Cavendish Considers Solzhenitsyn Exhibit

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Cavendish voters in will take up a town meeting article on whether the town should assume ownership of an historic stone church. 

If they approve, the building will house an exhibit honoring author and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn who spent 18 years in Cavendish.

Solzhenitsyn arrived in Cavendish in 1977 and stayed for 18 years before returning to his native Russia where he died in 2008.

The house he lived in is still occupied by his son Ignat and his family. There is no public site that commemorates the years the writer and human rights activist spent in the small community.

That hasn’t stopped people from coming here in search of one.

"This past summer we had two tourist busloads come through; all Russians, all wanting information," says Margo Caulfield who heads the Cavendish Historical Society.  The busloads of Russians convinced her that the town needs a place for them to visit. 

Caulfield approached the Universalist Unitarian Congregation about their long unused church in the village and they agreed to give it to the town. 

Voters will take up the matter Monday at Town Meeting. If they approve, the building will be used to house a permanent Solzhenitsyn exhibit.

The church itself is historic. It was built in the 1840s using blocks of silvery mica schist stone quarried nearby. Inside, rows of pews face a modest pulpit. Overhead a long run of stovepipe leads from one of two small woodstoves. 

Caulfield says much of the interior will be preserved. Some of the pews will be removed to create a multi-use space and accommodate the exhibit which will focus on Solzhenitsyn’s years in Cavendish. 

It will include oral histories and photographs donated by townspeople. Caulfield says Solzhenitsyn’s family has been very supportive of the idea of a permanent exhibit and she’s hoping they’ll also contribute items.

"They certainly have photographs and things that we certainly don’t have that will make this a richer and more meaningful exhibit, and they have been extraordinarily helpful," she says.

Caulfield says in addition to serving as an attraction for visitors, the exhibit will remind residents of their town’s history. The sentiment is echoed by Town Manager Richard Svec.

"We think that he was an important enough person from the standpoint that he was a Nobel laureate, he did significant work while he was here in Cavendish.  In fact he was here in Cavendish because he wanted to have the undisturbed time to do that work.  We thank that’s an important piece of Cavendish history," says Svec.

It’s perhaps fitting that people will vote on Town Meeting Day on whether to take ownership of a building to house a Solzhenitsyn exhibit

It was at the Cavendish Town Meeting in 1994, as he prepared to return to Russia that the writer addressed townspeople through an interpreter, thanking them for their hospitality and for protecting his privacy during his 18 years there.

If voters approve, organizers hope to open the permanent exhibit in the spring of 2014. 

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