Papers, photos, letters and maps. Deanna Witte-Walker is regularly surrounded by town documents that are hundreds of years old — and there’s no place she’d rather be.
Artifacts from 1640 New Haven colonists, as well as other relics, are safekept by the Southold Historical Society. Preserving these 100-year-old documents, Ms. Witte-Walker said, is a major part of her new position as executive director of the Southold Historical Society.
“Our buildings and artifacts are treasures,” she said. “Part of my role is to make sure all of these things can happen concurrently for the future, so future generations can learn more about Southold’s history.”
Last Monday, Ms. Witte-Walker of Southold assumed the new role of the organization that aims to educate, preserve, and interpret the town’s history.
Ms. Witte-Walker will oversee the organization’s programs, events, exhibitions, and fundraising, and stored artifacts in over a dozen historic buildings. She said the director reports directly to the Southold Board of Trustees, where the Board is entrusted in making sure that the Society follows its mission.
“It gives a sense of the history of Southold … and we try to teach our community about that,” she said.
Ms. Witte-Walker has been with the historical society since 2011, working as an office manager. She said her connection with volunteers, local businesses, and her two predecessors, Karen Lund-Rooney and Geoffrey Flemming, have helped her succeed.
Ms. Lund-Rooney became executive director in 2015. After a three-month leave of absence, Ms. Lund-Rooney will return to the historical society as grants and museum outreach administrator.
Ms. Witte-Walker said having worked with two directors, she hopes to build on what each of them did well.
The society’s exhibits motivate locals and visitors to question their identity and culture, she added.
“You understand more about yourself when you understand where you’ve come from,” she said.
“It helps us with our own identity, as well as just walking around town … Understanding what things are and how they came to be helps us have a great appreciation for this area.”
Having lived in Southold for 20 years, Ms. Witte-Walker said she’s seen some changes. She said this often brings about important discussions about the balance of preserving history and seeing the town progress.
“That’s the hard thing… We do see things from all points of view,” she said. “If a house is demolished, that has a lot of history, so that’s hard for us. But someone else might say, ‘It’s progress, more business.’ … It becomes a question of, ‘What is progress?’ We’re always looking at that. And, I think this is a very profound group that explores that on a regular basis.”
Ms. Witte-Walker said she’s thrilled at the prospect of this new position and she’s eager to preserve Southold’s past.
“If we don’t preserve these buildings, we lose sight of how people used to live and how we got to where we are,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to be here and I’m looking forward to see where this position takes me.”
Photo caption: Deanna Witte-Walker in front of the Southold Historical Society building on Main Road.