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Historical society chief honored for her work
New Haven Register November 2, 2004
The West Haven News November 5, 2004
By Marissa Yaremich Special to the News

Chief Honored
Carole A. Laydon McElrath of the West Haven Historical Society and Mary Grant LaRichiuta of the Eva Lear Chapter of the DAR pose recently in front of the Civil War Era West Haven Buckle Shop building
WEST HAVEN - Preserving pieces of the past enriches the lives of future generations, according to Carole A. Laydon McElrath, president of the West Haven Historical Society.

"There is no way future generations will have a clue what went on (unless I) can re-create the reality of these periods," said McElrath, 68.

With this mind-set guiding her actions since 1992, McElrath has built a footbridge between the "olde" and new by salvaging and documenting the city's 356-year history.

McElrath's dedication to history has so deeply impressed the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, that it recently awarded her its prestigious Historic Preservation Medal.

The award is given on an infrequent basis to a person exemplifying a distinguished record in recognizing and preserving objects and areas of historic cultural significance.

"We must be doing something right," said an excited McElrath, who credited her success to the help of other local history activists.

National DAR officials could not immediately confirm the last time the medal was awarded. Mary Grant LaRichiuta, local DAR Eve Lear Chapter regent, who nominated McElrath, said McElrath might be one of a select few Connecticut residents given the honor.

Mayor H. Richard Borer Jr., in his recommendation letter to the society, said West Haven is "lucky" McElrath has been so active.

"It is my opinion that she is the epitome of American heritage and gives her utmost energy to the preservation, conservation and restoration of `olde' West Haven," Borer wrote.

Borer noted McElrath's accomplishments include founding the Ward-Heitman House Museum and leading the Historical Society in its 50th anniversary last month.

McElrath, a Hamden resident, is also credited with restoring the West Haven center burial grounds, which are now listed on the National Historic Registry, as well as preserving its headstones.

Most weekends she can be found giving bus tours of historic West Haven, coordinating re-enactments of its major historical events or restoring timeworn structures.

In addition, Grant noted McElrath has authored the history of Savin Rock for the U.S. Library of Congress' Local Legacy Program and has established a 38-member historic research team to identify and document local history.

While McElrath admits she is proud of her feats, she said her inspiration comes from the sheer "fun" of each project.

"Every project's a favorite," she said. McElrath said she hopes to persuade the city to sell the abandoned 19th-century West Haven Buckle Shop on Washington Avenue to the West Haven Historical Society for $1.

"First thing people say ... is we can't, we can't, we can't. There's no such word as `can't' in my vocabulary," said McElrath.

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