Historical society puts Flood of ‘55 online

Water from the Naugatuck River flows over the Whittemore Memorial Bridge in Naugatuck during the Flood of 1955. This photo, along with about 300 others of the Flood of 1955, are part of the Naugatuck Historical Society’s first online exhibit. -CONTRIBUTED BY NAUGATUCK HISTORICAL SOCIETY

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Historical Society has brought the Flood of 1955 into the digital age.

The historical society’s newest exhibit, Naugatuck and the Flood of 1955, is the society’s first digital exhibit.

The exhibit features over 300 photos — broken out into 10 albums — of the flood, the aftermath and newspaper articles.

Naugatuck Historical Society President Ken Hanks said the society decided to make the flood its first online exhibit because people frequently request an exhibit on the flood.

“It’s one of the more common requests from people. We receive lots of questions on Facebook and in person,” Hanks said. “It was a horrible event, but it changed the face of the town forever. Buildings were destroyed. It led to Route 8 coming in and cut the town in half.”

All of the photographs are from the society’s collection and were given to the organization over the years, Hanks said.

Hanks said the society received a grant from Connecticut Humanities to purchase a scanner, and he looked through the photographs, scanned them and documented where they were taken.

There are some photos that have no information as to where they were taken, and Hanks is hopeful the public can help the society out.

“People can add comments on the photos online that let us know where it is. We encourage that. We are using crowd sourcing to figure out where they came from,” Hanks said.

The exhibit can be viewed online at www.naugatuckhistory.org by clicking on “Our Collections” under “The Museum” option on the menu bar at the top of the homepage.

Connecticut Historical Society Chief Curator Ilene Frank said online exhibits are becoming an integral part of many museums.

“They are definitely to be included in the future. Along with the physical museum, we will have the ability to reach many more people,” Frank said.

Frank pointed out that the practice is being implemented by some large museums, such as the Smithsonian Institute, which oversees nearly 20 museums.

Firefighters watch as water from the Naugatuck River flows down Maple Street in Naugatuck during the Flood of 1955. This photo, along with about 300 others of the Flood of 1955, are part of the Naugatuck Historical Society’s first online exhibit. -CONTRIBUTED BY NAUGATUCK HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Frank said traditional physical exhibits need to be refreshed and changed often to give people a reason to come back to the museum. Online exhibits, while difficult to set up, can draw people back time and time again, she said.

“It’s a time investment upfront but then they are there and can exist forever,” Frank said. “Online exhibits can be out there and people can find it on their own time.”

Online exhibits are also gaining popularity amongst small museums and historical societies because it frees up physical space, Frank said.

“Physical space is always limited. There are only so many stories you can tell. Online is infinite, and you can have so much of your collection available,” Frank said.

In its current and temporary location at 171 Church St., the historical society has a very small portion of its collection on display.

Even when the historical society moves to its permanent home at the Tuttle House on Church Street, there will not be enough room for the entire collection, Hanks said.

Hanks said over time the historical society wants to digitize its entire collection and put it online for people. The online collection will include rare artifacts such as old glass plate negatives that have never been on display before, he said.

“This gives people a chance to see them even if they can’t make it to the museum,” Hanks said.