When it comes to state history, West Hartford's Mary Donohue can certainly hold her own.
As survey and grants director for the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Economic and Community Development for more than 30 years, Donohue devoted herself to finding all the places that make Connecticut uniquely, well, Connecticut.
In addition to surveys analyzing a single town or particular section of a town, Donohue also devised many more specialized studies focused on Civil War monuments, National Guard armories and sculptures, as well as synagogues, farms and resorts operated by Jewish immigrants.
On April 4, at its annual preservation awards event in Hartford, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation honored Donohue with the Janet Jainschigg Award of Excellence, named for Janet G. Jainschigg, a founder and benefactor of the Connecticut Trust as well as a regional leader in historic preservation.
"I was so thrilled and honored to receive the Jainschigg Award," Donohue said. "I am proud to say that I knew Janet Jainschigg and each of the previous winners. This award is for excellence in historic preservation, so to receive it at this point in my career is very meaningful."
Donohue says the essential questions concerning a building — where it is, what it is, why it's significant — must be answered.
"Our historic buildings and landscapes surround us and impact our everyday life," she said. "These buildings embody a history that is messy, complex, inspiring, heartbreaking, uplifting and, sometimes, politically incorrect. Learning these stories connects us to each other and enriches our lives."
For her continued efforts, Donohue has received awards from the American Association for State and Local History, the Connecticut League of History Organizations, the Heritage Preservation (Washington, D.C.), the Hartford Preservation Alliance, Le Souvenir Franšais, and the Connecticut Association of Landscape Architects.
Donohue just began a new chapter in her life as executive director of the Manchester Historical Society.
"I was drawn to the Manchester Historical Society because of the types of buildings they own — an industrial building, house museum, schoolhouse, Greek Revival farmhouse, barns — and the great potential for vastly expanded public programming, education and heritage tourism initiatives," Donohue said.
At the preservation awards, several other preservation projects were recognized with merit awards for physical preservation, including Cheney Mill Dye House (Manchester), Sterling Block and Bishop Arcade (Bridgeport), Eli Whitney Barn (Hamden), Twitchell House (Oxford) and Massaro Farm Barn (Woodbridge).