HALLOWELL — Since the Vaughan Homestead Foundation formed in 2003, it has focused on maintaining the historic home, archiving its contents and continuing the traditions of annual visits by Hall-Dale students and public access to Vaughan Woods.

Now the foundation’s leaders are turning their attention outward. They hope to create more connections with the community and integrate Vaughan Homestead’s history into educational and arts programs for the public.

“The ultimate goal is to make this property relevant, useful, accessible and valuable — not only to Hallowell, but the state of Maine and New England and even nationally, because of the significance of the Vaughan family,” said Gerry Mahoney, one of the foundation’s board members.

Vaughan Homestead hosted historical re-enactors and about 300 visitors on Old Hallowell Day last month, and public talks about the Vaughan Woods and New England gardens are scheduled for the next two weekends.

Built in 1794, the estate on Litchfield Road was home to seven generations of Vaughans, starting with Benjamin Vaughan, who helped draft the treaty that ended the American Revolution.

Vaughan Homestead is on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of a property stretching over more than 200 acres.

The house remained a private home until the 2002 death of George Gibson, whose wife, Diana Gibson, was a direct descendent of Benjamin Vaughan and had died the previous year.

“It took about 10 years to get a grip on what was needed and what was in the house and how to utilize the land,” said Ellen Gibson, George and Diana Gibson’s daughter and the foundation’s executive director.

The homestead has offered private tours and hosted occasional programs, such as woodworking classes taught by Gibson, who is a woodworker by trade and serves as live-in caretaker of the home.

Following the creation of a strategic plan, the foundation hired Tracy Weber as a full-time program director in the spring to create public programs and develop connections with other community organizations.

Weber said a new website and a Facebook page should launch by the end the month, featuring information about the Vaughan Homestead and a survey for people to give input on the type of programming that interests them.

Weber said many historic homes are moving away from the model of providing public tours for a fee. Instead, they are trying to foster greater engagement by creating or hosting activities for people with particular interests, such as gardening, books or the arts.

Gibson said she wants to avoid focusing entirely on the past, in favor of starting with the ideas and interests of two centuries of Vaughans and apply them to the present day.

Benjamin Vaughan, for example, experimented with adapting crops and livestock to central Maine, which could be tied to the local-food movement. Two people already have plots in a community garden on the property, and Gibson said she wants to expand the orchards.

Even after years of work, archivists have many more objects and papers to examine and document. On Friday morning, two volunteers were labeling cranes and crutches that sat in a pile on a dining table.

Mahoney said letters and diaries from the home already have provided a wealth of information about life in Hallowell and elsewhere — such as letters to Gibson’s grandmother describing life in London during the Blitz — and more is waiting.

“The exciting part of this whole thing in terms of the historical significance is there is just an unbelievable trove of history there,” Mahoney said. “It’s essentially undiscovered at this point — trunks full of letters, all kinds of other materials, artifacts.”

 

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