Historical society exhibits mementos from Hollis schools, replicates old store

HOLLIS – When Martha Davis examines the photograph of the Hollis High School class of 1917, she’s reminded of her mother, who graduated around that time.

“I remember my mother’s hair, tied back in a big bow in her graduation picture,” Davis exclaimed, pointing to the popular hairstyle worn by many of the female graduates in the picture displayed on a table in the Wheeler House, home to the Hollis Historical Society.

The picture is one of dozens of photographs, graduation programs, yearbooks, dance cards, party invitations, ball gowns and other memorabilia that make up “School Ephemera,” one of two summer exhibits the historical society has put together.

The schools exhibit is being held at the Wheeler House on Main Street. A second exhibit, a replica of a general store that was at 22-24 Main St. in the late 1800s, occupies the upstairs of the nearby Always Ready Engine House.

Davis, who is registrar for the historical society, said many town residents have contributed to what has become a growing collection of local school history.

On Wednesday, for example, Hollis native Harold Hills, 86, stopped by the Wheeler House to donate several class pictures, including an elementary school print produced for the 1968-69 school year.

Davis said the current collection of school memorabilia dates to 1880. The most recent items are from the 1970s.

While most of the photographs are standard-issue, there are some snapshots that capture both town and personal history.

In one, taken in 1976 during the town’s celebration of the nation’s bicentennial, former Heritage Commission member Sharon Howe is dressed in the 1928 flapper-style graduation dress worn by her mother, Ethel Marion Lull. The photo shows her dancing with her father, Clarence.

The schools exhibit also includes three ball gowns that Howe wore to high school dances: a pink chiffon with a billowy skirt and fitted bodice trimmed with intricate embroidery; a pleated white dress with a full skirt and bright red cummerbund; and an aquamarine-colored, spaghetti-strapped, tea-length dress.

According to the exhibit information, the dresses were worn to high school Valentine’s balls in 1960, 1961 and 1963.

In sports team photos, set up near the ball gowns, there are high school images of town residents Alan Orde, Roger Saunders and Ken Towne, familiar faces to many in the community, Davis said.

The registrar said visitors have been “excited and surprised” by the summer displays.

“It brings pleasure and memories and stories,” Davis said. “That’s what it’s all about: Keeping it alive.”

For resident Phyllis Houle, a member of the historical society’s collections committee, a highlight of the exhibit is the fashion show: In addition to the three ball gowns, the exhibit includes graduation dresses dating to the turn of the last century.

“I enjoy looking at the gowns and seeing how they’ve changed over the years,” Houle said.

Likewise, Dorothy Hackett, also a member of the collections committee, said she was enjoying the exhibits, particularly the photographs.

“I like trying to recognize people I might have known and people I still do know,” said Hackett, a town resident since 1962.

The three were similarly enthusiastic about the replication of the general store in the Always Ready Engine House.

In keeping the store as authentic as possible, historical society members stocked it with fabric and sewing notions, as well as wooden and bone knitting needles, which were characteristic of the era.

The store also includes a penny candy counter where jars are filled with licorice, Tootsie Rolls, lollipops and peppermints.

The free exhibits are open through October on the first and third Sundays of the month from 1-4 p.m.

The Wheeler House is opened year-round on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-4 p.m.