It’s About Time

Photograph: Diane Sembrot
Above: Westport Historical Society

For historical devotees, the folks at the Westport Historical Society sure do embrace change. Recent upgrades include high-speed WiFi, spruced up gift shop, a spiffy new coffee-and-snack station, and an outdoor seating area with games for the remaining warm days of the season. Also, they welcomed a new executive director: Ramin Ganeshram. “Our mission is to serve the public,” she says. “With that in mind, we took stock over the past six months about how we could extend our services. Our goal is to become a community hub where visitors can enjoy themselves, relax, have fun and learn a bit about our town’s history.”

Don’t miss the current exhibit in the main gallery. Called “Remembered: The History of African-Americans in Westport,” it movingly illuminates significant stories and contributions. Find details at the center’s website, westporthistory.org.

Ramin Ganeshram
Photograph: JPVellotti

A MOMENT WITH THE NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Falling into conversation with Ramin Ganeshram is a snap. She’s naturally charming. For example, when asked about taking the role of the executive director of the Westport Historical Society, she begins by saying that she’s lived in Westport for “only ten years.” Of course, only a true history buff would think of a whole decade as “only.”
About her new role she says, “I saw so much untapped potential in the organization. I knew there were excellent archives, collections and costumes that the public never got to see.” As a trained journalist and former division head in market research firms and publishing companies, she wanted to bring them out. “History and storytelling has always been my passion.”

Her first exhibit, the ambitious “Remembered,” reveals not only self-confidence, but also faith in the town’s interest in self-reflection. “I am a member of TEAM Westport, the town’s diversity action committee. In that role, and as a writer, I had conceived of an idea of an exhibit that shared the heretofore erased African-American history of this town—and so many towns like it. I knew that as one of the original thirteen states, previously colonies, African-Americans were a part of the original founding story, as captive people. Yet, this story is never told.”

Access to the town archives was critical. “We were able to use primary sources to tell an important story, versus depending on local lore and legend, which has its place but cannot always be corroborated.” Also, she recognizes the contributions of the staff and board as well as Broadway set designer Jordan Janota, “You can truly see the level of professionalism in the exhibit,” Ganeshram says. “We’ve rebuilt structures significant to this history right here in our gallery.”

When asked if she was surprised by any stories that came to light while creating the exhibit, she says: “I wasn’t surprised so much as saddened by many of the stories. For example, while I knew there were enslaved people in Westport, and that they were likely owned by prominent families, I was saddened to see the roster of slave holders as names still recognizable in the town: Jesup, Staples, Hide, Nash, Jennings and Sherwood.” She also mentions the suspicious fire at the boarding house at 22 1/2 Main Street, where many African-Americans lived. She concludes that the exhibit is part of WHS’s transformation, which tells town history “in a holistic way.”

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