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|A Clipper Visit: Patrick Browne|
|Written by Gillian Smith|
|Wednesday, 21 August 2013 09:20|
Sitting in the parlor at the Nathaniel Winsor, Jr House, surrounded by historic paintings and furniture, Patrick Browne crosses his legs and takes a minute to reflect on a career that has transformed into a passion and a transition that will start a new chapter in his life.
Browne has been the executive director at the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society for 15 years and will remain in that post until the end of August, when he will transition over to the Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth as the organization’s executive director. With a bachelors degree in English and a masters degree in American history from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Browne moved to Plymouth and started work- ing at Plimoth Plantation in 1996 as an interpreter known to visitors as Giles Hopkins. While working at the Plantation, he was given the opportunity to help rebuild the Hopkins house on the Plantation.
“I thought Plymouth was a pretty good place to live for a person who is interested in history,” Browne said, a grin growing across his face. “Plus, they let me help some of the artisans rebuild the Hopkins house, which means I did some of the most basic tasks they weren’t worried I would mess up. But it was neat to learn how the houses on the plantation are put together.”
From Plimoth Plantation Browne went to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as their special programs coordinator, where he coordinated in-house lectures, events and some exhibits. In 1998, the executive director position opened up at the DRHS and Browne jumped at the opportunity.
“I was thrilled to get this job because at the American Academy I had been working for a very old, very prestigious organization with famed scholars, but what I was doing was not historical,” he said. “When I came here I was thrilled that I would be completely immersed in an historical organization.”
When contemplating what his most rewarding and enjoyable projects have been at the DRHS, Browne’s eyes light up and he smiles. As he rattles them off, he taps his foot on the historic rug, ticking off his reasons for enjoying his work.
“The biggest and most rewarding project was the Drew Archival Library and the new archival facility in the Wright Building,” Browne said. “It was a tremendous project spanning three years and there were so many people at DRHS who were crucial to its suc- cess.”
It is unusual for an historical society to have an archival library, Browne said, but he said that is one of the things he most enjoyed about the project.
“I look at the Drew Archives and realize what a great space we have for such a large collection,” he said. “We have a large amount of documents and photographs that need to be cared for and now we have a climate-controlled facility where they can stay safe.”
Among his favorite projects were the two archaeological digs and one testing procedure conducted on historic sites around town. The most prominent, the site of the sec- ond meetinghouse, proved to be the most interesting. From 1706 to 1786, the town meeting was a hub of upheaval and town meetings during the rev- olution. A tribute to Browne’s passion for history: he pulled those dates off the top of his head.
“Tradition had it that the second meeting house – where all the drama and emotion took place during the revolution – was located on the piece of land next to the cemetery on Chestnut Street,” he said. “We had no particular reason to doubt it was the true location, but we thought we should verify, once and for all, where the meeting house was located.”
Under the guidance of archaeologist Craig Chartier and with the help of about 125 volunteers, the DRHS was able to locate the exact site of the second meetinghouse. Now, there are four stones placed at each corner to mark the foundation. As he talks about the discovery, Browne glows with pride.
“The day we found it was a very exciting day,” he said. “That was a great project.”
Browne, who has had a passion for history since he was a child, credits much of the success of the DRHS to the volunteers and staff members who invest their time and energy into the rather ambitious projects.
“We have fantastic members and a pool of volunteers who are eager to help with preservation or education,” he said. “Our committees are always working on a variety of projects from caring for historic clothing to giving school tours and transcribing documents.”
When asked if he will miss working at the DRHS, Browne had one simple answer: yes.
“This organization has absolutely become a major part of my life,” he said. “This his- tory, the people I work with, the properties, the artifacts, the documents, all the people and things I’ve come to know, I will miss all of that.”
Browne will be starting at the Pilgrim Hall Museum on Sept. 1. The museum special- izes in 17th century artifacts that belonged to the pilgrims, which are exceedingly rare and difficult to come by. It is for this reason Browne is honored to be taking on the new position.
“These are very rare and special objects, so the caliber of the collection is truly remarkable and I’m excited to work with that,” he said. “It’s a prestigious, nationally accredited museum and I saw a great opportunity there.”
Barrie Young, president of the Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum, said he looks forward to Browne coming to the society.
"Beginning with Browne's starting date, Sept. 1, we are confident that he will not only bring to the Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum a number of exciting initiatives that will further our knowledge of the Pilgrims, but additionally we expect that his interaction with the community will demonstrate support for all the individuals who have contributed to our success.”
In an ironic twist of fate, Browne had been a resident of Plymouth for 17 years before moving to Duxbury just last year. As he looks forward to beginning his work in Plymouth, he said he will stay in Duxbury for the foreseeable future.
“I will be around, that’s an important point,” he said. “I am very committed to helping make this a smooth process in anywayIcan,andIwillbe around to see how things are going.”
Browne, who said he has held Pilgrim Hall Museum in high esteem for many years, said he is grateful to those with whom he has worked at the DRHS.
“From the folks who took the risk and hired me, right to the people I’m working with this summer, I have had the opportunity to work with some remarkable people who are passionate about history and who have accomplished careers in all different areas,” he said. “The one thing we all have in common is a great interest in history and I’ve been lucky to work with some great people.”