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ABOUT

MISSION

The New Canaan Museum & Historical Society is a cultural institution that focuses on preservation, modernism, education and community. Through exhibits, programs, library services and events, we celebrate history and explore its role in shaping the future.

Founded in 1889, the New Canaan Historical Society had as its mission “to bring together and arrange the historical events of the town of New Canaan, the genealogies of the families who have lived in the town, to form a library and to collect relics and curiosities, to form a museum.”

Although our mission has expanded and our name has changed, to this day we continue to promote historic preservation, aid researchers, maintain museums and historical sites, mount exhibitions, hold educational events and tours, and build an awareness and appreciation of our Town’s rich past.

Our founders included the descendants of some of New Canaan’s first families — among them Mr. & Mrs. Frederick Lockwood, Charles R. Abbott, Alexander Law, S.Y. St. John, James and Edwin Hoyt, Lucius Monroe Sr., Francis E. Weed, Mr. & Mrs. Henry B. Rogers, and Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Silliman. Today the Society welcomes members and visitors from around the country and abroad.

At our offices in the 1825 Town House (the original Town Hall), the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society maintains a research library of more than 3,500 volumes, along with scores of manuscripts, deeds, newspapers, photographs and other documents dating to the Colonial era.

The New Canaan Museum & Historical Society owns or operates eight museums and buildings, including the 1764 Hanford-Silliman House, the 1960 Gores Pavilion, and the Rogers Studio, which, with Philip Johnson’s Glass House, is one of only two National Historic Landmarks in New Canaan.

We are an open, inclusive, family organization. Open year-round, we offer a full schedule of events, gatherings, lectures, tours and exhibitions.

Our goal is to educate and enlighten the public in an atmosphere that is welcoming, friendly and fun.

OUR TOWN'S HISTORY

“Canaan” means “promised land.”

1715

The area that is now New Canaan was originally settled in 1715.

1731

The Connecticut legislature approved a new Congregational Parish and named it Canaan Parish.

1801

New Canaan was finally incorporated 70 years later in May 1801.

The area that is now New Canaan was originally settled around 1715 as part of the towns of Norwalk and Stamford. In 1731, the Connecticut legislature approved a new Congregational Parish and named it Canaan Parish. New Canaan was finally incorporated 70 years later in May 1801. “Canaan” means “promised land.”

Agriculture and milling were the town’s primary industries. Shoe manufacturing, first introduced in 1818, rapidly expanded to become the town’s dominant industry. Its growth shaped the downtown area. The height of the shoemaking boom was in 1850, but failure to install new automatic sewing machines right before the Civil War did not allow the shoemakers to keep up with the wartime demand. The last shoemaker closed in 1913.

To attract new businesses and new employment opportunities, local businessmen financed the construction of a railroad spur from Stamford in 1866. The New Canaan Railroad eventually became part of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in 1890. The increased accessibility made the town desirable as a vacation retreat. Large summer estates were constructed. Many of the summer people decided to become permanent residents and encouraged their friends and families to relocate.

By the end of World War II, the town had developed a vital downtown area with a bustling suburban community. Then in the late 1940s and early 50s, New Canaan attracted a group of modern architects who had studied at Harvard University’s School of Architecture under Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School of Design. These young architects, Eliot Noyes, John Johansen, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson, and Marcel Breuer, became known as “The Harvard Five.” Throughout New Canaan, many of these ground-breaking Mid-Century Modern Houses designed by members of The Harvard Five and others still stand, including three in the National Register of Historic Places: The Glass House, The Gores Pavilion, and The Hodgson House.

New Canaan today is a vibrant town of approximately 20,000. Its walkable business district is filled with shops and restaurants that are open year-round. The active Chamber of Commerce publishes a full calendar of events. Visitors will find the locals friendly and welcoming.

THE MUSEUM'S HISTORY

The New Canaan Historical Society was founded on August 31, 1889, making it the oldest (along with Westport) Historical Society in Fairfield County. Its purpose, as set forth in the original Articles of Incorporation, was “to bring together and arrange the historical events of the town, the genealogies of families who have lived in the town or who now live in the town, for preservation and for the easy examination of those interested. Specifically, to gather the political history and military records of the town, the history of the churches, the history of educational efforts public and private, to collect books, pamphlets and papers, to form a library; to collect specimens of minerals and natural history, and to collect relics and curiosities to form a museum; and by lectures and otherwise to promote proper social science and the intellectual and moral welfare of the members of the society and the people of the town.”

Since that time, the Society has expanded to a two-acre campus with five buildings, a full time staff, three exhibition spaces, more than 600 members and more than 5000 visitors a year. In 2018, its name changed to New Canaan Museum & Historical Society and its mission was updated to reflect its role as a museum.

Get Involved

The Museum relies on its volunteers to help in a variety of capacities. We especially need docents for school tours, researchers, and help with exhibitions. We have lots of different opportunities, and we will work with you to find something that suits your interests and skills.

For further information, please call
Nancy Geary at 203-966-1776 ext. 1,
or stop by the office.

Officers

President
Lawrence Caldwell

Treasurer
Tom Monahan

Vice President
Janet Lanaway

Secretary
Matthew H. Bloom

Board

Barb Achenbaum
Hugo Alves
Adam Benenson
Alec Casey
Ellen Cummings
Elizabeth DeMuth
Doug Dooley
Christen Farley
Diane Jenkins
Janice Luddy
Mark Markiewicz
Brock Saxe
Jackie Shapiro
Allison Zinczenko

Honorary

Jim Bach
Susan Bishop
Sonia Macdonald

STAFF

Nancy Geary /‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎Executive director
ngeary@nchistory.org

Nancy Geary joined the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society as its Executive Director in the spring of 2017.  A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, she has worked as a lawyer in both the public and private sectors, served on a number of not-for-profit boards, and acted as warden for a church in North Stamford.  She is the author of four novels, and has taught writing at writers’ workshops, schools, and arts centers.

Michael Murphy / Librarian & Archivist
mmurphy@nchistory.org

A Stamford native, Michael Murphy began work at the NCM&HS in 2013 as an intern. A lifelong student of history, Mike gradated with a degree in History from Manhattan College.  In 2017, he became the Librarian and Archivist, and is responsible for cataloguing and maintaining the Museum’s extensive collections.  His favorite collection is the vintage photographs that document the changing New Canaan landscape over the decades.  

Whitney-Williams

Whitney Williams / Events Manager
wwilliams@nchistory.org

Whitney Williams, a former Board Governor, is now the Museum’s Events Manager. She organizes and oversees all events. Additionally, Whitney plans the opening of new exhibits, coordinates promotion, and works with the Development Committee. Whitney is a life-long resident of New Canaan, and a graduate of New Canaan High School. She and her husband, Nick, have three grown children. She is lover of history New Canaan’s history in particular.

Charlotte Engel / Clothing Historian
charlotte@199llc.com

Charlotte Engel is a lifelong resident of New Canaan. In 2019 she received a history degree from both the University of St Andrews and The College of William & Mary as part of their Joint Degree Program. She worked at the NCM&HS as an intern throughout high school and college before joining the team as the Clothing Historian in 2021. In her spare time she likes creating TikToks that contain her research on the clothing collection which you can find at @cengel199.

SPONSORS

The New Canaan Museum & Historical Society is grateful for our
corporate sponsors that help us in our mission every day!

Diamond

Platinum

Gold

Hutchinson Tree Care Specialists

Manfredi Jewelers

RAND Insurance

Waveny LifeCare Network

Silver

Gerbert & Sons

HTG Investment Advisors

Kaster Moving