A change in direction

Under the new lamppost at the Cushing House Museum are, from left, board member Peg McClure, executive director Susan Edwards and office manager Emily Shafer. The lamppost is not the only new thing: The organization that runs the museum has changed its name to the Museum of Old Newbury in a rebranding move.BRYAN EATON/Staff photo

NEWBURYPORT — Can a venerable historical institution become modern?

The Historical Society of Old Newbury is altering its title and, ostensibly, its game plan to become the Museum of Old Newbury.

While the High Street facility will have the same director and staff, new programs will be developed with an emphasis on a multi-faceted agenda of offerings.

“We are rebranding,” said executive director Susan C.S. Edwards, who on April 1 will observe her first anniversary in that position. “The new name is less austere, more friendly.

“We will still be a center of research, but the new name suggests we have more to offer in terms of exhibits and programs,” she added. “We want people to participate as well as to visit.”

Originally founded as the “Antiquarian and Historical Society of Old Newbury,” the Museum of Old Newbury has greatly expanded since its founding in 1877.

In its early days, the organization made use of space at the Newburyport Public Library to collect and study local history. Its holdings were increased in 1912 when the Newburyport Marine Society gave its collection of nautical objects, ship portraits, and global souvenirs and curiosities to the museum.  

In 1955, the museum settled into its third and current home, a brick Federal style mansion at the corner of High and Fruit streets. Today, there are about 700 members.

The Cushing House, home of Newburyport’s first mayor, Caleb Cushing, was given to the museum by the heirs of Margaret Cushing, Caleb’s niece and longtime museum benefactor. Upon her death at age 100, Margaret had lived in the house her entire life and had made few updates or changes. 

Today, the mission statement of the organization says in part that “The Museum of Old Newbury preserves and interprets the history of ‘Old Newbury,’ which includes Newbury, Newburyport and West Newbury, from settlement to the present.

“The museum carries out its mission in part through the ownership and operation of the Cushing House Museum, the Perkins Engraving Plant, and other historic structures on the Cushing House grounds. The museum furthers its purpose through lectures, exhibitions, educational programs, school tours, publications, a research library and cooperation with area groups interested in local history.”

The home is well preserved and still includes some original carpet, wallpaper and fixtures.

However, its front entrance on High Street sustained damage from falling ice this winter, which is set to be repaired shortly.

Tonight, as part of its new mission, the museum will offer a reading from author Rosana Wan, who will sign her book, “The Culinary Lives of John and Abigail Adams.” The program starts with a reception at 6:30 p.m., and a presentation by the author at 7.

Of its updated direction, Harris said, “The leadership here has given thought to rebranding, and we feel we are telling people we have more to offer. Top historical institutions from all over the country are doing this.

“We will be hosting many programs this spring and summer, as well as tours of the museum.”

The organization’s updated website can be found at www.newburyporthistory.org

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