ON A RECENT Sunday afternoon, on what was arguably the nicest day of the year, Bill Gargiulo was painting a dark corner of an old house. He was readying the new Heritage House museum in Galesville for its grand opening. Outside, visiting bicyclists whirred down the village's main street; residents walked their dogs toward the county park overlooking the harbor. Main Street has changed little during the past century, and locals like it that way.
The museum project is a labor of love for the members of the Galesville Heritage Society, who are keen to share the history of this south county village, one of the oldest in the nation. The push is on for the museum to open for the 350th-anniversary celebration Friday through Sunday, sponsored by the Heritage Society.
"It's all about community and family, that's what makes this a great place to live," says Dorothy Whitman, whose husband, John, is chairman of the committee sponsoring the celebration. In a move typical of a true Galesvillean, John Whitman went fishing on his boat, Poor Dorothy, with other Heritage Society board members instead of hanging around for an interview.
The Whitmans have worked together for more than 25 years, first running the West River Market, now in a catering business. The market, on Main Street, has been a gathering place since the Civil War. During the Whitmans' tenure, the market gradually filled with antiques picked up by John and his brother, Bill Whitman, and the back room became the first museum space.
The roots of the family trees of Galesville run deep. Many of the earliest residents' descendents remain in the area. John Colhoun's family has lived nearby for 13 generations. He will coordinate an archaeology exhibition during the anniversary celebration at the Carrie Weedon Science Center that will include a collection of arrowheads and other artifacts. He also will display a Revolutionary War-era painting that belonged to his fifth-great-grandfather.
"It depicts Anne Galloway Cheston in Quaker dress looking over the Rhode River, where three privateers and a captured British merchant ship are anchored," said Colhoun. "I am very pleased to share it with the public for the first time."
Preston Hartge, whose family's boatyard was founded in 1878, believes that the spirit of small local businesses has helped Galesville thrive.
"Galesville always had a large population of tradespeople and businesses that have grown as generations have been added," said Hartge. "We live and work right here on the waterfront where we grew up, doing what we love. What is better than that?"
Wells Dixon, 55, a lifelong resident who lives in his family home at the mouth of Lerch Creek, says that Galesville's success as a village can be attributed to contributions beyond those made by its founding families, such as his and Hartge's. As weekend visitors began moving to Galesville about 50 years ago, he said, "it was just the right kind of people who moved in here, and they fit right in, by and large."
At the museum, Bill Gargiulo, who moved to the area two years ago, agrees wholeheartedly. "People here take you in with open arms," said Gargiulo, a member of the Heritage Society.
The celebration will feature a "Parade of Time" along Main Street at 11 a.m. Saturday. "We expect 30 different groups to participate," said Sue Hines, coordinator of the parade.
Ebenezer A.M.E. church is creating a float depicting "Portraits of Blacks Past, Present and Future," the Galesville United Methodists are re-creating a tent meeting for the parade, and a replica of the steamboat Emma Giles and a float honoring veterans are planned, Hines said.
In the village, festivities will take place throughout the weekend. At the River Gallery, next door to the West River Market, Laura Dixon, Roxanne Weidele and Elsie Whitman mounted "Images of Galesville," an exhibition featuring local artists' portrayals of the community. At the county pier, historic re-enactors will camp near a visiting schooner. Live music and a traditional contra dance will be featured in the town hall Saturday night.
Sunday evening, the festivities will wrap up with a traditional Galesville event, a fireworks display shot from a barge in the river.