Voices of the Bay

Keeping History Alive in Bristol

The new head of the Bristol Historical & Preservation Society is making the past fun and relevant for a new generation

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The Bristol Historical & Preservation Society was established in 1936. At the time it was run entirely by volunteers, but when BH&PS became a major beneficiary of the estate of the late Lombard Pozzi, a well-respected Bristol architect and historian, the organization was in a position to create and fund the position of executive director. Bristol resident Dr. Catherine W. Zipf, who had previously served three years on the board, was selected this past year to lead the organization. Catherine has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Design Science from Harvard University and a Masters and PhD in Architectural History from the University of Virginia. She has taught at the University of Virginia, Salve Regina and Roger Williams University. An author of numerous articles both in print and online, she pens a monthly column in The Providence Journal and is currently writing her second book, Making a Home of Her Own: Newport’s Architectural Patronesses, 1850–1940. Catherine and her husband, Mark Courtney, are the parents of two daughters, Isabelle and Bridget.

When BH&PS found itself a major beneficiary of Lombard Pozzi’s collection and financial resources, the struggle was to get it all into a format that the board could handle while also cleaning out and preparing his home to be sold. It has been a lot of work, but we have found a lot of wonderful, wonderful things. Lombard photographed Bristol all his life; his records of the town are stunning and amazing.

We are reaching out to the community in a new way. The needs of running this organization have changed. It used to be a press release and a mailing. Now you have to do Facebook and Twitter. Servicing the community is multifaceted. A major area of focus is children: It’s all about making history relevant and fun. We have some new kids’ events, a new Kids Membership and a Kids Tales from Jail newsletter. It is an important constituency to develop. Overall we have 400 people registered as members, including individuals and families.

These little buildings that make Bristol the place it is are the workingmen’s cottages, two and half stories with the gable roofs that are all over town, some fancy and some plain, like the Azevedo properties* on Thames Street which the town bought. I worry that if we let go of the Azevedo buildings without careful consideration and conversation, we will get some dreadful zoning-maxed building we don’t want. We don’t need more commercial space. We have a lot of empty storefronts. The Azevedo houses represent some of the last remnants of Bristol’s working waterfront, which is now primarily a recreational waterfront. As a community, Bristol needs to use its past to educate and shape our decisions on how we want to live in the future. 

*July 18, 2017: This column went to press prior to the announcement by the Town of Bristol that the Azevedo properties would be preserved. "I am thrilled to see an agreement reached on preserving the Azevedo properties," Zipf commented after the announcement. "They are important to Bristol's historic identity as well as its Thames Street landscape. I will look forward to watching the project unfold."