The History of the Unionville Museum
Part 1 – The Early Years – Creating the Organization
The history of the Unionville Museum begins in late 1983. In September of that year, the Tunxis Senior Citizens Association vacated the Carnegie library building during a sort of musical chairs move-a-thon that started with the completion of the new central Farmington Library on Monteith Drive. When the new library opened, the West End Branch Library, then located in the former church hall behind the Carnegie library building, closed. Its space was then refurbished for use by the Tunxis Seniors.
Proposals for the now-empty Carnegie library building’s use immediately began flying, ranging from a no-alcohol nightclub for teens to a Veterans’ Hall to offices for Winding Trails or the Police Benevolent Association. But soon two favorites emerged – using the building as a day care center for the elderly and using it as a Museum of Unionville History. The day care proposal was the front runner and was especially popular among town officials – ranging from Town Manager Stephen Flis to Superintendent of Schools William Streich.
A public hearing was held on December 14th to review the proposals. According to the newspaper reports “emotions ran high” and proponents of the museum were asked hard questions about how much public support there would be for exhibits of “ball bearings and felt and mouse traps” and how they would raise the money for the building’s upkeep. One person remarked “life is for the living”.
The Town Council’s view was “somebody’s going to win and somebody’s going to lose”. But in the end, they managed to avoid this problem by extending an invitation to the backers of the senior day care center to use vacant space in the former East Farms Elementary School building and awarding the Carnegie building to the Unionville Museum at the town meeting on December 22nd, 1983.
At that point, the “founders”, organized as a Steering Committee set about creating the organization and raising money for the renovation of the building. The new museum received a grant of $1000.00 from the Farmington Historical Society and a matching one from the Farmington Board of Education reflecting the twin concerns with historical preservation and education of the community that remain in its mission to this day.
The first event held in the new building was the Founders Meeting, held on Monday, March 26th, 1984 after much hard work by the Steering Committee and other volunteers who cleaned the building and set it up for its first public appearance. The program that night consisted of a talk by John McManama about the concept and purpose of the Museum, a screening of a documentary film “Unionville” by Bill Pfau and election of the first board of directors of the Unionville Museum. The guest book for that night shows over 130 attendees.
Pictured here standing in front of the curtain from the auditorium of the Unionville Town Hall are the original founders – (l-r) Bill LaPointe, Patty LeBouthillier, Roberta Burns-Howard, Pat Robotham, Anne Katz, John McManama, Betty Anderson, Bill Pfau, Jean Pickens, Jack Crockett, Brad Burns-Howard and Frank Corbeil. They became the core group for the first phase of the Museum’s history.
1984 was an important year for Unionville – its 150th anniversary – so the time was perfect for the opening of the new Unionville Museum. The town’s celebration came on Memorial Day and even though the Museum was not yet “ready for prime time”, it was able to offer those enjoying the day the opportunity to have their pictures taken in front of the Town Hall curtain. And the organization continued to collect money for renovations, eventually raising more than $10,000 for the purpose.
As the work continued that summer, a new challenge appeared and the Battle of the Town Green took place. This occurred because the Town Council proposed to pave much of the lawn in back of the Museum in order to provide extra parking for the Senior Center in the rear building. The Museum held a concert on its lawn that summer and was able to raise enough public support to block the paving of its back yard though it did lose a little of the side yard when an exit driveway and ten parking spaces were added between the museum and the Methodist church building.
Then on November 4th, 1984, Bea Collins cut the ribbon on the first exhibit in the new museum – “You’ve Come a Long Way” which featured items from the suffrage movement collection of Frank Corbeil along with related Unionville material. The exhibit was a great success and was followed a month later by the first annual carol sing.