In 1969, Dr. Robert Chaffee, former director of the defunct Dartmouth College Museum, formed an exploratory group to discuss development of a regional environmental center in the Hanover-Norwich area. In 1973, Chaffee and Walter C. Paine, one of Montshire’s founding board members, solicited community feedback on their findings, and in 1974, the museum was formally incorporated.
In 1976, Montshire opened its doors to the public in the former Golfside Bowling Lanes on Lyme Road in Hanover, New Hampshire, with six diorama cases and a Discovery Room with simple interactive exhibits. Much of the 60,000 natural science specimens were granted to the fledgling museum by Dartmouth College.
Preparing for the Future
In 1981, David Goudy came on as director of the Montshire. Previously the assistant director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis Missouri, Goudy would continue to serve as director until March 2015 — thirty-four years of tenure.
Under Goudy’s vision and leadership, the Montshire moved locations to a purpose-built building in Norwich, Vermont, doubled in size, developed extensive outdoor exhibits and trails, and expanded educational services deep in both Vermont and New Hampshire.
The Vermont Site
In 1984, after a community fundraising campaign, Montshire purchased 100 acres along the Connecticut River in Norwich, Vermont. Soon, the riverfront site sprouted nature trails and outdoor exhibits, and Montshire launched a Summer Camp Program that today serves serves over 600 children ages 3 to 13.
A few years later the Montshire broke ground on a 20,000 square foot building. The museum building opened in 1989 and the grand opening celebration was attended by more than 3,000 people.
Building on Success
Within a few years of opening, the new Montshire museum was welcoming 100,000 visitors annually. A series of impactful museum expansions and projects followed:
- 1990 Soda Fountain Science for hands-on exploration
- 1992 Andy’s Place for children 5 and under
- 1995 Pedestrian bridge to the Ridge Trail and Observation Tower are completed
- 1995 The Museum is awarded the National Award for Museum Service by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
- 1998 Pedestrian tunnel under railroad leads to the establishment of the Quinn Nature Preserve
- 2002 The museum expands by 10,000 square feet with the Leonard M. Reiser Learning Center. This space marks the Montshire as a Conte Refuge education site.
- 2002 Science Park opens, the result of a $4.2 million capital campaign
- 2004 Montshire Access Project is completed, enhancing access to the facility
- 2008 Woodland Garden opens
- 2010 Hughes Pavilion opens
- 2018 The Montshire leads an international program to study climate change with Bhutan and the University of New Hampshire
Becoming a Recognized Leader in Science Education
Montshire’s team of passionate experts have long partnered with other institutes and agencies to forward the field of science education.
In 2002, Montshire and Dartmouth College established the Dartmouth-Montshire Institute for Science Education to enhance the quality of science education in Vermont and New Hampshire.
In 2005, Jesse B. Cox Charitable Trust funds development of a model for museum-school partnerships to create a long-term, sustainable science infrastructure in a rural school district.
In 2009, Montshire formed partnerships with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vermont Center for Ecostudies to enhance and expand programming, and to offer new opportunities to explore nature.
In 2017, the Montshire partnered with Vermont Afterschool Inc., bringing STEM professional development programs to after school providers in Vermont, and delivering over 1,000 tinkering kits to afterschool programs.
Earning Recognition, Grants, and Awards
The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the Montshire the National Award for Museum Service, presented by First Lady Hillary Clinton at a White House ceremony. Through the mid-1990s, the museum was granted awards from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. The NSF grants allowed us to create the TEAMS (Traveling Exhibits at Museums of Science) collaborative with six museum partners around the country. The Montshire also launched ValleyNet, a community-based information resource using the nascent Internet that later grew into its own independent organization.
In 2008, Parents Magazine recognized the Montshire as one of the nation’s top 25 science centers in its September issue.
The Current Era
When David Goudy retired as director in 2015, Friends of the Montshire contributed over $1 million to establish the David Goudy Discovery Fund to create new and enhanced exhibit experiences. We also renamed our outdoor discovery area the David Goudy Science Park to recognize his exceptional service.
Since April 2015, Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., has served as executive director. Previously vice president of programs for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Stafne has also served at other science and arts institutions. Under Stafne’s leadership, Montshire underwent a strategic planning process to envision future growth and expansion.
Since 2015, numerous exhibition projects funded by the David Goudy Discovery Fund have been completed including Bubbles Science in Soap (2015), Making Music: The Science of Musical Instruments (2016), a new entry sculpture, Ripple Effect, by Vermont artist Dan Snow (2016), Air Works (2018), and more to come.
In 2018, the Montshire transformed the School Partnership Initiative (serving small rural schools) to become the Montshire STEM Alliance, a program that now incorporates STEM teacher leadership, and community discussion regarding Science.
The Montshire continues to advance its mission to awaken and encourage a lifelong interest in science through exhibits and programming dedicated to hands-on discovery and education for people of all ages.