There probably aren’t many kids who look forward to donning a tri-cornered hat or floppy bonnet and heading off to school these days—unless they happen to be Early Guilford Days. Just ask Teresa Buchanan.
“They all love it,” says Teresa. “Many times, I’ve asked the kids, ‘What would it be like for you to live with no electricity and no bathroom in the house?’ And almost always, instead of what you’d expect, they say, ‘We would love to live like that!’ They get very excited about it.”
For the past 12 years, Teresa has been helping organize historic Hyland House Museum’s part in Early Guilford Days, a collaborative of the non-profit Dorothy Whitfield Society (DWS, which owns and operates Hyland House), non-profit Guilford Keeping Society (GKS, which owns and operates Thomas Griswold House Museum), Guilford Public Schools, and Guilford elementary PTOs, with funding from Guilford Preservation Alliance. Since 1993, the annual hands-on Colonial history field trip has become an rite of passage for Guilford public school 4th graders.
In addition to her professional training and experience as an architect, Teresa is a well-known piano teacher in town and plenty of her students have shared their excitement about their turn to participate in Early Guilford Days.
“One student just told me she has her costume already. She’s been working on it for weeks, she’s so excited about it,” says Teresa. “And I have talked to many college students and older who say it was their most memorable event of their schooling.”
Teresa is delighted to note each of her own children were able to experience Early Guilford Days as students of Guilford Public Schools.
“The first year I was part of this, my oldest was going through 4th grade,” says Teresa. “So all three of them have come through. It’s a great thing for all the 4th-grade kids in town.”
Early Guilford Days is spread over four days, with one day set aside for each of the town’s four elementary schools. Kids walk to workshops between the Hyland House and Griswold House, both located on Boston Street, to experience history in person. Each year, they excitedly arrive in their own versions of Colonial costumes to try their hand at centuries-old tasks such as making cornhusk dolls and counted cross-stitch, playing Colonial games, visiting the blacksmith or tinsmith, getting the hang of hearth cooking, or learning practical uses for herbs (such as those still grown on the grounds of Hyland House).
This year’s Early Guilford Days take place May 19, May 20, May 23, and May 24 at the 1713 Hyland House Museum and 1774 Thomas Griswold House Museum. Teresa will be there all four days to oversee the students, volunteers, and general learning going on at Hyland House.
Students split their day visiting Hyland House and the Thomas Griswold House (GKS workshops are coordinated by past Courier Person of the Week Pat Lovelace).
“The Keeping Society and Dorothy Whitfield Historic Society have always done this as a joint collaboration,” says Teresa, “It’s great for the kids to be able to spend half the day at the Griswold House and half a day here. It’s a good experience for them.”
For her part, Teresa starts working in late January to coordinate enough volunteers to run five to six daily workshops at Hyland House for four days each spring. When Early Guilford Days arrive, Teresa puts on a Colonial costume that not only fits in with the theme, but allows her to pinch-hit should a workshop need a last-minute leader.
“I’ve run almost all of the workshops at one point in time or another,” says Teresa, who started out assisting the Hyland House Early Guilford Days event coordinator 12 years ago, then took over the next year, after the coordinator moved away.
Teresa moved to Guilford from England 13 years ago and signed on with the Hyland House board the same year.
“When I moved here from London, my neighbor was involved in Hyland House,” says Teresa. “She knew I was involved in architecture over in London, and she said, ‘Come and help us, we’re trying to preserve this gem in Guilford.’”
An Iowa native, Teresa got her start as an architect working with a St. Louis, Missouri architectural firm, then was sent to England to work in the firm’s London office. When it was time to return to this country, Guilford’s charm helped draw her family here, says Teresa.
“My husband is British, and we wanted to be in an old house, and Guilford feels very English in many ways, with its Town Green and shops and houses around the Green,” says Teresa.
About the same time she joined DWS and the Hyland House board, Teresa joined Guilford’s Historic District Commission, serving for two terms (10 years).
“It’s a great organization and commission that has kept Guilford looking as beautiful as it is,” she says.
Teresa has the same praise for the tireless DWS members, volunteers, and board members who work to keep the Hyland House Museum up and running. The seasonal Hyland House Museum will re-open Wednesday, June 1 and Teresa notes Connecticut Open House Day is Saturday, June 11 (the one-day statewide event, organized by the Connecticut Office of Tourism, is designed to showcase Connecticut’s diverse world of history, art, and tourism).
At Hyland House, several exciting events are being planned for the 2016 season, which marks the DWS 100th anniversary of saving the familiar red clapboard, two-story saltbox house in the heart of historic downtown Guilford.
On June 4, the Hyland House will host a “Toast to the Dorothies” cocktail party from 5 to 7 p.m. (free for members; for more information, visit www.hylandhouse.org). State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-98) will present members of DWS with a state Certificate of Recognition on Saturday, June 4.
“The Dorothies were fantastic,” says Teresa.
The group of local women originally devoted themselves to the state’s first museum, the Henry Whitfield State Museum (Old Stone House) at the turn of the 20th century. That changed in 1916, when they joined forces to preserve Hyland House, which was in danger of being razed. The “Madcap Dorothies,” as they came to be known, quickly raised funds to buy the house and by 1918 opened it as an historic musuem.
“They kind of came to its rescue,” says Teresa. “When I joined the Hyland House board, the president was Colin MacKenzie and his grandmother was one of the original Dorothies—and she was also the first postmistress in the United States.”
Teresa says stories of Guilford’s history are important to share with its youngest residents and that’s why she especially enjoys helping to coordinate Early Guilford Days each year.
“They become familiar with this town’s history and that helps build an appreciation for what we have right here in Guilford,” says Teresa. “The 4th grade teachers put a lot of effort into teaching them about Colonial Guilford and Colonial America, starting earlier in the school year. I’m glad they keep it going as a big event for the schools every spring.”
Parents are always welcome to volunteer during Early Guilford Days. Another way families can get involved is by donating to the town’s historic museums. In the case of Hyland House, maintenance expenses are always a priority, says Teresa.
“It would be great if people wanted to support it,” says Teresa. “The real focus for the board for the Hyland House is the preservation of the integrity of the house. It’s got a fantastic collection, and the historic detailing and architectural significance of the house takes a lot of preservation and a lot of work to keep it going. So we’re always working to make sure we’re keeping it sound and solid.”