. When I needed a sponsor for an event or special exhibit….when I needed “in- kind” services…or just needed a donation of money or a piece of equipment. Being able to raise enough money to purchase and restore the Keefe House….. And having many of you step in as volunteers or re-enactors for programs like the Lincoln event in 2009, One of the museum’s biggest events…. a community effort and thanks to sponsors and volunteers, that two-day event raised over $10,000.oo for the museum.
It is you folks, business owners, City Officials, museum members, members of the historical community and visitors from around the country…that have stood behind me and the museum trustees….. allowing us to fulfill Annie’s legacy……
and for that…. I thank you all.
-Thom Hindle, July 2016