The Wilton Historical Society has been awarded a $125,000 grant from the state of CT to create a new permanent exhibit, “Connecticut’s History, Wilton’s Story”, in the 1740 Betts House at the Society’s museum complex at 224 Danbury Road (Route 7) in Wilton.  Executive director Leslie Nolan says that the Society has already begun the research and planning phase.

The Society requested $125,000 from the “Good to Great” grant program to undertake a two-year project to transform existing space at the museum into a new permanent exhibit called “Connecticut’s History, Wilton’s Story.” “We are extremely pleased that the Society is receiving the entire grant amount requested — $125,000 for the two-year project — and that a contribution pledged by generous supporters of the Society will provide the necessary 25% match, which is a condition of the State agency’s grant.  There will thus be $156,250 in funding for this exciting project” says Buck Griswold, the president of the Society’s Board of Trustees.

Nolan had seen the opportunity to add an introductory interpretive exhibit for visitors since she began her position in 2012.  “When you arrive at the Museum Complex, there is nothing to provide context for the Society’s historic buildings and location, or for a sense of the cultural depth of the town” she explains. The new exhibit will be located in the foyer area of the Betts House plus one of the existing historic kitchen spaces.

The exhibit will be an interactive timeline which will enhance the visitor’s experience at the Society and will allow them to see historic and cultural connections to other parts of Wilton and the state. 

“House museum displays are moving away from static period rooms, which do not interest many visitors.  People respond to history presented in a way that is engaging and memorable – in stories” Nolan says, and adds, “With this new exhibit, we will be creating story lines which document Wilton’s evolution from pre-Colonial times to a small New England agricultural village to today’s suburban town, by telling the stories of several real area families. We envision an exhibition rich in interactive display techniques, sound, and objects to handle.”

Nolan saw a need to weave together the cultural history of the area, as well.  The timeline will allow a visitor to learn, for instance, about several artists who had Wilton and area roots and connections, including the late, great jazz musician Dave Brubeck; folk singer Lead Belly; American Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir; Johnny Gruelle, author and illustrator of the Raggedy Ann books; sculptor Solon Borglum, the Silvermine School and Knockers Club; and sculptor Gifford Proctor.

“The beauty of an exhibit like this is that it is a jumping off point for visitors to continue on to see other Wilton attractions, such as Weir Farm and Ambler Farm” she says.

The grant is being made through Connecticut’s “Good to Great” program which was created in 2015 to fund improvements that significantly enhance cultural and historic sites and the way people enjoy them. Specifically, the program targets smaller and mid-sized cultural organizations that have received limited state funding in the past.  Funding, which ranges from $50,000 to $125,000, can be used for a variety of activities including construction, exhibit designing and installation, planning and marketing.  The Wilton Historical Society grant is one of 20 nonprofit grants totaling nearly $2 million that was first announced by the state Department of Economic and Community Development in September 2015.