Academy Hall Museum 785 Old Main Street Rocky Hill, CT 06067
History of a River Town and its People
snail mail: P.O. Box 185
phone: (860) 563-6704
Nonprofit 501 (C) (3)
HISTORY OF THE ROCKY HILL HISTORICAL SOCIETY
THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS
1962 – 2012
By John S. Serra
1962 - THE BEGINNING
The Historical Committee of the Friends of the Cora J. Belden Library was established in 1960 as the forerunner of the Rocky Hill Historical Society (RHHS) with the aim of getting the Society off the ground as an active organization. At a meeting on March 14, 1962, the following decision was made: “…Considerable discussion was given to the future of this committee. The following decision was moved and accepted: That the purpose of this temporary committee, which was formed as a ‘forerunner of a future Rocky Hill Historical Society,’ has been served…This committee recommends therefore that the Friends of the Cora J. Belden Library have the honor of initiating the organization of an independent historical society here in Rocky Hill…”
The organizational committee included Mrs. Leon R. Foster as Chair; Mrs. Harold S. Morrow, Secretary; Mrs. Dudley S. Cooke, Mrs. William S. Grainger, Mrs. Warren A. Hough, Mrs. John M. Hurley, Mr. & Mrs. Peter J. Revill, Mrs. Herbert W. Sears, Mrs. Ernest C. Lowell, Mr. Andrew Twaddle, Mrs. Calvin B. Vinal, Miss Ruth Wilcox, and Miss Alice B. Williams.
The RHHS held its first meeting on Thursday, June 14, 1962 (Flag Day), beginning at 8:00 pm in the basement of the Rocky Hill Town Hall. The meeting notice advised that all persons interested in the purposes of the RHHS were invited. Dues were advertised at $1.00 per year and up. It was also stated that those attending and joining at the first meeting would be Charter Members. At the organizational meeting, there were 148 Charter members. One month later, Mrs. Ernest Lowell, Membership Chair, reported that there were 213 Charter Members. It had been voted to allow people who were interested in forming the Society but were unable to attend the initial meeting to join as Charter members.
The RHHS has as its purpose the preservation of records, mementos and landmarks of the past. The historical importance of Rocky Hill was as the head of navigation for the Connecticut River, as well as being a major port, and a center for ship building.
The guest speaker at the first meeting was Mrs. Thomas R. Rhines, Curator of the Glastonbury Historical Society, who gave a talk on the early settlement of Rocky Hill. Mrs. Rhines also spoke on the importance of a historical society to the town, especially because of the river port history of Rocky Hill, and indicated her surprise that Rocky Hill had not yet formed such a society.
Temporary officers were elected to serve until the regular elections in the fall. Those elected were William L. Harris, Jr., President; Charles L. Crosier, Vice President; Mrs. Harold S. Morrow, Recording Secretary; and Mrs. Ernest Lowell, Treasurer.
Peter J. Revill spoke about the needs of a building suitable for a museum, and indicated as possibilities the Academy Hall building on Old Main Street, owned by the Town of Rocky Hill, and the Danforth house on Glastonbury Avenue.
A Site Committee was appointed to prepare a survey of buildings suitable for museum use, and to report, with their recommendations, to the fall meeting. This committee consisted of Peter J. Revill, Chair; Mrs. Warren A. Hough, Secretary; Leonard C. Griswold, Harry R. Hick, and Ronald I. McGuire.
The Ways and Means Committee, charged with fund raising, consisted of William Grainger, Chair; Arnold E. Mooz, A. Elmer Johnson, Mrs. Laura Button, Miss Ruth Wilcox, Mrs. Albert Griswold, Sr., and Mrs. Donald D. Parry.
1962-1967 – THE FIRST FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
The fall meeting was held on Thursday, October 25, 1962. The program consisted of a presentation of the John Willard slides of old Rocky Hill houses, a report from Mrs. Dudley Cooke and Mrs. Leon Foster on the history of the Academy Hall, considered to be a possible site for the museum, and a report from Peter J. Revill, Site Committee Chair.
