Stonington museum society wants to preserve 'feeling of discovery' as it renovates

Stonington - The Stonington Historical Society is considering making improvements to the 172-year-old Old Lighthouse Museum, such as improving handicapped access and installing a climate control system to protect the artifacts on display.

It would be the first renovations to the small museum at Stonington Point since the society acquired it in 1925.

But first, the society has scheduled a meeting for Jan. 3 to get input from the public about what should happen with the building.

Mary Beth Baker, executive director of the historical society, said Wednesday that it has been discussing plans for the museum for the past four years. With grants and support from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the Connecticut Humanities Council, and donors, the historical society has been able to conduct an assessment of the museum's needs.

"We've got to the point where before we go any further, we want to hear what ideas the public has," she said.

Baker said there are structural problems with some of the building's posts and beams, which need to be replaced. It makes sense to address the other needs - handicapped access, climate control - while that work is being done, she said.

The building also needs a bathroom for visitors.

There are no plans to make any significant changes to the size or appearance of the stone building, which attracts up to 10,000 visitors a year, she said.

"We want to keep it the way it is. We don't want to change the feeling of discovery that people have when they find it," Baker said.

Baker said the group will decide how to proceed after the historical society's Board of Directors hears from the public. She said a capital campaign will be necessary to cover the cost of the work.

"We want to make sure the building is here for another 100 years, and we're doing everything we can to preserve it," she said.

Baker said the historical society is also preparing new programs about the lighthouse's history and its keepers, as well as a new book.

At the Jan. 3 forum, consultant Guy Hermann of Museum Insights will present an illustrated overview of the museum's needs. Hermann has been working with the historical society to evaluate the museum's needs and options.

Forum on the future of the Old Lighthouse Museum

When: 6 p.m. on Jan. 3
Where: La Grua Center, 32 Water St., Stonington borough


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