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Berlin museum begins season with new exhibit

The Calvin B. Taylor House Museum on Main Street in Berlin is kicking off the season with a new exhibit, which opened May 1.

Taylor House exhibit

A new exhibit at the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum in Berlin, a historic sitting room in the front room, is pictured.
Submitted photo

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

The Calvin B. Taylor House Museum is kicking off the season with a new exhibit.

The museum, located on Main Street in Berlin, opened May 1. For the first time in more than two decades, the small front room historically depicted as an office from the 1800s is now shown how it was likely truly used — as a family sitting room.

“People are interested in the day-to-day living of the period,” said Melissa Reid, president of the museum. “We knew we wanted to be more historically accurate and created a snapshot that shows how people lived at that time.”

The museum, built in 1832 as a home for Isaac Covington and his family, was later inhabited by Robert J. Henry, who was instrumental in bringing the railroad to berlin, and in the early 20th century served as the home of Calvin B. Taylor, an educator, lawyer and founder of the Calvin B. Taylor Banking Company. The federal style house was saved from demolition in 1981 and is now a museum of local history. The majority of it is filled with period pieces while one wing features displays of local memorabilia.

Reid said museum volunteers tried to refresh exhibits and displays periodically to maintain local interest in the facility. As part of that process, architectural plans and a historic inventory of the house was reviewed. Museum officials realized the space they’d been using as Covington’s home office had no entrance from the hallway but rather double doors opening into the dining room.

“Houses at that time had formal visiting spaces and informal family spaces,” Reid said. “This little room was probably a family sitting room.”

As such, it also would have served as a staging area for formal meals, as it was next to the dining room and the kitchen in those days was in a separate building behind the house. With that in mind, the office display has been dismantled and the room has been reinterpreted as a sitting room would have been but with the addition of some faux dessert trays. The desserts, created by Joyce White of the Hammond Harwood House, were previously used for the museum’s holiday events and feature sweets that would have been served in the 1800s.

“We decided it was time to be more authentic with the representation of the space,” Reid said.

The changes were made over the winter and were unveiled when the museum opened May 1. Reid is hopeful the new display will encourage locals to come back and check out the museum again and also inspire new visitors to stop by.

“Telling the stories of Berlin is our main goal,” she said. “We want people to come back more than once.”

The museum is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. While the season has run from May to October in years past, Reid is hopeful that eventually the museum will be able to afford to stay open from March until Dec. 31 to provide more opportunities for the public to visit. 

“Our volunteers have spent numerous hours collecting historical information from Berlin and the surrounding areas to make all the exhibits and the museum experience authentic and as factual based as can be,” said Jack Orris, a museum board member. “Everyone in our area should make the museum an annual visit to see what’s new and maybe even learn a new Berlin tidbit.”

Board member Cate Nellans agreed. She enjoys seeing the pieces of the past that depict the history of Berlin. 

“Everyone, whether a longtime local, or visitor to the town for a day, should visit,” Nellans said. “Beyond it being a great example of the architecture of the mid-1800s, our curators have taken great pains to amass a collection of stories, photos and memorabilia that speaks to the resilience of our community over the last century and then some.”

This story appears in the May 9, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.