Donation will build archive room at Manse

02/19/07 -- Nicole Muller  - Harry Van Iderstine, a Dennis native now retired to Florida, has donated $100,000 to the Dennis Historical Society to provide an archive room at the Josiah Dennis Manse in memory of his parents, Raymond and Mildred.

Last summer, Van Iderstine called DHS curator and archivist Phyllis Horton. “He said he had about $40,000 that he would like to donate to us to honor his parents and asked what we needed,” Horton said. “I told him that the DHS is remiss in not having a proper archive room for historical artifacts because we have never had the money for one. He asked if $40,000 would be enough, and I said it would help, but it wouldn’t give us what we need.” Recently, Van Iderstine called Horton again and asked if $100,000 would do the job. Horton told him it would.

Preliminary plans include moving the existing Manse library upstairs and expanding the present space into a climate- and humidity-controlled archive room. “It will have proper lighting and shelving and an alarm system on the door,” Horton said. “Our collection of manuscripts and books will be preserved in a state-of-the-art room similar to the one in Chatham.” A plaque on the archive room’s door will read, “Dedicated in memory of Raymond and Mildred Van Iderstine by Harry, Pamela and Megan Van Iderstine.”

At last fall’s special Town Meeting, $26,000 of community preservation funds was appropriated for an engineer’s evaluation of the Manse, which will then be structurally upgraded. Horton recommends that the construction of the memorial archive room and the Manse restoration be done together. “It makes sense to combine the projects, with the Van Iderstine money earmarked for the archive room,” Horton said. That suggestion would cause the least disruption to the operation of the Manse as a public historical museum.

Family history
Raymond and Mildred Van Iderstine emigrated to Dennis from Prince Edward Island in the late 1920s. Harry was born in 1930 in the family home on the corner of Whig Street and Corporation Road in Dennis village. Raymond supported his family working as head gardener for the Cape Playhouse. “At that time, the playhouse gardens were a destination in themselves,” Horton said.
In 1932, Raymond died from burns he suffered when a propane water heater exploded in an actor’s cottage where he was working. “In those days, there was no life insurance. Mildred did domestic work to support her family, and she hooked and braided rugs to sell to tourists in the summer.”
To help his mother, young Harry did odd jobs for Theoline Filley Chaffee who lived down the road in the Manse. “Harry grew up with an affection for that house, so it’s not surprising that he wishes to memorialize his parents there,” Horton said.

As a teenager, Harry worked for Arthur Sears in his garage, learning auto mechanics. By the time he graduated from Yarmouth High School in 1948, Harry realized that Sears did not have enough business to warrant his working in the garage full time. He moved to Long Island where he married Pamela, a West Virginia native, and operated a foundry in West Virginia until his retirement in the 1990s.

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