The program 'Adopt an Artifact,' which was started this year, was the brainchild of student historian Erika Panzarino, a 2012 Somers High School graduate and current sophomore at Adelphi University. Panzarino has been volunteering at the Somers Historical Society for more than five years, working at the homestead in various capacities.
"Adopt an Artifact" was established by her and the six other student historians specifically for items in the town of Somers collections that were bequest to the town by Caroline Wright Reis.
"They are an exceptionally diverse, bright and inquisitive group ranging in age from 6th grade to one college graduate," Grace Zimmermann of the Somers Historical Society said about her eight volunteers. "The common thread of all is a natural curiosity and love of some facet of history."
Zimmermann said the 'Adopt an Artifact' program is an "organic, evolving" program that will continue into perpetuity. The student historians have been identifying what items need to be placed on the adoption list. Then, each item is restored with the help of donations. Once restoration is completed, each item is displayed with the names of its benefactors.
Throughout the process, students have been learning about different conservation techniques and professions depending upon the item, Zimmermann said.
Since the items were given to the town in the late 1960's, Somers Historical Society volunteers have facilitated, or funded, the restoration, preservation and housing of everything from letters, photographs and documents to textiles, paintings, carriages, farm equipment and automobiles.
Zimmermann said the town has a legal obligation to preserve the items, as well as the buildings in which these items are housed.
"All of these items and buildings give us a glimpse into Somers's past through the artifacts of the Wright, Reis and Marshall families," she said.
The Wright Reis Homestead originally occupied by the William Marshall family and subsequently several generations of the Wright family, the last of which, Caroline Wright Reis lived there until the late 1960's. William Marshall was one of the first vestryman of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Somers at the time of its incorporation (1835). He was also Somers Town Supervisor from 1837 until 1841.
Zimmermann said the Wright-Reis Homestead is a "lovely old country farmhouse with a wrap-around porch."
"While it is sorely in need of interior painting, plaster work and insulation, you will see original trim work and mouldings around the windows and doors, original doors and , in one room, original paint," she said.
There are also original sinks, an ice box, early water heater and butter churn in the kitchen, alongside the modern convenience of baseboard heating and overhead electric lights.
Some of the items the students have found include a dress they are almost certain was made by Caroline Weis; an engraving entitled "First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation" by William Hay Ritchie; as well as a bridle with bronze inlaid crown piece and tooled leather blinders.
Available items for adoption are:
- Archival framing of photograph of Samuel Wright, Caroline's Father, circa 1880
- Restoration of leather/fabric side saddle and/or halters owned by Wright family, circa 1890
- Conservation of grey silk and taffeta dress, circa 1890
- Archival framing of photograph of William H. Wright, Caroline's guardian, Princeton Class of 1860 Class Reunion Photo
- Purchase of period light fixtures for Summer Kitchen
Zimmermann said she hopes to complete the list of adoptions by the end of October 31.
"It is a rolling program, however, so we will replace those items that are spoken for, with others," she said. "And certainly, should someone wish to adopt something not on our list, that would be perfectly fine."
Zimmermann said her student historians are community oriented. Our student historians are very community-minded. One girl, who is a member of Girl Scout Troop# 2968, is working with her troop to initiate and plan "Caroline Wright Reis Day" on Sep.t 22 at the Wright Reis Homestead for the Girl Scout Community as part of their Bronze Award.
"They had planned on this event before the creation of our 'Adopt an Artifact' program but now, at this event, they will be focused on raising money to donate to the adopt an artifact program," Zimmermann said.
Another student historians is forming a History Club at Somers High School, the first time any such club has ever existed in the school. She and two other high school students are hoping to gather enough support to make that club a reality.
Zimmermann said she plan to expand the 'Adopt an Artifact' program to include select items from the Somers Historical Society Collections.
The student volunteers are Gabriel Osorio (2013 graduate University of New Haven); Erika Panzarino (Sophomore, Adelphi); Jasmine Alfonso (Senior, SUNY Albany); Madeline Zimmermann (JR. Virginia Tech), high school students Molly Neylan, Lucia Kirichenko and Katie Nothe; and Athena Travers (6th grade).
Check out the blog the students have created where they chronicled their work, by clicking here.