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Historical Society pushes membership, museum upgrade

By Rod Lee

If native son General Rufus Putnam (1738-1824) were alive today, he would appreciate the effort leadership of the Sutton Historical Society has put into the organization’s latest membership drive.

“We surpassed last year,” Christine Watkins, the Society’s secretary, said in late April. “We had a goal of at least one hundred new members.”

The push to bolster the ranks did not end in February; it will continue throughout 2018, Ms. Watkins noted.

The challenge the Society faces may bear little resemblance to the one then-Lt. Col. Putnam took on when he was charged with organizing batteries and fortifications in Boston and New York City during the early stages of the American Revolution. Or when he commanded a regiment under Gen. Horatio Gates at the Battle of Saratoga.

But it has been daunting enough.

With “the average age of active members” in the Society “over seventy” (many of them don’t even have an email address), it is evident that younger residents of Sutton and the area are needed to keep the organization strong. “Trying to stimulate membership” among this group, however, “is difficult,” Ms. Watkins said.

Social media is being utilized in an attempt to create wider interest in the community. Membership dues are affordable at just fifteen dollars a year for individuals and twenty-five dollars annually for families.

In return for membership, individuals and families receive the Society’s newsletter and invites to all events including monthly meetings, which usually bring to the forefront persons who have interesting things of a historical nature to share. About thirty persons turned out in March, for instance, Ms. Watkins said, for a presentation by Keith Downer on the Boston Massacre. Fifty or so showed up in April for a talk by Peter Michelson on “West Sutton and the Putnam link to the Mayflower.” The Society’s spring speaker series continued on May 1st with local author Arthur L. Martin’s discussion of his novel “Summer of 1840…on the shores of Singletary…” at the First Congregational Church in Sutton Center. Mr. Martin’s book is available for purchase at the Enchanted Passage store on Armsby Road in Sutton.

As the Society pointed out in announcing its membership drive earlier this year, it is responsible for the maintenance of several properties and artifacts; namely, the M.M. Sherman Blacksmith Shop, the Eight Lots Schoolhouse, the General Rufus Putnam Museum, the 1861 “Old Ben” cannon, the Benjamin Franklin milestone markers and the first Town Meeting marker.

Closed for some time, the General Rufus Putnam Museum will be reopened on May 28th “for a nice Memorial Day exhibit on veterans,” Ms. Watkins said.

General Rufus Putnam, an American soldier and pioneer settler.

A message posted near the door to the museum describes the building as “a work in progress” as the Society works “to organize, digitize the collection and clean and paint some of the interior.” The objective is to open the entire first floor of the property this summer.

The museum, which is located adjacent to the town’s municipal offices, dates to 1823. It was constructed by the Olive Branch of the Master Masons and utilized in various capacities in the ensuing decades; for meetings, as a school, as space for the public library. The Sutton Historical Society gained the right to use the building in 1984.

Now decidedly shopworn but still standing, the General Rufus Putnam Museum pays tribute to an American soldier, millwright, farmer and surveyor who after the Revolutionary War became interested in the settlement of the West. General Putnam helped found the city of Marietta, Ohio. He served as a territorial judge in Ohio, as a brigadier general and then as surveyor general of the United States. Interestingly, he was dismissed from that position by President Jefferson in 1803 for a less-than-satisfactory performance stemming from “a deficiency in mathematics.”

The Sutton Historical Society welcomes persons who would like to become “a steward of history” in the town. Membership dues or donations may be mailed to the Sutton Historical Society Inc., 4 Uxbridge Road, Sutton MA 01590.

Ms. Watkins said the public is invited to the Society’s annual cookout at the Baptist Church in Manchaug on June 15th.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.