Then and Now

From the Chelsea Area Historical Society

Anyone who volunteers anywhere knows that it is an often thankless task… but then something happens that makes it all worthwhile.  Such an event happened just recently at the Chelsea Area Historical Society Museum (CAHS). What has now become an annual tradition took place with an added twist.  Each year now the seniors from Chelsea High School’s AP History class walk over for a private tour of the museum.  Knowing they were coming prompted Society President Bill O’Reilly to get out something “new” to the collections.

The CAHS has received many wonderful additions to its collections of late and among these are the donations of local resident Virginia Visel – the great-great-granddaughter of one of the early pioneers of Chelsea – Elisha Congdon II (1799-1867).  The donations consist of many documents and photographs related to the Congdon family and O’Reilly knew that among the items was an original program from the graduation ceremony of the Chelsea High School class of 1896. He was looking for that program in the box Virginia recently donated when he came upon the rolled-up diploma of a member of the class of 1896 – Nellie Grant Congdon, granddaughter of Elisha. And rolled up within Nellie’s diploma was a real find – her handwritten, 8 page Valedictorian speech.

Literally moments later O’Reilly was in the “Timeline Room” of the museum sharing some of these finds with the class of 2018 students when it was mentioned that Nellie’s counterpart from this year’s class was among them – Josie (Josephine) Surel.  Josephine was thrilled with this connection – and here you see one of the top students of the Chelsea High class of 2018 holding the original, handwritten speech of the Valedictorian of the class 122 years previously.  To me, this is what it is all about – bringing our past to life for those here today.

Not surprisingly, Nellie Congdon went on to become a teacher.  She passed away in 1966 and likely thought her speech, written 70 years previously, was long forgotten.  Chelsea’s rich history lives on and all who make up the Chelsea Area Historical Society family will continue to work to ensure it is remembered and shared for generations to come.

Photo of Nellie Congdon from 1906 – a college graduation photo.


Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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