L&A Historical Society closing after preserving local history for over 100 years

Built circa 1826, the Macpherson House stands proudly along the banks of the Napanee River at 180 Elizabeth Street in Napanee. In 1962, the Lennox & Addington Historical Society began a visionary labour of love to restore this home to its original 19th-century splendour both inside and out. It now functions as additional gallery space for the Museum of Lennox & Addington and can be enjoyed in the summer for tours and special programs. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

After 116 years of preservation and historical education projects, The Lennox and Addington Historical Society (LAHS) is dissolving.

At their 2023 Annual General Meeting, the members voted “with regret” to close the Society, because it is “unable to fulfill its mandate.”

LAHS was established in 1907 under the umbrella of the Ontario Historical Society and, at the time, it was the only society representing the heritage and local history of the entire Lennox and Addington (L&A) County. 

According to a recent copy of ‘The County Chronicle,’ the historical society membership newsletter, multiple other local Heritage Societies and Associations have developed within L&A County since the 1960s “to involve the community in recognizing the Special Culture Heritage and historic sites.”

In The County Chronicle article, LAHS President Jane Scott noted that the Adolphustown-Fredericksburgh Heritage Society, Cloyne District Historical Society, Loyalist and Greater Napanee Townships’ Heritage Committees, “have successfully superseded our County-wide mandate.” 

Scott also wrote that “the Canadian Experience is alive and prospers in the many wonderful museums with the County to enjoy, including the Museum and Archives of Lennox & Addington and Macpherson House in Napanee, Cloyne and District Museum, the Neilson Store Museum on Amherst Island. In Bath, The Bath Museum, Fairfield House and the Gutzeit House, the Babcock Mill in Odessa (closed) but the surrounding parkland is special; United Empire Loyalist Park and Museum, The Old Hay Bay Church and St. Albans Church, Adolphustown.”

Scott pointed out, “The increased significance of the Global Digital age has influenced how education, information and preserving history is now sourced by Websites, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. Microfilms are yielding to the breathless rate of digitization. Indeed, each generation has always re-interpreted, rewritten history.” 

“The pandemic and recession have reshaped how all charities are being challenged with reduced income and donations, less ability to attract executive positions and members,” she reflected. “Globally, every organization is challenged by the sea-change. This new environment requires a strong vision and mandate review, safe and secure events, innovative fundraising, financial prospects and ability to incorporate future solutions.”

The LAHS Executive came to the conclusion that, regrettably, “It is time to close our multi-generational record.” They recommended that members vote in favour of the dissolution of the Lennox and Addington Historical Society at the Annual General Meeting on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

In Napanee, the Society leaves a legacy of restoration of the Allan Macpherson House, an 1826 pre-confederation house. In January 1964, the Honorable John Diefenbaker visited Napanee at the invitation of the riding’s MP, Douglas Alkenbrack, and toured the Macpherson House during his visit. Diefenbaker later wrote to then-President of the LAHS, Gerald Smith, enthusing: “My short visit at Napanee made it possible for me to see the excellent work that you and those associated with you have done in preserving the monuments of our history. What is being done will benefit future generations… I know that you and other members of the Historical Association will not be persuaded to discontinue your efforts.”

In 2014, the Allan Macpherson House & Park, as well as the Society’s historical documents, pictures, and artifacts were acquired by Lennox & Addington County. 

In her article, President Scott wrote that “the Society is indebted to the County at its foresight in recognizing the importance of Lennox & Addington County Heritage.”

JoAnne Himmelman, Curator at the Lennox and Addington County Museum, expressed her assurance that preservation of the region’s history will continue as the torch is passed: “The museum will continue to carry the legacy of the LAHS forward, caring for the County’s rich stories through the [large paper and material collection] left in the care of the staff of the Museum and Archives. We have taken on their charge of collecting and caring for the County’s past and future, and will do with them in mind.”

Himmelman celebrated the accomplishments of the LAHS through their decades of effort.

“Walking through our museum and Macpherson House doors every day is a reminder of what they have achieved and what continues to hold worth and value for our community. The LAHS leave a legacy of love and passion for County history and their hard work is reflected in many projects across the County whether is their influence on other museum sites, monuments or published works their legacy will remain. They have now trusted us to carry it on,” she said.

“The Historical Society hired me in October 2001 to work at Macpherson House to bring in new programs. I was fresh from university and just eager to start my life. They took a chance on me; 24 years old green with no experience. I will forever be grateful for the people at that table, and the volunteers at the House who taught me so many things. They gave me confidence, they educated me, they further instilled my passion for history and a love for this community. It has what has kept me here for 22 years!”

Himmelman noted that, a few years later, her work moved over to the County Museum, “but I was still very connected to the LAHS because the collection is what held the museum and Macpherson House together. I worked between the sites and curated programs and exhibits… for both sites.” 

In 2014, the Macpherson House was permanently transferred to the care of the County. “It was an easy fit, as the collection was already being maintained by the County,” said Himmelman. “We understand the importance of their legacy and it continues to be a driving force in all things we do.”

She reflected, “While some things may change, the base point to care for and tell County stories remain the same, whatever that story looks like now. It comes from that first idea from a group of like-minded people who met in 1907 to agree to collect and share County stories! It’s what we will always do at the Museum, even if that storytelling looks a little different and is told through song, dance, art, lecture, objects, books… the root remains the same.”

In a letter to the Council of Greater Napanee, announcing the dissolution of the Society, Jane Scott noted that the LAHS Community Foundation for Lennox & Addington continues to facilitate the LAHS Endowment Fund, which was established by the LAHS to support projects for the preservation of historical and conservation heritage in the County.

Upon receiving notice of the dissolution of the LAHS at their meeting on Tuesday, Jul. 11, 2023, Napanee Town Councillor Angela Hicks made a motion to “receive with regret” the notice and to send a letter thanking the society and its members “for their legacy of hard work and contributions to the Town and County.”

Councillor Bill Martin seconded the motion, saying, “Sometimes it’s sad to see something that lasted so long and something that has done so much good work — especially with respect to a heritage building and in a community — finally come to an end… On a personal level, I’d like to wish all the members well and express my thanks for their contribution to L&A, but in particular Napanee. The society leaves quite a legacy starting back in 1907 to the present, and they’ve preserved not only physical structures like Allan Macpherson House, but the history of people and documents that surely would have been lost to history, but [now] the collection… is housed in the County museum for the future.”

A historical reenactor named Edna stands outside Hay Bay Church which was built in 1792. LAHS has been supportive of the preservation and restoration of the property, which is owned by the United Church. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

One thought on “L&A Historical Society closing after preserving local history for over 100 years

  • Babcock Mill in Odessa was recently reopened by Loyalist Township.

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