By Deborah Raider Notis
As we gear up for the monumental 50th anniversary of the New Castle Historical Society in 2016, the Historical Society is ushering in a new era of growth and revitalization. Starting with a new leader. This February, public historian Cassie Ward became the new Executive Director of the Historical Society.
Ward, who has a Masters in Public History from American University, is determined to ensure that the New Castle Historical Society remains socially relevant and inviting to the community. A native New Yorker, Ward returned north after working for the Heritage Educational Services Department of the National Park Services in Washington D.C. and Virginia’s 400-acre Longbranch Plantation. With years of experience planning special events, working on historical exhibits, and revamping the Longbranch Plantation’s historical museum, Ward is particularly excited about the opportunity to embrace New Castle’s rich and colorful history.
“More than anywhere I’ve ever lived or worked before, the spirit of volunteerism is strongest in New Castle. Everyone seems so involved in the community, and the community has been overwhelmingly welcoming,” raves Ward. As Executive Director, her key role is to manage the historical society and assist committees and volunteers as they plan events.
Almost 99 percent of the New Castle Historical Society is volunteer run, and Ward enthusiastically notes that the volunteers “do a tremendous job of making the Historical Society relevant. They invest their blood, sweat, and tears into the Society.” Many of the volunteers worked with the Historical Society for decades, and they are passionately committed to the future of this program. Ward is excited to leverage their knowledge as she enhances the programs.
As Executive Director, Ward wants the New Castle Historical Society to be a historical and cultural center. One challenge will be to keep the Historical Society active outside of the Horace Greeley House. Ward plans to build on the existing educational programs and outreach activities. She wants to revamp all of the amazing programs that already exist, including the annual house tours, the Victorian Valentine’s Tea for 2nd through 4th graders, and the Chappaqua Antique Show. Next October, the Antique Show will move from the Horace Greeley House to Bell Middle School.
Currently, the Horace Greeley House is housing three exhibits. A remarkable Wedding Gown exhibit details the history of the tradition of the wedding gown with gowns from the 20th and 21st century on display.
The Curiosities of Yesteryear exhibit is a hands-on display of everyday objects–from typewriters and oil lamps to candlestick telephones–that were used throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Finally, the Notable Neighbors in New Castle exhibit describes the history of the many famous residents of New Castle. Going forward, plans for an antique toys exhibit are being considered. Plus, the new executive director believes that the upcoming 2016 presidential election warrants a timely exhibit and potential discussion regarding the differences between the election process in 1872 and today.
Encouraging children to become more involved in the history of New Castle is extremely important to Ward, who states, “For me as a historian, it is extremely important to create a new generation of historians so that we can continue the narrative.” Right now, second graders from Grafflin, Roaring Brook, and Westorchard visit the Horace Greeley House every year. She hopes to implement a story time program for young children at the Horace Greeley House. Ward wants to get children engaged at an early age so that they become invested in the vibrant history of New Castle.
And, Ward has several new ideas to energize the New Castle Historical Society. She hopes that the Historical Society will sponsor more walking tours throughout the town and park trails to highlight the rich history of New Castle. She would like to bring more speakers to the Horace Greeley House and the New Castle community.
Ward would like to team with local businesses to develop a Historical Happy Hour, during which participants attend a 20-minute presentation followed by socializing, drinks, and hors d’oeuvres. Ward also suggested a pet-focused community day, an event that was well attended when she worked at the Longbranch Plantation. Ultimately, the goal is to constantly engage the community on different levels and effectively relate to all New Castle residents.
“The New Castle Historical Society should provide services to the community that will get everyone excited about the history of New Castle,” says Ward. She hopes that the New Castle Historical Society can unite generations of community members.
And, finally, she wants to hear from the residents of New Castle. So stop in, introduce yourself, see everything that the Historical Society has to offer, and share your ideas with Cassie Ward, the new Executive Director of the New Castile Historical Society.
Deborah Raider Notis is a writer and co-owner of gamechanger, LLC. She lives near New Castle with her husband and their four boys.