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Updates to Hingham's Old Derby Academy on table for Town Meeting

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 28, 2013 04:55 PM

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After five years of planning and months of fundraising, Hingham Historical Society is looking to the voters to help complete a $2.9 million renovation of one of Hingham’s oldest buildings.

The proposed project would turn Old Derby Academy, an iconic yellow building high on the hill off Main Street, from a visitor center into a more traditional museum, and would upgrade the building along with it.

“We spent five years planning this effort,” said Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director for the Historical Society. “Our goal is first to preserve Old Derby in its original format, restoring some of it … and at the same time make the building as user friendly as possible.”

Updates to the structure include building a new staircase to replace the stairs buried in the 1980s, as well as building handicap access, creating visible storage space inside the museum, and installing climate control for both the collection’s and visitors’ sake.

The organization has raised $650,000 from private donors for the project, and is in the process of seeking other grants.

Yet to help round out the project funding, the group is hoping Town Meeting will approve $1.095 million in public money from Community Preservation Act funds.

“It’s very easy for organization like this to get too ambitious in terms of space…so we’ve been very careful to plot out what we think our overhead will be and how much of the building we can care for,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan said she is both optimistic and anxious about the project going to town meeting floor, but said perceptions about the project have been positive thus far.

“What’s amazing is we’ve really grown in visibility, but we’re confronted every day by people who don’t know we’re here or what we do,” Buchanan said. “But when we tell them about the museum project they get excited. We haven’t had anyone look at us and say it’s a crazy idea.”

The building, which is in one of the town’s historic districts and on the State Registry of Historic Properties, was reportedly a schoolhouse for 148 years.

“Our goal is to continue the educational function of the building for another 100 years with the primary purpose being to preserve the building, because it’s an iconic piece in Hingham’s landscape,” Buchanan said.

In addition to artifacts from Hingham’s past, the new exhibit will include a historic desk from Martin Gay, son of famous Hingham pastor Ebenezer Gay.

Though Martin evacuated New England at the start of the revolution in 1776, he would later return to Boston along with his desk, which was recently donated to the Historical Society.

Under present conditions, there is no room to put the eight-foot tall piece of furniture, but under the new plans, the desk will become a centerpiece of the collection.

If funding is approved, the building would be upgraded by November 2014, with the first exhibit to open in the spring 2015.

For more information on the Academy, click here.

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