New Ipswich museum explores 250 years of military history

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, with a replicat of a Model T ambulance that would have been used in the World War I era.

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, with a replicat of a Model T ambulance that would have been used in the World War I era. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Prehistoric artifacts and simple tools on display at the New Ipswich Museum of History.

Prehistoric artifacts and simple tools on display at the New Ipswich Museum of History. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A bust of George Washington featured in the Revolutionary War display at the New Ipswich Museum of History.

A bust of George Washington featured in the Revolutionary War display at the New Ipswich Museum of History. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

The uniform, weapons and artifacts of Henry Sparhawke Hitchcock, a former student of Appleton Academy, now on display in the Appleton gymnasium-turned-museum.

The uniform, weapons and artifacts of Henry Sparhawke Hitchcock, a former student of Appleton Academy, now on display in the Appleton gymnasium-turned-museum. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A display of prehistoric arrowheads and pipes at the New Ipswich Museum of History.

A display of prehistoric arrowheads and pipes at the New Ipswich Museum of History. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, with a replicat of a Model T ambulance that would have been used in the World War I era.

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, with a replicat of a Model T ambulance that would have been used in the World War I era. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, who has been renovating the former Appleton Elementary School, held an open house in the school's former gym on Saturday to open a historical museum housing his extensive collection of  historical and military artifacts.

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, who has been renovating the former Appleton Elementary School, held an open house in the school's former gym on Saturday to open a historical museum housing his extensive collection of  historical and military artifacts. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, who has been renovating the former Appleton Elementary School, held an open house in the school's former gym on Saturday to debut a historical museum housing his extensive collection of historical and military artifacts.

Scott Kraska of New Ipswich, who has been renovating the former Appleton Elementary School, held an open house in the school's former gym on Saturday to debut a historical museum housing his extensive collection of historical and military artifacts. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A grouping of a uniform and items belonging to Seaman Averland Foster, of Springs, N.Y., who served in 1862 during the Civil War.

A grouping of a uniform and items belonging to Seaman Averland Foster, of Springs, N.Y., who served in 1862 during the Civil War. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

The uniform and captured Spanish souvenirs of Capt. Charles J. Stevens of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, worn during the Battle of San Juan Hill.

The uniform and captured Spanish souvenirs of Capt. Charles J. Stevens of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, worn during the Battle of San Juan Hill. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A powder horn carried by Pvt. Eleazar Hudson of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment during the French and Indian War.

A powder horn carried by Pvt. Eleazar Hudson of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment during the French and Indian War. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

A display shows English pikeman’s armor and a matchlock musket, circa 1600.

A display shows English pikeman’s armor and a matchlock musket, circa 1600. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

The scarlet waistcoat of Minuteman Ebenezer Willis, a soldier who fought at Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War.

The scarlet waistcoat of Minuteman Ebenezer Willis, a soldier who fought at Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 09-13-2023 12:39 PM

Over the past four years, as Scott Kraska of New Ipswich has been renovating the former Appleton Elementary School into a home and place for his mail-order business, he has also had an eye on the school’s former gymnasium for a different purpose – to turn his collection of mostly military artifacts into a museum.

On Saturday, Kraska’s dream was realized when he opened the doors for a first look at the New Ipswich Museum of History, with displays featuring uniforms and items of soldiers – often telling the story of a single individual – through World War II.

The first exhibit of the museum is prehistoric artifacts, including arrowheads and simple stone tools, and carved pipes. But the majority of the collection relates to various conflicts IN American history, dating back to 1600 and through 1945.

Kraska bought the building four years ago, and said the former school was in rough shape after spending a significant amount of time unoccupied. But he said he was looking for a space that had space for both living space and at least 1,000 square feet for a warehouse and packing area for his business, and places that fit the bill were scarce on the ground while still remaining close enough to his family who remain in Massachusetts.

When he found the former school, he bought it for the main building, but he said when he walked into the gymnasium, which was almost derelict at the time, he had a vision of what it could be.

“As a historian, one of the pleasures of doing this is not just the acquisition of artifacts, but it’s sharing them with other people,” Kraska said. “Every collector, no matter what they collect, in the back of their mind, has a fantasy that they’d love to have a museum. A lot of us have the willingness to share, but they don’t necessarily have the resources to have a dedicated space.”

Kraska said the gym was in such bad shape that friends told him he was crazy when he shared his plan to turn it into a museum, but he was undeterred, and spent months installing new floors and carpets and replacing the roof, working on the electric and plumbing, building cases and lighting for his displays and expanding his already-healthy collection to fill them.

Kraska said his fascination with military history began when he was young. He started with an interest in the Civil War when he was 10 or 12, and attended his first auction when he was 13, after getting his first job. But he said that with a limited budget, he was only able to buy small items.

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When he was 16, after talking with an antique shop owner about his frustration at not being able to expand his collection with his limited funds, the owner pointed him toward the more-available and less-expensive items from World War I.

Kraska said he became an avid collector of World War I artifacts, and that remains his core collection today, though he expanded to other historical conflicts for the purpose of creating the New Ipswich Museum of History.

Many of the displays include photographs and artifacts from a single soldier. Kraska said that’s intentional.

“What we want to show here is the history of men and women who are forced. because of circumstances, to become part of these global changing events, and how they persevere,” Kraska said. “All of these people were willing to give up something of themselves and their own life for a greater cause. The lessons these people teach us are important today.”

One of those individuals has a special connection to the building – Capt. Henry Sparhawk Hitchcock, a Civil War soldier who was once a student in the building when it was Appleton Academy. Hitchcock enlisted in the 21st Massachusetts Volunteers at the age of 22, and saw action at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain and Antietam, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.

He was shot in the chest at Petersburg, and returned to Massachusetts. He survived his wounds, but never fully recovered. His display includes his uniform, photographs, weapons and diary.

Kraska said those personal stories are what fascinates him about history, and he hopes to share that interest with other people, particularly young people. He said his interest in history was sparked early, when his mother took him to the Lexington green to watch a battle re-enactment. After the battle, he asked one of the soldiers where he might buy one of the bullets fired in the re-enactment, and the man gave him a musket ball from his own supply.

“It was like someone had given me a gold bar,” Kraska said. “I was over the moon. And that was a treasured possession of mine, for years. To do something like that for a younger person, it can create a spark. It can create an excuse to take a closer look at history.”

Kraska said he plans to continue expanding the exhibit space, including creating more local exhibits about town history in the front former cloak room.

Kraska plans to open the museum two Saturdays a month, at no charge for the general public, but said he is also extending invitations to schools in the Mascenic School District, and then beyond, for school trips during the week.

Educators interested in arranging a visit to the museum, or volunteering as a docent, should contact Kraska at scottkraska@comcast.net. For information, visit nimuseum.com or the New Ipswich Museum Facebook page. Dates for upcoming open days will be posted on the Facebook page. There is no admission fee for the museum.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.