Library volunteer immerses himself in town history

For almost eight months, Wilton High School rising junior Michael Wallace has been volunteering in the Wilton Library History Room.

“Immersing myself in the history and learning about all those small things that had happened in town history that nobody really knows about — that’s what I really like about the job,” said Michael, who was offered the history room volunteer position by Wilton Historical Society Executive Director Leslie Nolan.

“I was glad to take it because I’ve always enjoyed history,” he said, “and I thought it would be very interesting to be in a spot that’s filled with so much history in one place.”

Michael, who also works as an assistant in Wilton Library’s Children’s Department, said he has been volunteering in the history room since mid- to late-December.

When he gets to the history room on Wednesdays, Michael said, there’s usually “a big stack of folders” waiting for him to file.

“It sounds pretty mundane, but it’s something we have to do to keep the history room in tip-top shape,” he said. “Some days, they’ll be very interesting and have photos, records or diaries from the late-1800s.”

Once done filing, Michael said, he goes on to do some research.

“I just finished a research paper on the churches of Georgetown,” he said, “and right now, I’m doing some research into cottage industry in Wilton.”

Cottage industry is a business or manufacturing activity carried on in a person's home. In Wilton, this included shirt- and shoe-making, said Michael, whose research has been focused on Wilton shirt-makers Lewis and Elbert Olmstead, William Sturges, and Charles Cannon.

“I’ve done about two full days of research so far,” he said. “I probably have one full day of research to go and then two days or so to type it all up.”

Michael said he started researching Wilton’s cottage industry in early July and will soon spend about two days putting together a research paper on his findings.

“I like doing the research,” he said. “To me, it’s very interesting to go through documents from the 1800s and hold them in your hands and actually read the words or look at the accounts of people who lived 200 years ago.”

Before being filed away, Michael said, his research papers are circulated around the historical society and reviewed by Nolan and other employees, as well as history room curators Scotty Taylor and Carol Russell.

Russell, a town historian who has volunteered in the history room for more than 30 years, said Michael is a “great young man.”

Michael will volunteer in the history room for at least six more months, “but it could be longer than that,” he said.

“We’re waiting for a researcher who has been hired by the historical society on a grant to do a new exhibit for historical society,” said Michael. “He’s supposed to start working sometime in September, and I will be helping him.”

Volunteering in the history room has not only been a “very enjoyable” and “very interesting” experience, said Michael, but a “very fulfilling” one as well.

Michael is also a member of the Wilton High School Model Congress and contributes to the club’s Wilton Bulletin-published columns.