CASTLETON — An historic building will be the home of a new museum and learning space at Castleton University.

Granger House, located on South Street on the CU campus, will be part of a new project aimed at developing what the University touts as an “innovative approach to education in the humanities by emphasizing community engagement and fostering the development of job-ready skills for students.”

The project is made possible through a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support education in archeology, geography, history and related fields.

The grant, which is part of the Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) program, was funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and is designed to preserve humanities jobs and support the reopening and rebuilding of humanities programs.

Matthew Moriarty, director of archaeology at CU and the project’s co-director, said the grant will fund the development of exhibits, coursework and student experiences.

The project also will create up to 40 paid internships for undergraduate students.

Beginning next summer, interns will participate in a “humanities field school” at Granger House, where they will be participating in archaeological investigations, processing artifacts and interacting with K-12 school groups.

Thanks to the grant, field school interns will receive free room and board for the month-long course, a small stipend and up to six academic credits.

“Students can’t necessarily take a month off from work to do this kind of activity. So what we’re trying to do is make it as easy as possible for our students to participate,” said Moriarty.

Built around 1800 by Noahdiah Granger, Granger House is one of the oldest buildings in the town and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Renovations of the Federal-style home, which features a spiral staircase built by noted Vermont architect and craftsman Thomas R. Dake, have been underway for several years.

According to Moriarty, the university intended to use the house as the president’s home, however, forthcoming changes to the state college system have rendered that plan moot since the president of the newly formed Vermont State University will not reside on CU’s campus.

Moriarty said the project presents an opportunity to create a “learning laboratory” on campus, where students receive hands-on experience in areas like archaeology, archival research, 3D scanning and museum exhibit development.

He added that the museum will benefit to local K-12 educators by providing a space where students can explore local history.

“We really want students in the humanities and social sciences to have more opportunities for hands-on research (and) hands-on skill building. And this is going to feed right into some of the things we’ve been training them in,” he said.

Moriarty said the museum will be a dynamic space which will include digital displays and 3D-printed copies of artifacts that visitors will be able to handle.

“We anticipate this being a very hands-on, interactive museum. It won’t be the sort of place you come in and statically look at things,” he said.

To that end, Moriarty said the goal of the museum is to create a digital history that can continuously grow and expand.

The museum’s primary focus, he said, is on the history of the Castleton area — in particular, aspects of the area’s history that haven’t gotten enough attention.

“Native American history in this area is absolutely incredible. Lake Bomoseen was a major center of Native American activity going back more than 12,000 years,” he said, adding that the university will be working with the local Abenaki community to develop and present exhibits.

Andre Fleche, a history professor and project co-director, said the museum will approach local history from a variety of angles.

In addition to Native American connections, he said the museum will explore the lives of African Americans who lived in the area.

“There was a significant African-American population in Castleton from the middle of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century that hasn’t gotten the attention it might deserve,” he said.

He described exhibits that would contextualize the African-American experience in Castleton during that period. Similar exhibits would depict the daily lives of other groups who have called the area home, he said.

Fleche noted that, according to the Library of Congress’s Historic American Building Survey, Granger House is alleged to have been part of the Underground Railroad.

He said he and students will be attempting to verify that claim in an upcoming research seminar in the spring semester.

“There’s a lot of places that are rumored to be on the Underground Railroad but documentation is really difficult to come by,” he said. “So I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to find that, but we’re at least going to find out why it was rumored to be that way.”

Fleche said the grant comes at a challenging time for humanities education.

“We’re really excited about the fact that we can do this type of hands-on work that make the humanities relevant to the public, to public engagement, to job-ready skills for our students,” he said. “So we’re excited about being able to demonstrate the fact that education in the humanities is still relevant in a state university setting.”

Moriarty said further fundraising is needed to complete additional facilities projects on site, but said he hopes the first floor of Granger House will open for programming by January 2023.

jim.sabataso

@rutlandherald.com

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