MILFORD — Local history buffs looking for something fresh to do can check out the new “Then and Now” exhibit at the Milford Museum.
Director Claudia Leister has gathered dozens of objects owned by Milford residents through the city’s history to show how consumer goods, most of which are from the 20th century, have changed over time.
“The general concept of the … exhibit is to share objects from the Milford Museum collection and compare them to the same items we use today,” Ms. Leister said.
“The idea for this exhibit came from one specific unique item,” she said. “A large, almost 6-foot-tall beauty parlor permanent wave machine.”
The wiry, old antique, which made users resemble Medusa while they had it on, seems “like something from a Frankenstein movie” in Ms. Leister’s mind.
“I was so amazed when I first discovered it in our collection that I knew I had to create an exhibit to showcase this piece,” she said.
Items currently on display in the museum’s front gallery include toasters, fans, vacuum cleaners and a wide array of other domestic products. When Ms. Leister found she couldn’t fit everything she wanted into that one room, she expanded the exhibit into some adjacent ones.
“There were so many other categories that I wanted to share that the exhibit expanded into the front room to show the changes in telephones, radios, cameras and television(s),” she said.
Dave Kenton, the museum’s vice president, also is excited about the new exhibit.
“The whole concept is one that I like a lot,” he said. “Everybody thought differently, and that’s what Claudia is trying to bring forward in this exhibit.”
Mr. Kenton said these consumer goods give some insight into how people thought during the times they were used.
“People’s whole life experiences change with the environment around them,” he said. “If I had grown up in the Depression with no food and not being able to pay mortgage and everything, I would think differently than I do now in our era when we have really too much.”
While all the objects featured in the new exhibit belonged to Milford residents, some were manufactured in the city. This sets up a striking contrast with an adjoining exhibit, titled “Made in Milford,” which features products from its earlier years.
One item featured there, Ms. Leister said, is a “wooden wall telephone, (which) was used in the Milford Depot during the late 1800s when an operator was always used to place a call.”
Nearby, Ms. Leister has an apron from the Grier Lumber Co.
“Their phone number is displayed as No. 9,” she said. “It makes you wonder who had Nos. 1 through 8.”
Mr. Kenton said manufacturing in Milford stayed strong until the late 20th century.
“In the 1980s, we still worried about making things and manufacturing in Milford,” he said. “After 1990, all anyone could think about was working off the internet or selling things on the internet or buying things on the internet.”
In reflecting on how technology has advanced over the course of his lifetime, Mr. Kenton, 74, said there are both windfalls and drawbacks in this shift.
“I certainly use my cellphone, and I really like having direct contact with everybody I used to interact with in the mail,” he said.
“I’m happy that technology is moving forward, but it doesn’t give very much time to reflect. That’s a pain to people like me who were born and raised in the ’50s and the ’60s,” he said. “We had lots of time to reflect on where we were going and what we wanted to do. Now, if you reflect more than 15 minutes, you’re behind.”
Still, Mr. Kenton shouldn’t be described as a Luddite. He bought his first computer in the mid-’80s, back when the internet was in its infancy, to help him save time when researching and writing about local history.
“Change and new ideas are inevitable,” he said. “We’ve got to learn to adapt to them, but I have to admit it’s going a little too fast for me right now.”
Ms. Leister said the “Then and Now” exhibit will be up for years. Furthermore, she said the museum is now back open to the public.
“The museum has been closed much of the (past) year, as we followed the governor’s recommendations,” she said, adding that it officially reopened Feb. 2. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Ms. Leister said her “visitors will always discover something new in the museum. There’s something for everyone.”
“New people moving to the area are interested in the city’s history, and longtime residents are surprised at all of things they never knew about Milford,” she said.