The Essex Historical Society, located in the charming former Central Schoolhouse off Southern Avenue, is a special place. Filled with ship models, historical documents, vintage photos and slides, antique tools, and also a handful of people who not only make sense of and organize it all, but love it. Alice Schwechheimer is the newest addition to this important and wonderful group.
Alice is a Sophomore at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont. As part of the school’s educational approach, students complete field work for seven weeks each year. Alice, who finds herself very interested in history, chose to do her field work at the Essex Historical Society. As the Executive Director, Jim Witham explained, “It’s like we won the lottery.”
Alice has set to work scanning and coding thousands of historical photos. Once those are complete, she will move on to a collection donated to the society by legendary Essex shipbuilder Dana Story.
Upon his death in 2005, Story donated his entire collection of shipbuilding documentation to the historical society; a four-tier file cabinet filled with Story’s meticulous documentation of each ship built in his lifetime, sorted by boat. Alice shared how much she is looking forward to diving into Story’s world, so much so that, as Jim Witham noted, she gives the file cabinet a little pat each time she passes it during her day.
Alice shared her thoughts on history and the role of museums, “Museums not only save bits of the past but decide how to present it to the people we educate. The ways society comes to understand history influences us as much as the past itself.”
There is a spirit of curiosity and wonder that seems to be the common denominator amongst the group that gathers several days a week to organize, understand, and protect all that resides within the historical society; Alice fits right in. Furthermore, she brings an air of hope for the future of not only historical preservation, but history itself.