As you may have guessed, Peter Revill read the report from the Site Committee which recommended that the Academy Hall building, located at what is now 785 Old Main Street, be accepted as the site for the Society’s museum.
In the Historical Society’s first full year of operation, 1962/1963, the following board was elected: Mr. Dudley M. Cooke, President; Mr. Hamlin Robbins, Vice President; Mrs. Harold S. Morrow, Recording Secretary; Mrs. Olaf Aho, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. Dudley M. Cooke, Museum Recorder; and Mr. Adrian J. Demers, Treasurer. They all consented to also serve during the 1963/1964 membership year. Mr. Cooke had to step down from his position as President before the end of his second term and was replaced by Mr. Robbins.
In May 1963, the Town Selectmen, after rejecting a 99-year lease proposal, approved the lease of the Academy Hall to the RHHS for $1.00 per year, with a 25-year term. The formal lease was signed on August 21, 1963. The lease required that the RHHS prepare the changes in the building for use as a museum.
A fund drive was initiated to raise funds for restoration, and while monies were obtained in amounts to keep the work going, additional funds were still needed for completion of the project. Peter Revill helped obtain a grant from the State of Connecticut in the amount of $3,000 towards this important phase of the RHHS.
The programs in the period 1962-1967 were varied and interesting. However, as much time was taken up with fund raising to obtain funds needed for restoration of the Academy Hall, programs were of a limited nature.
Peter Revill reported that Harvey P. Conaway of Hamden had been employed as the architect for the renovation of the Academy Hall building. Peter also asked for volunteers to help out in many of the needed building restoration projects and repairs. Many Rocky Hill citizens came forward to help with the work, including Charles Crosier who, though not a young man, helped to knock down some of the partitions inside Academy Hall.
Ed Soboleski helped prepare the office and conservation rooms on the second floor for use in the museum. Howard Morton lettered the Academy Hall sign on the front of the building. Peter Revill spent a considerable amount of his time in various projects to help in the repair and restoration of the building which would become the Society’s museum.
Dudley Cooke helped take down wooden additions on both ends of the building. He used rope tackle and his own vehicle to pull down the wooden additions, much to the concern of all who did not think that he was using the “proper” equipment. Of course, there was still need for a massive cleanup of the debris! There were many others, named and unnamed, who volunteered their time and talents to the restoration project.
Programs for the 1962/1963 membership year included “Slides of Old Rocky Hill Historical Houses,” presented by Mr. and Mrs. Hamlin Robbins and a slide show and talk on “The Early Middlesex Turnpike,” presented by Malcolm Stearns. He also showed slides of early milestones erected in the 1700’s and 1800’s, some of which were located in Rocky Hill, to aid in mail delivery. The final program of the year was a talk by Mr. Andrews on young people becoming interested in the Town’s history and doing research work on various aspects of early days in Rocky Hill.
Programs for the 1963/1964 membership year consisted of a presentation of slides by Ted Tolman on the restoration work done on his old house in Wethersfield; a slide show and talk on “Night Boats – Lore of the Connecticut River Towns,” presented by Charles E. Smith. His talk included the history of boats which plied the river, the Long Island Sound and as far north as Fall River, Massachusetts; a talk on “Henry Chapin and Henry Adams,” presented by David Googins; and a talk on “Victorian Costumes,” presented by J. Herbert Callister.
In the 1964/1965 membership year, Harold S. Morrow was elected President; Mrs. Gregory O’Brien, Recording Secretary; and Herbert Northrup, Corresponding Secretary. Mr. Northrup had to step down from his position before the end of his term and was replaced by Miss Ruth Wilcox. Programs included “The Contribution of the Negro to American Society,” presented by John Rogers; and “Old Rocky Hill Houses,” presented by Mr. & Mrs. Charles S. Crosier, Mrs. Louis Button, and Mr. & Mrs. Arnold E. Mooz. The next presentation was a three-part program. First was a tape recording made on February 4, 1965 by Miss Alice Williams, one of the town’s senior citizens and a descendant of the earliest settlers. The second was of Mrs. Sigmund Adler reading a paper on the history of the Danforth House. The third was a talk, accompanied by photographs, given by Mrs. Ethel Cooke, of two early town structures: the house at 14 Washington Street, and the Shipman Tavern, built in 1770 by Simeon Williams, which once stood on Old Main Street next to the “Talcott Arnold” house. In 1934 this structure was moved to Far Hills, N.J., where it was re-erected as part of the Schley home; and the final presentation of the program year, “The Connecticut River and Its History”, was presented by John L. North, President of the Conn. Valley Watershed Council, headquartered in Greenfield, Mass.
