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Greene: Cherish The Keepers

Courtesy Bill Soucy
This picture was taken of the employees of E. L. Hildreth Printing Company, in the 1890s.

Decluttering has become dogma. It isn’t if you should declutter, but when and how. And I’m a fan of getting rid of stuff I don’t use. I no longer need a fondue pot or my Brownie uniform. And neither do my sons.

But since becoming involved in a massive three-year project, The Peoples’ Places and History of the Word in Brattleboro Vermont, I’ve been reminded to cherish the keepers.

The goal of this project has been to create exhibits that celebrate Brattleboro’s rich printing and publishing history over more than 200 years. And the first exhibit, Brattleboro’s Letterpress Years, opens tomorrow.

We owe many thanks to folks like Bill Soucy, Rolf Parker and Mary Ide, who’ve painstakingly saved and labeled old artifacts and photos that will bring the past alive for a new generation - for whom even typewriters are archaic, let alone letterpresses. We’re also indebted to those who’ve chronicled pieces of Brattleboro’s history, often without much attention or thanks, but with discernment, curiosity and care.

It was hard finding pictures of E.L. Hildreth, who started the influential E.L. Hildreth Printing Company, once one of Brattleboro’s biggest and most well-regarded employers. We had information on the company, but not much on the man himself.

Then, just before a project meeting at the Brooks Library, I was introduced to Sharon Sherman, from California. Her family had donated her great grandfather’s clock to the Historical Society and she wanted to see if they’d gotten it restored yet. The Society was closed, so she’d popped into the library instead.

And here’s the kicker: Sherman’s great grandfather was none other than Hildreth, himself, whom she’d been researching for years. Talking to her felt like being at a family reunion. And although she’ll miss this opening, Hildreth Printing spanned two centuries, so we’ll also highlight the man and his company in the 20th century exhibit. Sherman will return for that, and perhaps even give a talk on her illustrious forebear.

And we hope this project will inspire people to investigate their own attics.

That old box of bills printed on a letterpress, or the rare photo of someone’s great grandfather setting type could then be put into a larger context for deeper meaning.

Shared history is what roots us to place. The opportunity to celebrate that history might even justify keeping some extra stuff around.