Ridgefielder shares love of history at Darien Historical Society
Whenever the words history, museums and tours are used in the same sentence, Ridgefielder Maggie McIntire is probably not far away.
When she’s at work, McIntire, who is executive director of the Darien Historical Society, gets to do everything she loves — planning programs, building exhibits, researching, collaborating with volunteers, and giving tours.
The Darien Historical Society, which has a library and archives, has three major exhibits a year, “which is a lot for a small historical society,” said McIntire, a Ridgefield resident.
McIntire said she especially likes giving children what she calls “touchable tours.”
“What really makes history come to life is a close-up connection to the past, and we specialize in giving our visitors that kind of experience,” McIntire said. “During a guided tour, kids love it when we place the wooden yoke on their shoulders. The yoke was used to haul water buckets, and parents always seem to love it when we tell kids it would have been their job to haul water from the river every morning.”
On the touchable tours, children get to lift up the handle on the butter churn to demonstrate how the plunger worked.
“We put certain wooden tools into their hands to demonstrate the craftsmanship of the colonial era,” she added.
According to McIntire, the biggest draw of the tours — by far — is the “secret” passageway in the upstairs bedroom that was used to escape from raiding Tories.
“We have visitors walk through it, and that really drives home the harsher reality that people experienced here during the Revolution. As a smaller community on the coast, Middlesex Parish, was a target for raids by the Tories and British, who sailed over from Long Island. For the people here, the Revolution was more like a Civil War fought between family members and former neighbors on both sides of the conflict. “
McIntire’s own history
McIntire grew up in Norwalk and has a bachelor of science degree in political science from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.
Her first job was at the Norwalk Hour as an administrative assistant and reporter. She also wrote for the Hartford Courant and The New York Times.
She eventually realized she wanted to work for a museum or historical society.
“I always loved history and stories,” McIntire said. “I come from this big Irish Catholic family. We always told stories of the past and relatives — about the old country.”
She took a job as a bookseller at Darien’s Barrett Bookstore, working with history books and nonfiction.
“I really was able to completely delve into history at that time,” she said. “I fell into this niche.”
She became co-manager of the bookstore, scheduling authors and even starting a history book club.
She later took a job at Books on the Common in Ridgefield as the “go-to person” for history book recommendations.
Prior to working at the Darien Historical Society, Mcintire was program coordinator at the Mark Twain Library in Redding, and before that position, she worked in public relations at the Ferguson Library in Stamford.
McIntire and her husband Mike, who is an investigative reporter at The New York Times, have three children: Meghan, 27 and Lauren, 24, and Ryan, 20. She also has a 9-month-old grandson Jackson.
She also likes to go bicycle riding on weekends with her husband to the Harlem Valley Rail Trail in Millerton, N.Y.
She also likes hiking, reading history books, and visiting museums.
McIntire has been involved in a lot of volunteer work throughout town. She is a member of the town’s 2020 Bicentennial Committee, which oversees all the events for Darien’s 200th anniversary celebration.
She also volunteers for FCBuzz, a website for the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, a nonprofit organization that supports and promotes cultural venues, artists and businesses.
She is on the marketing committee of a group of historical societies throughout Fairfield County.
“We are thinking about how history is really important and how to advocate and promote local history,” she said. “Look Local is going to be our brand.”
She is on the Fairfield County Heritage Trail Committee.
“This committee is meeting independently to come up with a plan for a map to be disbursed through all of our museums,” she said.
Solving a mystery
One of the coolest parts of McIntire’s job, she said, is helping the public solve mysteries.
On one occasion about a year ago, a man from California sent the Society black and white photos from the early 1900s.
“This was an amazing group of photographs that were taken in this area in the early 1900s and sent to us by Bob Stone of Boulder, Colo.,” McIntire said.
There were several photos taken in an old classroom and others showing a group of four people all dressed up in a park, seemingly a wedding party.
“A group of us — myself, society Historian Ken Reiss, Carol Johnson and Dave and Karen Polett — all went crazy figuring out the mystery behind these intriguing photographs,” McIntire said.
The group recognized Center School as the location of the classroom photograph. On Ancestory.com, they researched the family, and then went to the cemeteries and located the graves of the people in the photos.
McIntire reached out to Redding and Georgetown historian Brent Colley, the first selectman of Sharon, “and also really into local history.” He identified the location of the wedding party photo that was taken at Putnam Memorial State Park in Redding.
They learned that Stone’s grandfather, Edwin B. Stone, was a principal of Center School in Darien,” McIntire said. “We identified his wife, Ada Conn.”
The group thinks that Edwin and Ada may have gone on a road trip with another couple after their wedding to visit relatives, and may have stopped in Redding’s Putnam Park that day as well, according to McIntire.
Another mystery McIntire was involved was a photo of a circular stone that was sent to the Society by the principal of Ox Ridge Elementary School.
“The principal told us the students found it on the grounds of the school. He asked the historical society if they had any information on it.
The only clue was that the stone had “MIT” carved on it.
“We never got to the bottom of who actually owned the stone, but we were able to determine that it may have been presented to someone who had an association with an MIT research group dedicated to the study of concrete and infrastructure issues,” McIntire said.
McIntire said she loves coming in to work each day.
“Darien has such a great history story and revolutionary story. There are heroes, such as Thaddeus Bell, fighting for independence. I love to tell people about its history and show off the different artifacts that we have,” she said. “Each day is different and that’s why I really like it.”