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On May 21, 1927, New Hampshire's Secretary of State, Hobart Pillsbury, signed the articles of agreement that established the Historical Society of Cheshire County.
The idea for a county historical society was conceived by local resident Frank B. Kingsbury. Inspiration for Kingsbury's idea came from his attendance of the Fitchburg Historical Society meetings in Massachusetts, and his concern for the loss of local heritage due to rapid technological advances occurring throughout the county. Kingsbury contacted local historian Clifford Wilbur about the possibility of starting a historical society for the area. Wilbur agreed with the idea. The two men contacted Keene genealogist Ella Abbott for support and assistance. During the winter of 1926-27 the trio developed a plan to establish a county historical society. Their plan, backed by community support, became a reality when Pillsbury signed the articles of agreement.
The Historical Society of Cheshire County (HSCC) was unique from the beginning because it was, and remains, the only county historical society in New Hampshire. The first public meeting was held in July 1927. At the meeting bylaws were adopted and officers were elected. Samuel Wadsworth, a Keene jeweler, surveyor, and local historian, was selected as the first president. Interest in the Society was enormous as 250 charter members were enrolled. The Keene Public Library made available meeting and museum space. Historical lectures were presented at regular meetings as they are today. Most importantly, the newly established society laid a strong foundation for the encouragement of donations and important artifacts.
Interest in the HSCC declined during the second world war. By the mid 1950s there emerged a renewed interest in the Society. In 1968, the Wyman Tavern was saved by the Foundation for the Preservation of Historic Keene, and has been operated ever since by HSCC as a period house museum. In 1974, the Society opened a local history museum at the Colony House on West Street in Keene. Building on their already extensive collection of local glass and pottery, the Society transferred its remaining collection from the public library to its new home at the Colony House Museum. Throughout this renewed period of growth and interest, lecture meetings, bus tours, and other activities were offered on a regular basis, including a periodical known as the "Chap-book."
In December of 1982, the Society moved its archival collection to Rhodes Hall (the former Ball Residence) at Keene State College. This move established an Archive Center at the former library and allowed greater access to the collection for researchers. At this time the trustees realized that a more secure financial base was needed to support the activities of the Society. A successful endowment drive allowed the Society to hire its first full-time administrator in 1983.
Over the next decade the collections, educational programs, membership, and staff rapidly grew. Based on this new growth and interest in the Society, the trustees decided to establish a permanent home for itself and purchased Rhodes Hall in 1993. The Society completed a major renovation and addition to the 125-year-old Ball Residence by adding climate-controlled archival storage space and making the facility wheelchair-accessible in 1995.
Today, the Historical Society of Cheshire County has evolved to more than 900 members, four employees, 60 volunteers, and a 13,000 square foot facility that includes a research and genealogy library with more than 300,000 local history items in the collection. The dream that Frank Kingsbury, Clifford Wilbur, and Ella Abbott had of an organization to preserve the county's history has been realized, and the Society itself has now been a part of the region's rich history for 80 years.