Historical society turns focus to creating museum

Naugatuck Historical Society President Christopher Ritton-Stokes, left, talks with historical society member and capital campaign Chairman Wendy Murphy Dec. 30 at the Tuttle house in Naugatuck. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — After a couple of unexpected setbacks over recent years, the Naugatuck Historical Society is settling in at the Tuttle house and focused on turning its new home into the Naugatuck History Museum at the Tuttle House.

“Right now we are raising money for the exhibits and prepping to create the exhibits. That is where the primary work is going,” said Wendy Murphy, a historical society member and chairman of a capital campaign to raise funds to design and build exhibits for the museum.

The road to calling the Tuttle house home for the society, let alone designing the museum, has been a rocky one.

The borough owns the house, which used to be home to the Naugatuck Board of Education office before it moved to Naugatuck High School in 2015. Work to renovate the house, including replacing the roof, started in 2017. In June 2017, a cupola on the roof caught fire from a spark from a butane torch. The fire damage to the building was limited, but the water damage was extensive.

Insurance covered the cost of fixing the damage, and the money allowed the historical society to move forward with repairs and upgrades faster than originally planned.

“It was a blessing and a curse,” said historical society President Christopher Ritton-Stokes about the fire.

Work to fix the house after the fire wrapped up early last June, a couple of weeks before the temporary museum the society operated out of a storefront on Church Street flooded after several days of heavy rain. The flooding necessitated a quick move from the temporary museum to the Tuttle house.

Ritton-Stokes said the work on the first floor of the house, including replacing the floor, fixing the ceilings and painting the walls, is complete.

With the fire and flood in the past, the task of designing and establishing the museum and exhibits is now at the forefront for the society.

Ritton-Stokes said the design for the museum is in flux.

“When we first started talking about the exhibit, we were going to recreate the library (that was in the house) and it was going to look exactly as Mr. Tuttle had made it,” Ritton-Stokes said.

However, the cost to recreate the library is too much right now, he said, though it remains a hope for the future.

In the meantime, Ritton-Stokes said the plan is to turn the former library into a “Victorian design lab” exhibit that portrays the planning process to build the house to give people insight to how it was built.

The historical society is running a capital campaign to raise money to create the museum. The society set a goal of $150,000 for the campaign and has raised about $100,000 so far, Murphy said.

The money will be used for the design of the museum, to create and install display cases for the various artifacts, and to create displays on the history of Naugatuck throughout the museum.

The historical society hired designers Robert Segal and Rachel Carley to assist with designing the museum. Murphy said Segal will be designing the cases that will showcase the exhibits. Carley will be designing the exhibits themselves, the signage for the exhibits and the story they will tell, she said.

The historical society will pay for the design work through a mix of grant money and its capital fund.

The campaign received a boost in November when representatives from the Ion Bank Foundation surprised society members with a $25,000 donation at a fundraiser where society members served as wait staff at Tuck’s Tavern in Naugatuck. The money will sponsor a parlor room in the Tuttle house that will be used for exhibits and space for community events.

“It was just supposed to be a little fundraiser where we got tips for serving people. But it was like this huge party atmosphere now that we had that check,” Ritton-Stokes said.

People can donate to the capital campaign online at www.naugatuckhistory.org, send a check made out to Naugatuck Historical Society to P.O. Box 317, Naugatuck, CT 06770, or make a donation in person when the historical society is open.

The society’s next fundraiser, Savor CT 2020, is Jan. 25 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Naugatuck Event Center, 6 Rubber Ave. The event features tastings of food, beer, wine and spirits from over 50 vendors in Connecticut. For information or tickets, visit tickets.beerfests.com/event/savorct.

There is no projection for when the museum will be complete and open to the public.

While the Naugatuck History Museum at the Tuttle House is not open yet and the second floor of the house is still closed to the public, visitors are welcome to visit the house and see what’s been done on the first floor. The historical society is open from 12 to 4 p.m. the first Saturday of each month.