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Bicentennial
Tree Planting
On The Town Green

Sunday September 9th, 2007, Noon till 2:00 PM

Town Historian Dr. Robert L. Rafford Commemorates the
Tree Planting With a Brief History of the Town Green.
Photo courtesy Robin Fenn



Katie Stevens Sings the "Star Spangled Banner"
Photo courtesy Robin Fenn



Bicentennial Committee Members, Tree Planting Committee
 Members, and Public Officials Pose for a Historic Picture.
Photo by David Marselinas



Bicentennial Memorabilia For Sale Under The Tent
Photo by David Marselinas



Socializing on the Town Green
Photo by David Marselinas

 

The Public Park – The Middlebury Green

Dr. Robert L. Rafford, Middlebury, Connecticut, Municipal Historian

Sunday, September 9, 2007 – 12:30

The Green today is owned by the members of the Congregational Church and leased to the town of Middlebury. Years ago it was simply called the Public Park. It has been called the most beautiful Green in New England.

The first Congregational Church building was erected in the center of the west end of the present Green in 1793.[i] Delia Bronson, one of our first town historians, wrote in 1967 that “The bell had been made in New York State and brought by water down the Hudson River and to New Haven, and finally hauled by ox team to Middlebury. The large stone steps which are in front of this church were drawn from Mine Hill, Roxbury…” In 1840 the last service was held in the old church and material from the church was moved across to the new church, on the north side of the Green.

One citizen of Middlebury, Artison S. Clark (his great-grandson, Christopher Parker, lives on the Green in the Wheaton House with his wife Molly), wrote that at the public park on 21 June 1861, the first year of the Civil War, a 104-foot flagpole was erected and a flag, 16 x 24 feet, was flown from its peak. The pole was provided by Mr. Robert Hotchkiss. Bronson, father of Eli Bronson. Eli, in turn, was the father of Wheaton Andrews Bronson, the husband of Delia (Driver) Bronson. The flag was the handiwork of the patriotic ladies of the town.[ii] At least 30 soldiers from Middlebury marched off to serve their country in the Civil War. Artison Clark reported that in 1861 there “were only four or five old maples at the west end” of the Green.

In “1870 the younger members of the community formed themselves into what was called the Middlebury Improvement Society.” Old worn-down roadways were filled and the road in front of the Congregational Church was constructed as a bypass around the park to direct traffic around, rather than through, the park.[iii]

Then, in 1872 “a very public spirited gentleman,” Roswell Bronson Wheaton (1815-1892), and his wife, Levea Root Andrews (1816-1886), purchased a home on the park and became interested in improving it. They graded it and provided for drainage, defined the boundaries and otherwise improved it.

Now Artison Skilton Clark, who was born in 1849, husband of Lillian Augusta Chamberlain (1853-1931), states that in 1876[iv], 25 elm trees were planted on the Green by local citizens with names such as Abbott, Blackman, Bronson, Clark, Chamberlain, DeForest, Fenn, Osborn, Platt, Seeley, Scott, Smith, Tuttle, Tyrell, Wheaton and Wheeler.

The west side of the Green held three houses, according to an article in the Waterbury American of August 20, 1913. On the east side of the Green stood the Methodist Episcopal Church, built in the 1830s, discontinued in 1921, and now owned by Westover School. The Union Academy was built in 1811 to replace the original Center School, which was a one-room schoolhouse where the current Town Hall stands.[v] The Union Academy building was bought by the town in 1859[vi] and used as the Center School until 1897 when it was replaced by the Center Schoolhouse, built by the town and John Howard Whittemore.

On the south side of the Green stood the Country Store and blacksmith shop for over 100 years. The Store was not just a store; it was the center of gossip, rumor and news for the town. Residents would gather there, probably as they do today at Perrotti’s Restaurant, after an election to weigh the results and ruminate about the future of the town, the state and the country. The Store was also the location of the post office with twice-weekly deliveries and it is where you went to take the stage coach into Waterbury and beyond. And on the north side of the Green, as today, there was a Congregational Church and the parsonage, was once a tavern owned by John Bradley. Around the church there were the mews or sheds built for horses, because for the first 100 years people traveled primarily by horse.

In 1909 the world renowned Westover School opened its doors. It had replaced the country store and blacksmith shop which were moved down West Street to where Perrotti’s Restaurant is today. Westover has been a wonderful addition to our Green and a generous neighbor to all Middleburians, attracting people from around the world to our little town to teach us and to learn from us.

In 1907 the cornerstone of the Roman Catholic church was laid, and it was dedicated in 1914. The church, facing the Green, completes the circle in the center of town.

On April 8, 1935, a fire broke out which destroyed the Congregational Church and the Town Hall. Both buildings have been replaced; the Congregational Church is a replica of the one built in the nineteenth century.

People gathered on this Green in October, 1957, just 50 years ago, for a two-day celebration of the 150th anniversary of the town’s founding. New trees were planted by descendents of the original families who planted the trees in 1876, including Ellen Fenn, Rob Fenn’s sister. Descendants of the Clark, Abbott and Chapman families were also present.

Today we gather as the 200th anniversary of our town approaches. The tree which we dedicate symbolizes our re-dedication to the ideals, the values and the hopes which Middleburians of the past expressed. For thousands of years, the tree has symbolized Life – family trees in genealogy are our personal families. Around the world, it is the family of humankind.

May this tree remind us that we should live in peace with all the peoples of the world, and may it also remind us of the pursuit of the beauty that we find in Middlebury and in all of nature.


 

[i]. Delia S. Bronson, author and compiler, Bradford E. Smith, editor, History of Middlebury, Connecticut (Waterbury, Connecticut: Middlebury Historical Society, Inc., 1992), 6, 78-79.

[ii]. Remarks of Artison S. Clark in 1932, Delia S. Bronson, author and compiler, Bradford E. Smith, editor, History of Middlebury, Connecticut (Waterbury, Connecticut: Middlebury Historical Society, Inc., 1992), 16. His name was Robert Hotchkiss Bronson, not Robert S. Bronson, written in the book.

[iii]. Bronson and Smith, History of Middlebury, Connecticut, 17.

[iv]. Bronson and Smith, History of Middlebury, Connecticut, 17. The text states it was 1872, but in another part (pages 34 and 37) of the text it states 1876. The latte makes more sense, as it was probably in honor of the bicentennial of the country that folks gathered to plant the elms.

[v] Bronson and Smith, History of Middlebury, Connecticut, 104.

[vi] Bronson and Smith, History of Middlebury, Connecticut, 136.

 

 

Commemorative speech Copyright (c) 2007 Dr. Robert L. Rafford

All other material Copyright (c) 2007
Town of Middlebury Connecticut Bicentennial Committee

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