When Southington came into possession of the Bradley Barnes house upon his death in 1973, it may not have seemed like such an obvious boon. What was the town to do with a big old house, built in 1836, that had been home to the same prosperous family for 137 years and seemed to have at least 137 years worth of family possessions and papers still inside?
As a museum, it might well have turned out to be a dusty, musty white elephant on North Main Street, of little interest to the general public.
So it is well worth noting that such a fate never befell the Barnes Museum — in great part because someone turned up who turned the house into a major cultural asset and a lively point of interest for Southington.
That someone is Marie Secondo, who deserves recognition as she prepares to retire as curator of the museum after 16 years.
Secondo has brought the place to life with events such as the Living History Tour, with live actors depicting moments in the Barnes family’s history; and art exhibitions; and seasonal and holiday displays. In 2016 there was a car show — “Wheels of the Past” — featuring vintage automobiles from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. In 2018 there was even a paranormal “investigation” that concluded that Bradley Barnes still had a presence in the “spirited” home.
But there is also serious history to be found in this house, and Secondo has spent a great deal of time and effort reading and transcribing the handwritten letters she found in a shoebox tucked away in a closet — 151 letters from Andrew Upson, a Union Army captain during the Civil War and great-grandfather of Barnes' wife.
“It took me the entire winter” to transcribe the letters, Secondo said. (Scans and transcripts are available on the Barnes Museum website.)
Secondo plans to retire on Feb. 25, 29 years to the day after she started working for the town as a librarian.
“I could stay here forever,” she said. “There's projects I want to get done, but I could be saying that till the day I die. There's a lot of history here.”
Indeed there is, and the curator of all that Southington history has left a great example for the next curator to follow.