Extensive renovations to the Bruder House in Keene will be unveiled Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. as the historic home becomes the Historical Society of Cheshire County’s new welcome center. The society bought the house at 349 Main St. last year from Keene State College, which had purchased it in 2009 for use as apartments. It sits next to the Wyman Tavern, one of the region’s most historic buildings, which the society previously restored and turned into a museum.
James B. Elliot built the Bruder House in 1839 and several families owned the property over the course of the 19th century, until Alexander S. Bruder, an Australian baker, bought it in 1899. The Bruder family had left the building by 1930.
That bit of history comes courtesy of the mostly volunteer historical society, just a small indication of the value of the organization’s work. It’s been said that to truly know who we are, we must be aware of where we came from and of the forces that shaped us. If so, this is true not only of individuals, but of communities as well. And much of what we know about the region’s rich history has been maintained, researched or recovered by the society through the years.
The society’s work isn’t just for history buffs. That the society shared a 2017 Ruth and James Ewing Arts Award as a Presenter of the Arts — with Alicia Drakiotes, who curated the series of exhibits by local artists — is evidence that the organization values the link between the region’s present and its history. “Through these exhibits we’re able to show the intersection of culture and history,” noted Alan Rumrill, the society’s executive director.
Cheshire County is fortunate to have an organization as engaged, active and robust. And the historical society, in turn, is lucky the region’s residents, businesses, agencies and municipalities have embraced its efforts.
The Bruder House project was funded from the society’s recent capital campaign, “Investing in Our Past, Enhancing Our Future,” which raised $2.4 million to expand and improve the organization’s facilities. That’s a lot of local investment.
The interior of the Bruder House was rehabilitated, including a new wood floor made from a black walnut tree that had to be removed from the yard. The main floor will serve as a visitor center, where guests will receive an orientation before going to the adjacent Wyman Tavern. Downstairs space may be used for lectures, demonstrations or classes about life in the 18th century. In the yard, the historical society built an outdoor brick oven, and a new porch faces the tavern.
Saturday’s grand opening coincides with the launch of the season for the Wyman Tavern. That building itself brims with history as an inn, tavern and, especially, a gathering place. Those functions were vital to life in this community long ago, and thanks largely to the zeal of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, their importance today and in the future will not be lost.