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America’s traditional card game helps with historical preservation

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A first glance, playing poker for a good cause seems a bit unorthodox. But the card game plays a prominent role in American folklore, so it’s not so surprising that the Townsend Historical Society sponsored a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament recently to raise money.

The event took place at the West Townsend VFW on June 4 and drew 24 “buy-ins” to compete for prize money by playing the nation’s favorite card game. This was the second such tournament held by the Historical Society.

Claire Kauppi, Historical Society director for four years, says that fundraising became a real challenge after the economic downturn in 2008. She comments, “Not only did contributions fall off because of the economy, but the downturn coincided with the launch of the new library endowment fund, which is obviously a good cause for the town, too.”

The Society has a mission to cultivate and encourage interest in the history of Townsend, and to achieve that goal, collects and preserves historical items, books, manuscripts, pamphlets, biographies, and anecdotes about the town.

There are currently five historical Townsend properties owned and maintained by the Society — the Reed Homestead, the Cooperage, Harbor Church, Spaulding Grist Mill, and the Copeland Cooper Shop.

Older properties of this kind require specialized, often costly upkeep to preserve the historical past represented by the buildings themselves, along with the antique artifacts and valuable collections they house. A visit to these properties gives an eye-opening glimpse into the lives of Townsend residents in the early 1800s. And looking into the past is exactly what elementary students get to do thanks to the Historical Society.

On June 8 and 9, several Fitchburg fifth-grade classes came to Townsend to visit the Reed House, Grist Mill and Harbor Church. The students participated in activities at the properties that introduced them to what life was like for children nearly 200 years ago. Townsend third-graders participated in a similar program in May.

“This in an enlightening educational experience for the children. They learn interesting facts about local history and are exposed to some of the daily hardships endured by the area’s early settlers, which seem unimaginable to children today,” said Kauppi.

What’s up next for the Historical Society? There is a fundraiser planned for October that will feature open houses at four or five historically significant private homes in town. The houses will be staffed by volunteers who are knowledgeable about each home’s past history, architecture and furnishings.

Over the past decade, the Historical Society has undertaken two major restoration projects at the Grist Mill. The foundation was restored over a two-year period from 2002-2004 at a cost of $250,000, and most recently the east wall needed repairs that cost $97,000. Most of the Historical Society’s funding comes from membership dues and private contributions.

“We are under pressure to pay off a big loan and it is a tough environment for fundraising right now,” said Kauppi. “A poker tournament is a fun way to raise money.”

The winner of Friday’s poker game was Paul McKean, of Acton, who won $500 for his sharp card skills with the runner-up receiving a prize of $250. The tournament was organized by Mass Poker Events, a charitable gaming company owned by Townsend residents Dave and Laurie Walker, who in the past have run fundraising events for other local nonprofits, such as the Pepperell and Groton Fire departments and the Pepperell Lions Club.

To learn more about the Townsend Historical Society and how to become a member, visit its website at www.townsendhistoricalsociety.org or call the society at 978-597-2106.