By Robin Jovanovich
A prominent square in the Rye Historical Society “quilt” these last 20 years, including close to 14 years as executive director, Sheri Jordan recently decided to hang up her colonial frocks and crinoline petticoats and step into the modern age.
In a leisurely conversation this week, Jordan traced her love of the past back to childhood. “When I was a young girl, our family lived in London, and that’s when I fell in love with history.”
When she was asked to lead the Historical Society, Jordan made it her mission not only to raise the profile of the organization and make good use of its two landmarked buildings, the Square House in downtown Rye and the Knapp House on Rye Beach Avenue, but to continue to make history relevant.
“History is us, and we’ve highlighted that through many of our exhibits — A Day in the Life of Rye: Now & Then, World War II, which we kept on display for nearly two years, Immigration, Mapping the History of Rye.”
She added that the annual Rye History Walking tours, created by residents Pam and Gene McGuire and led by volunteer docents, have enriched our knowledge of our ancestors, the homes they built, and the businesses and organizations they founded.
“The Parsons family is well-known in Rye for their philanthropy, particularly their donations of land on which the Rye Free Reading Room, Rye High and Middle schools, and the Rye Nature Center have long stood,” she noted. “But in our research on the family, we discovered that John F. (Jeb) Parsons, who served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, was awarded the Military Cross, worked on the Enigma project, and was named an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).”
What she has appreciated in all her time at the Historical Society is “every City Council’s support and working in collaboration with other nonprofits to further the missions of all.”
During her tenure, informative Walk Rye History signs were installed throughout Rye and it’s a rare day when you don’t see residents and visitors pausing in front of one.
Having hired experienced and passionate staff as well as the Society’s first professional collections manager, she knows the organization is in good hands.
Jordan leaves the Square House in a good place, welcoming visitors and researchers; the Knapp House, Westchester’s oldest house, however, is closed to visitors because of structural issues, but temporary shoring is in place and a Knapp House Advisory Committee has been formed.
She’s excited to report that the Square House will be the first New York institution to host the Witness Stories Project, which was started by a history teacher in Guilford, Conn., “to restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved.” Students at School of the Holy Child have been doing research for the upcoming exhibit.
She looks forward to being a guest at the openings of “Rye as a Coastal Community” curated by Alyson Relyea, and an exhibit on Peg Lyon, being organized by a direct descendant, Teresa Vega.
Sheri Jordan’s parting wisdom is: “Live with history. Don’t knock it down.”