Through special exhibits and regular programs and museum hours, the society aims to engage people in the vital aspects of Rye's history so that current issues may be better understood and future plans respect the natural and human history of the town.
It came naturally to Jessie Herlihy to found the Rye Historical Society in 1976. She had been active in Rye since moving here in 1937. She spent her early years raising four sons and trying to run her farm on Lang Rd. during WWII. In the late 1940s, she was one of the founders of Rye Cooperative Kindergarten, and was active with her husband, Edward, in the Rye Players who performed, sometimes in spite of themselves, at Town Hall. As a trained artist, she became a professional puppeteer in the 50s and performed widely with her partners for the next 30 years.
Scouts, school, church, garden and art organizations occupied much of her other free time. She was a founding organizer of the Rye Historic District in the 1960s and continued to be active in many groups. In the 1970s, she and the town of Rye bloomed in ways they could not imagine. Some of the early meetings to organize the fight against the proposed oil refinery on Great Bay happened in her house. She was part of the Rye Bicentennial Committee and helped write the script and performed in the Rye pageant that was part of that great event. It was her idea to form the Rye Historical Society in 1976. She was a founding member of the Parsons Park committee that saved 50 acres for the town in Rye Center.
In the 1980s, she began to write poetry, including some based on Rye history. (A book of her poems was published by RHS after she died in 1989.) Organizing programs, restoring old graveyards, and documenting old houses, Jessie remained an integral member of RHS. It was always her dream for the society to have a museum and her spirit continues to guide us in shaping the museum's future.Through all her time in Rye, she was a always a great gardener, both her own and various public gardens. She always bloomed where she was planted.