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Groundbreaking day at the Shelter Island Historical Society

COURTESY PHOTO Historical Society trustees and staff: From left, Bill Pederesen, Elizabeth Pederesen, Nanette Lawrenson, Jean Dickerson, Belle Lareua, Phyllis Wallace, Lily Hoffman, Alexandra Binder, Stephanie Lebowitz and Thom Milton
Shelter Island Historical Society trustees and staff: From left, William Pedersen, Elizabeth Pedersen, Nanette Breiner-Lawrenson, Jean Dickerson, Belle Lareau, Phyllis Wallace, Lily Hoffman, Alexandra Binder, Stephanie Lebowitz and Thom Milton.

After years of planning and an ambitious $1.7 million capital campaign, the Shelter Island Historical Society created its own history on October 29 when it broke ground on construction of a state-of-the-art vault and study center to be built on the Havens House grounds on Route 114.

Built in 1743 by James Havens for his family, over the years centuries the building has served as a home, boarding house, tavern, meeting house and a school, and most recently, the Historical Society’s offices. Until now, many thousands of historical items, including documents, photographs and artifacts, have been warehoused in bedrooms and the attic spaces of the house.

But with construction taking place over the winter it’s hoped that by next summer, much more museum and exhibit space will be freed up in the Havens House, allowing it to be opened to the public.

“Only about a third of Havens House is currently open to the public,” said Nanette Breiner-Lawrenson, the Society’s executive director. “When the construction is complete much more of the house will be accessible. We will be able to expand our collection and create a welcoming environment for our guests and volunteers. Havens House Museum exhibits will be refreshed over the winter.”

The 1,400 square foot project includes construction of an archival vault and education center designed by Islander William Pedersen and will create new professional spaces for the Historical Society’s archival collection, educational programs and exhibits. The documents and artifacts from Havens House are being kept in climate controlled storage facilities during the construction.

The concept for the new structure, which will be built by Fokine Construction, is grounded in the Historical Society’s mission of preserving and sharing the Island’s history, Ms. Breiner-Lawrenson said. The vault, which will be twice the size of the current vault, will replace the non-historic rooms that were attached to Havens House.

The study center will be available to visitors looking to learn more about the Island’s families, homes, businesses and traditions, Ms. Breiner-Lawrenson said, and will include a presentation room where visitors can consult with the Society’s staff, attend educational programs and view exhibits.

The plan for the building’s new exhibition space will feature television monitors and display cases for rotating, multi-generational exhibits.

More than 250 people made contributions to the capital campaign, ranging in size from a few dollars to several hundred thousand dollars, Ms. Breiner-Lawrenson said. While the capital on hand is sufficient to fund the construction, funds are still needed for archive shelves, exhibit props and a phone system for the new facility and to finish the interior, she added.

“Every donation is important,” Ms. Breiner-Lawrenson said, noting that the names of contributors donating $100 or more to the capital fund will be listed on a donor wall.

Ms. Lawrenson expects construction will begin shortly and take about a year to complete.

“Research and archive services will continue to be provided during construction via phone and email,” she said. “Staff ­— all two of us — are working from a trustee’s home office through the winter.”

Anyone interested in contributing to the project can visit the Society’s website at shelterislandhistorical.org or email Ms. Breiner-Lawrenson at [email protected]