In a continuing effort to improve the Wilton Historical Society’s visitor experience, discrete “way finding” signs and a map of the site have been added to the Museum Complex at 224 Danbury Rd.. The addition has helped solve a problem of a distinct lack of directional signs on the property–there was neither an “entrance” sign at the Betts House, nor identification of any of the primary buildings.

The design and fabrication of the signage was funded in part by a $5,000 matching grant from CT Humanities.

“We are so grateful to the CT Humanities/StEPS program for providing this grant,” says Historical Society co-director Allison Gray Sanders. “The all-important first impression, that fleeting moment when there is just one time to ‘get it right’ in making a visitor feel welcome and informed on arrival, was lost every time a guest parked. It is so off-putting to arrive at your destination and be unsure what to do next.”

The project was begun in 2017, and the last signs were installed in February, 2018.

The grant permitted the Society to add the word “Entrance” over the appropriate door of the Betts House, and a site map to orient visitors. The building signs, which match the paint color and are very low key, are designed to resemble museum object labels, and provide information as to the date the structure was built, as well as when it was moved there.

When 224 Danbury Rd. was acquired by the Society, only the c. 1740 Betts House was original to the site. The other structures were saved and relocated from other areas in Wilton. It is a verdant property resembling a New England village, complete with a 19th-century barn, working 19th-century blacksmith’s shop, a privy, Colonial herb garden, fire pit, water pump and Victory garden. Two 18th-century houses, the Betts House and the Fitch House (c. 1770) containing period rooms are connected by the Burt Barn Gallery, a c. 1840 barn structure which houses a gallery.

To use the site effectively, and to emphasize the historic character of the complex, parking was relegated to the back of the lot, as far as possible from the houses, to minimize the visual impact of vehicles. Only handicap parking spots are close to the entrance. In fact, the first door most visitors would see on arrival was the door to the office area, at the rear of the Betts House, which was marked with a small sign “Visitors, Please Use Front Door.”  With the exception of the required blue and white handicapped parking signs, it was the only permanent wayfinding sign in the complex.

The Society reached out to Wilton designers Pamela Hovland and Gini Frank Fischer to envision appropriate signage to guide visitors around the site. Both artists have previously worked with the Society. Hovland designed the roadside identification signage which can be seen on each of the Society’s campuses (224 Danbury Road, Lambert Corner and Cannon Corner), while Fisher created an illustration of the site for a map which now stands in the Colonial Herb Garden.

Over the past four years, the Wilton Historical Society has been engaged in a series of projects to improve the visitor’s experience at the 224 Danbury Rd. campus. From a complete renovation of the Colonial Herb Garden, to historically correct repainting of the three primary buildings at the Museum Complex, to the design of new roadside identification signage, significant effort has been focused on these upgrades. In addition, the website–a key aspect of the visitor experience–has been recently redesigned and greatly improved (again with the help of a CT Humanities/STePS grant.)

Hovland works extensively in the areas of identity and print communications and Web design for corporations, nonprofit organizations, and cultural institutions. She was appointed to the Yale faculty in 1993 and is currently a critic in graphic design.  Her superb graphic design abilities can be seen around Wilton, most notably for roadside signage for the Wilton Historical Society and the Wilton Library. Her graphics studio is located at Lambert Corner in the 1889 Hurlbutt Street Country Store and Post Office.

A life-long artist, Fischer was born and raised in Norwalk, and began creating portraits at a young age, and added perspective and architectural rendering in high school. She attended both Sacred Heart University, and the University of Bridgeport.   While pursuing her life-long passion for portraiture, Fischer also worked as a graphic designer/art director for area advertising agencies and marketing firms. She started a home-based design business in Wilton about 15 years ago, offering architectural rendering and design services, including illustration and portraiture. Fischer has exhibited at shows in Bethel, Wilton, Redding, Stamford, Fairfield, and more.