HOPKINTON — People interested in getting a glimpse of southwestern Rhode Island’s past are now welcome to visit Hopkinton’s 1790 Meeting House, which is open to visitors on weekends throughout the summer.
Hopkinton Historical Association President Richard Prescott said volunteers would be on hand to welcome visitors and answer questions.
“There will be a member here,” he said. “We have other volunteers and I like to drop by just to schmooze a bit,” he said.
Local historian and association member Lauri Arruda said she believed it was important to share the town’s history with the public.
“We’ve done so much work as a group and there’s so much history in this town, so we said ‘We can’t keep it to ourselves,’” she said. “We want to share it with everyone.”
The association bought the building in 1981 and has been restoring it ever since, as funds from grants allow. One recent project was the repair of the building’s windows, which have been completely restored, right down to the original wavy glass.
As the work continues, the meetinghouse has also been filled with curated displays of historic photographs, tools, clothing and other artifacts.
Arruda created the photo displays to commemorate the town’s 260th anniversary, which was celebrated last year. The historic images, which capture life as it was hundreds of years ago, are juxtaposed with photos of contemporary Hopkinton to show how profoundly the town and its surroundings have changed.
Prescott pointed to a pair of photographs, one of an old filling station on Main Street in Ashaway and a modern image of a Valero gas station.
“You can get the contrast,” he said. “Like right here.”
The captions with each photograph are also detailed, providing added context for the images.
“They love the old pictures,” Arruda said. “What I did with the old pictures is, I made sure they had explanations with them, not just pictures.”
As Prescott and Arruda were speaking, Conservation Commission Chairman Harvey Buford arrived with a display case donated by the New England Antiquities Research Association.
“It’s a good deal for both of us,” said Buford, who is also NEARA’s president. “I don’t have room for it and NEARA doesn’t have room for it. The library’s so crowded, you can’t move around, so we’re freeing up some space and looking for a home for it.”
There is no shortage of items to fill the new display case. Arruda said that along with several boxes of photographs, more artifacts had recently been discovered in the attic of the meetinghouse.
“We went upstairs and we looked through all of the boxes and there 111 picture albums up there,” she said. “Then we went through closets and we found lots of donations that the prior board never put out, so I’m sorting through it and displaying it.”
Prescott said meetinghouse visitors have included history buffs, curious residents and even a few tourists passing through historic Hopkinton City.
“It’s people who are members [of the association] and haven’t had a chance to spend time in the building, and there are people who drop by and say ‘I’ve come by here time and time again, but I’ve never seen it open,’” he said.
About 10 volunteers share meetinghouse docent duties. If there are questions that the volunteers can’t answer, Arruda said she is happy to do some research and get back to the visitor with the information.
The Hopkinton Meeting House will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Sept. 16. Admission is free, but donations are also welcome.