Museum showcases antique technology

TIM MARTIN/THE DAY The PAST Museum in Montville shows how technology has progressed through history.
TIM MARTIN/THE DAY The PAST Museum in Montville shows how technology has progressed through history.

Behind an unmarked door in the back of PAST Antiques, the market located next to the Dinosaur Place on Route 85 in Montville, there are saws and screwdrivers buzzing, there are piles of tools, there are men walking by with two-by-fours.

And there is Roger Phillips, clad in his usual aviator eyeglasses and cowboy hat, who couldn't stop himself last week from explaining the story behind the old machines that fill the building.

Phillips and his wife, Linda, have been collecting antiques for decades. They've rescued items from fields and salvage yards, negotiated with museums and historical societies.

On Father's Day, June 15, the couple will open phase one of the PAST Museum to the public. The first phase of PAST, which stands for Preserving Antiques and Saving Technology, is set up like a little village-the walls are lined with shallow storefronts for a barber shop, a printing press, a pharmacy, a shoe repair store.

The storefronts will be staffed with what Phillips calls interpreters, who will demonstrate the uses of the featured technology and explain the relevant history.

As he moved through the unfinished museum last week, Phillips proved to be a skilled interpreter himself. He couldn't stop himself from delivering little historical anecdotes, like the origin of the expression 'Mind your Ps and Qs," or describing how he came to own the featured items - this sink is from an old hospital slated for demolition, this printing press was donated by the Museum of Printing in North Andover.

"Part of the mission of the museum is to show the rapid change of our technology," said Phillips, who marvelled over the change he's seen in his own lifetime. And people have forgotten the industrial heritage of Connecticut and New England, he said, pointing out the machines that were made locally.

Phase one of the museum includes an odd collection of items-a child's barber chair with a metal horse head, an ancient-looking washing machine that advertises that it "saves women's lives," what Phillips believes is the only steam-operated printing press east of the Mississippi. It also includes an outhouse, which, Phillips emphasized, only has one hole.

"If you were a wealthy family, you'd have a two-hole outhouse," he said.

But he has an enormous stockpile of antiques that didn't make it into phase one. Construction has already started on phase two, a building that will be specifically designed to accommodate Phillips' prize steam engine, a machine with a 14-foot flywheel that used to operate a rubber factory in New York. And phase three will focus on transportation-related items.

The town and state have been supportive of the museum, said Phillips, who will receive a low-interest loan from the state for the second building if he creates at least five jobs.

But the cost of admission will barely cover the lighting and taxes, he said, but he isn't opening it to save money. Instead, "it's a passion."

It's a passion for his wife, too, who spent time last week tinkering with an old camera and demonstrating her favorite machines. She showed off the perforator in a the printing press shop, a machine over four feet tall designed to do only one thing-perforate paper.

"Isn't this more fun than the new stuff?" asked Roger Phillips, grinning.


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