Life In West Hartford
These chapters help tell the story of the West Hartford, Connecticut community from first settlement to the present day. How does the identity of a community grow? Who are the people whose voices have not been heard? And how did the powerful use their voices? Who spoke and worked for equality, democracy, justice, rights and rebellion, all ideals delineated in our Declaration of Independence? Local history gives us a window into how life in a democracy works.
About the author: Tracey M. Wilson taught history in the West Hartford Public Schools for over 35 years. She taught a course in Local History at Conard High School and wrote articles for West Hartford Life for 15 years. The Town Council named her Town Historian in 2004. She earned her B.A. and M.A. degrees from Trinity College, and her Ph.D. in history from Brown University. She lives with her wife Beth Bye in West Hartford, CT.
Copyright © 2018 by Tracey M. Wilson. Life in West Hartford is freely available online at http://LifeInWestHartford.org and distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Readers may share the work for non-commercial use, by including a source credit to the author.
Print copies of this book are available for sale from the publisher, the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, in West Hartford, Connecticut. Proceeds of sales benefit the Society http://noahwebsterhouse.org.
Cover photo: Teacher and Coach Louise Duffy poses with her 1911-12 West Hartford High School basketball team. Courtesy of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.
Cover design: Rich Hollant, Co:Lab, 1429 Park Street, Hartford, CT
Printed by: Cricket Press, 236 Park Road, West Hartford, CT
Print book ISBN: 978-0-692-18240-6
LIFE IN WEST HARTFORD Tracey M. Wilson 288 pp. First printing September 2018
Web and ebook editions created by Jack Dougherty with Bookdown, last updated on 2021-07-02
Who tells our stories? And what do these stories tell us about what we value?
For 15 years, I wrote local history essays for the magazine, West Hartford Life. I’m not sure how I wrote more than 140 essays while I was raising a family and teaching high school history full time. These monthly articles continually put me in the position of my Conard High School history students — a deadline, a topic, establishing a context, evidence, and ferreting out cause and effect. This work helped make me a better teacher and community member. I was able to use my historian skills at the local level to help community members examine who we are as a town.
As I wrote these articles, and as you read them, individually, and as a whole, think about how they define what we value as a community. What events included all types of people? Which events excluded people? Which reinforced who had power and which gave power to those who didn’t have it before? Whose voices were heard? What documents can give us a window into the past? Is the story about an individual or is it more about the context in which this individual lived? How do present day issues help to define what we want to know about the past?
My love for this town comes from the involvement of so many citizens in striving to build a better community: a place based on justice, equal opportunity, a desire to join together to attack problems, and a love for those who live here. That is not to say that our actions in this town are always just, or that there is equal opportunity for all. Not everyone is a joiner, and not everyone is loved. But I dare say that many in this town make it their work to move toward those noble goals. You will read here about equality and differences. For example, you’ll read about our first meeting house, Lemuel Haynes, Amos Beman, Thomas Barrows, when we became our own town, Edith Beach, Susie Butler Andrews, Dr. Caroline Hamilton, the League of Women Voters, attempts to build affordable housing, Korczak Ziolkowski, Soviet Jewish emigres, school Superintendents, people who died in the many wars, and about pioneer Olivia Shelton.
Former Connecticut State Historian Chris Collier argued that he could teach United States History by teaching Connecticut history. There is much to be said for that sentiment. For the stories here about West Hartford teach us about equality, democracy, justice, rights and rebellion. Local history, too, can teach U.S. History.
So many people have helped me become the historian and community member that led to this book. I think of my high school history teacher, Pete Lynch from Granby Memorial High School, college professors Jim Miller, Kim Steele, and Joan Hedrick from Trinity College. Graduate school professors Mari Jo Buhle and Joan Scott each helped me find my voice.
As a teacher, my department supervisors at Conard encouraged and supported me in teaching a Local History course, and did so for over 20 years. My students taught me much about what mattered and what stories had staying power. Thanks too, to the Town of West Hartford, and Mayor Jonathan Harris for naming me Town Historian in 2004.
West Hartford Life provided a motivation and venue for my work. Thanks to Mark Jahne and others who encouraged me. And thanks to TurleyCT Community Publications for permission to publish the over 140 articles that first appeared in their magazine. Thanks so much to Greg Confessore and Dom Marino at Cricket Press for printing the book. The Conard connection is real.
I especially want to thank Prof. Jack Dougherty, who, when I was at a very low point, came to me asking if I would be interested in making the articles into an online book. Jack taught me about the value of open-sourcing the book; you can read it online at http://LifeInWestHartford.org. Jack and his research assistant (and my former Trinity student) Vianna Iorio did much of the legwork to help me get the articles in order and provide searchable words, a short synopsis and a means to organize them. Jack spent countless hours with me, sitting on his porch, making our way through photos, edits and credits. It goes without saying that this book would not exist without Jack. What a treat to have this help through a difficult time. Thanks for the friendship and professional help, especially when I needed it most.
Thank you to the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society, especially Jenn DiCola Matos and Sheila Daley. Sheila had the knowledge and the skills to help me find the primary sources which appear throughout the book. And she helped me find the illustrations and she embedded them in the text, no small task.
Thanks to the West Hartford Public Library, and especially to Martha Church who always encouraged me in my study of Local History. Her knowledge of the town is vast and she has documents at her fingertips. Their Local History Room keeps the power of local history alive.
Thanks on a personal level to Liz Devine. We taught together for 37 years at opposite ends of town, for most of it, and then we retired together. We continue to talk history and teaching as we write curriculum and train young teachers. She is as good a friend as you’d ever find!
And finally, my family — Peter, Adam, Brittany, Caroline and Billie — who delight in my love of history and find ways to keep me guessing. And, to Beth, who is the best partner a person could ever have and my best editor. She is supportive, fun, and curious, and she knows what I love.
— Tracey Wilson, June 2018