HUDSON — When Hudson town Commissioner Ann Smith dialed the phone number she was given by Jan’s publisher in the fall of 2019, she was nervous but anxious to talk with Jan Karon, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of the Mitford Series.
“The town and its appointed HUB steering committee, had begun renovations on Jan’s old grade-school building, formerly Hudson School, and turning it into an arts center. I thought Jan might be interested in setting up a meeting room for writers and offering workshops to individuals who had story ideas that might need nurturing,” Ann said.
Jan was in fact intrigued with the idea, her first-grade classroom was in that building and she had said many times that first grade was her favorite of all grades.
“Us little country kids were crazy about our teacher, Nan Downs. Ms. Downs understood that love is the best teacher of all,” Jan said.
Ann recalls reminding herself it was a shot in the dark but knew having Jan Karon in Hudson would help grow the town and community. Her fellow commissioners agreed, so the room that served as Jan’s first grade classroom, was offered to her during her homecoming and welcome home celebration weekend in 2019.
“I originally thought my first-grade classroom could be a hub for book clubs, but soon realized that I wanted to do something for my Mitford fans and readers, the town of Hudson and this beautiful region in general,” Jan said.
Since that time, the proposed single room has grown to two galleries of exhibitions, a museum office in the 1940s, teachers break room; a space for accessioning the numerous historical artifacts collected by the author; and The Happy Endings Bookstore featured in the 14 Mitford novels.
The museum opened in a weeklong celebration Oct. 2 that drew 400 ticket holders from across America and The District of Columbia. Since that time, the museum has seen visitors from 43 states, coast to coast.
In her opening remarks and dedication of the Museum and bookstore, Jan began by saying: “Mitford is now at home in Hudson. The Mitford Museum is where you can feel the love of relationships and community. Only two miles from here as the crow flies,” she said, “It was here, that I had childhood experiences on a farm settled originally by my great grandparents that led me eventually to develop the characters and life stories of Mitford.
“When I entered Mrs. Nan Downs’ first grade classroom many, years ago, I encountered a loving teacher who convinced me I could write,” she continued. “And Nan Downs, represents all those teachers throughout the world who convince young children like I was then that they are capable and worthy. The Mitford Museum begins in that classroom where I learned to write.”
The museum’s mission will include workshops and competitions for young regional writers, photographers, and musicians; the study and examination of the area’s ties to mountain culture; and the creation of an annual literary festival.
Jan Karon serves the museum as executive director. Museum hours are Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Call the museum office at 828 572-1511 to schedule groups of six or more.