As members deck halls, Dracut Historical Society frets its future


DRACUT — Christmas decorations coated each room of the Coburn House on Sunday.

Bead garland and glittery cut-out snowflakes were draped along a wall in the kitchen, and anyone who walked through the space smelling of cinnamon were met with a cake tray of mints and wrapped chocolates. In the dining room was a candle centerpiece, and in the parlor, a birdhouse “Noel” sign.

These items were among the raffle creations prepared by members of the Dracut Garden Club, which hosted “Christmas at the Coburn House.” For a $10 admission fee, guests received 10 raffle tickets and entrance into the historic building adjacent to Harmony Hall along Lakeview Avenue. The Coburn House is the home base of the Dracut Historical Society, a private organization aiming to preserve the town’s history.

“This is a resource to so many people, and they don’t know it exists. People don’t know where Coburn House is. It’s huge,” said Kathy Gauthier, president of the Dracut Garden Club. “How can you not know that this is part of the Historical Society?”

Gauthier expressed her concern over the future of the Historical Society as she stood in the first floor parlor beside one of the raffle items — a wooden sleigh she hand-painted jingle bells on with acrylic and topped with ornaments and a stuffed bear. Unless the organization gets some younger members, Gauthier frets that it will die out over time.

This thought is something that, for years, has worried the society’s officers such as Vice President Dave Paquin. As “Christmas at the Coburn House” ran as scheduled Sunday, Paquin quietly worked through paperwork in a back office. Before him was a binder filled with applications from groups interested in renting Harmony Hall. Managing all the bookings for the historic building is one of Paquin’s responsibilities as an official for the society.

“More responsibilities are being placed on the senior members,” said Paquin, 74.

He added that there are about 150 Dracut Historical Society members, but only about 15 who are active, most of whom are seniors.

“Where’s the membership going to come from to maintain this facility?” said Dennis Piendak, treasurer for the society and a former town manager who is also concerned about the future of the organization.

The society in recent months received one glimmer of hope: new President Patrick Cox, who is 29. Cox is the grandson of Harvey Gagnon, a former president who has been deeply involved in the organization for decades. Gagnon, now 87, has been considered the driving force behind some of Dracut’s most important historic-preservation projects.

“I’m very proud that we have someone younger to become president,” Gagnon said. “It seems like every time, with a president, you want somebody with one foot in the hole, ready to die, because they have the most knowledge, but Patrick picks up very quickly.”

Cox, who had been taking his grandfather to society meetings and eventually attending them, said Piendak approached him to see if he’d be interested in taking on the role of president.

“It really peaked my interest and the rest is history. I love it. It’s very rewarding,” Cox said. “There’s some very wonderful people down here that do a lot for the community.”

Paquin on Sunday said Cox’s leadership positions the society on the “right track,” but he continues to worry about how the organization will attract younger members to carry on the tradition of maintaining the town’s history.

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.