BETHEL — With a $200,000 bequest from a former member, the Bethel Historical Society is preparing for the start of construction on a 1,600-square-foot wing for the 1821 O’Neil Robinson House.

It will replace the rear (kitchen) ell of the landmark building at 10 Broad St. and be used as a central storage area, according to Executive Director Randall Bennett.

In February, the society received a $200,000 bequest from Mary E. Valentine. It was the largest gift ever from an individual. Valentine passed away in 2012.

The rear wing will be named The Mary E. Valentine Collections Wing.

Bennett said he met with the contractor for the project Thursday and was waiting to hear from the excavator about a start date.

“As far as I know, the excavator is supposed to come over today and start marking out the property,” Bennett said Friday afternoon. “The first thing that will be done is the removal of the topsoil behind the Robinson House. I’m hoping to begin work as soon as possible. Before construction begins, however, I’m hoping to have a groundbreaking ceremony with the Board of Trustees and those who donated money to the project.”

The bequest will cover about “two-thirds of the project,” Bennett said, with the rest of the funds being raised by donations and grants.

Bennett predicted that the project should be done around the spring of 2014, if all goes according to plan. The new wing will have a “huge impact” on the Historical Society, he said.

“Not only will we have a new place to store our objects, but we’ll be opening up more space for other things,” Bennett explained. “Right now, we have two exhibit halls in the Robinson House, the Twitchell Room and the Edwards Room, that are being used for storage. We used to use these rooms as exhibit halls, but we had to start using it to store our extra items. The new wing is an exciting addition because it’ll help open up more space for new exhibits.”

Bennett also said that many of the society’s items are being stored inside the barn of Associate Director Stan Howe.

“Stan has been very kind about letting us use his barn to store items, but we want to clear up some new space and make it more accessible to the people,” Bennett said. “Accessibility is really key when it comes to a historical society.”

Though construction has yet to begin on the addition, Bennett said he’s excited about the effect it will have on the society as a whole.

“The Valentine Wing will be very, very useful to us, in terms of storage and collection,” Bennett said. “It’s like night and day in terms of managing the collection. We’re currently in the process of recataloging everything, so having a new place like the Valentine Wing to store everything will make our work much easier.

“We’re here to collect, preserve and share with the public,” Bennett said. “That’s the three words we abide by, and this will help us do that.”

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