Young Education Director Teaches Old History

The Westport Historical Society works hard to make the past come alive in the present.

Though they offer many exciting programs for kids and teenagers, WHS staff and volunteers skew — well, not “historical” exactly, but certainly “older.”

Which is why everyone there eagerly welcomed Nicole Carpenter. In her first job after graduating from college, she’s embraced her new role — director of education and programs — with energy and joy.

And with a nod to Westport’s long legacy.

Nicole Carpenter, with a Westport Historical Society award.

“I’m passionate about history and art,” Carpenter says. “This town has a great blend of both. It’s fascinating to learn about the history, and all the artists and other people who lived here.”

The Brookfield, Vermont native attended Castleton University. She majored in art history and painting, with minors in history and business administration.

Then it was off to Syracuse University, where she earned a master’s in museum studies.

Last year, when Carpenter’s boyfriend landed a job as the Wilton Historical Society collections manager, his boss there recommended her for the Westport education role.

At the time, Carpenter knew little about Westport beyond its reputation as an artists’ and writers’ haven. But she used her research skills — online, and using actual books.

When she began work in September, Sven Selander — and many other Westporters — told her “tons of stories.”

Carpenter has found Westport to be “both similar to and different from the rest of New England.” It’s larger and more urban than her Vermont home. But residents in both places have “a deep appreciation of where they live.” Westporters, she says, “are really, really proud of their town.”

Among her many duties, she particularly enjoys leading school tours, and outreach programs like History on Wheels. The WHS recently sponsored a Colonial Family Fun Day. She also helped organize speakers for walking tours and the Danbury raid exhibit.

Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s Avery Place home — in a painting by famed local artist Stevan Dohanos. Nicole Carpenter loves the town’s artistic heritage — and its vibrant present.

Carpenter cites 2 particularly big accomplishments. One is the 3rd grade tour of Wheeler House involving students, teachers, administrators, curators and historians. “It’s so much fun to see kids discover their town’s history,” she says.

The other was the “Come Build Westport” Lego project in March. As children “constructed” Town Hall, National Hall and the WHS’ Wheeler House itself, they (and their parents) learned a lot about how the town grew.

Carpenter’s most recent project — undertaken with 7 high school interns — was the first-ever 1st grade tour.

She looks forward to 3 week-long camps this summer.

Then Carpenter begins planning for next year. She’s already an “old-timer.”

Though still a very young one.

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