In March, 1965, the Historical Society’s first newsletter was published detailing the great activities happening, including notes of the previous general meeting, restoration reports, the formation of new committees, etc.
The 1965/1966 year saw membership at 260 members. Mrs. Peter J. Revill was elected President; Donald D. Parry, Vice President; Mrs. William G. Harbeson, Recording Secretary; and Miss Ruth Wilcox, Corresponding Secretary. A historical contest was held in the schools to honor two junior historians, one in the Senior High School and one in the Junior High School. Programs included the film, “Mark Twain’s America”; “Shipbuilding in the Rocky Hill Area,” presented by Mrs. Clifford E. Kelsey; “Silver, Its Forms and Craftsmanship,” presented by Mrs. Betty Thornburg; “Climbing the Family Tree,” presented by Mrs. Margaret Colton; and a very beautiful slide series titled “Our Town,” presented by Mr. Rogers of the Lions Club.
To complete the restoration of the Academy Hall as a history museum, a fund drive to raise $11,000 was started. An auction was held, as well as the sale of favorite recipes. Requests were made that citizens make available historical items to the museum. The volunteers worked with Peter J. Revill to finish the restoration work as soon as possible.
For the 1966/1967 membership year, Mason P. Andrews was elected President; Mrs. Ethel M. Cooke, Corresponding Secretary; and Miss Ruth Wilcox, Museum Recorder. Programs included “The Ruffle of Drums,” presented by Mr. Michael Shelto and Mr. Mason P. Andrews; “Elihu Burritt and the American Social and Moral Reform Movement of the 19th Century,” presented by Dr. Peter Tolis; “Shad Fishing on the Connecticut River,” presented by Mr. Arthur Hale; and “Elihu Burritt and his Internationalist Movement,” presented by Dr. Peter Tolis.
1967-1972 - THE SECOND FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
For the 1967/1968 membership year, Mr. Arnold Mooz was elected President; Mr. Anthony Bruno, Vice President; Mrs. Marion Emerson, Treasurer; Mrs. Virginia D. Rizzo, Recording Secretary; and Mrs. Edith Foster, Museum Recorder. Programs included “Antique Firearms and Edged Weapons,” presented by Mr. Dudley Cooke; “The History of the Gilbert Clock Co. and Antique Clocks,” presented by Mr. Charles Arnold of the Gilbert Clock Co. in Winsted, Connecticut; and “The History of the Rocky Hill – Glastonbury Ferry,” presented by Miss Virginia Knox.
The Rocky Hill Historical Museum was opened to the public on Sunday, October 22, 1967. The restoration of the former Academy Hall, however, was far from complete. The RHHS still sought donations of historical items for its displays, as well as its collection of historical items relating to Rocky Hill’s past. The museum was dedicated as a depository for historical items, as well as for the education of the public.
For the 1968/1969 membership year, Mr. Peter J. Revill was elected President; Mrs. Ethel Cooke, Vice President; and Mrs. Grace Lowell, Corresponding Secretary. Programs included “Witchcraft in Connecticut and New England in the 1600’s,” presented by Mr. Mason P. Andrews; a talk on “Dinosaurs,” presented by Mr. Horace Whittier; “The Tinsmiths of Connecticut,” presented by Mrs. Shirley Spaulding DeVoe; “Indians of the Rocky Hill and Cromwell Area,” presented by Professor Mason P. Andrews; and “A Program of Interesting Old Houses from Nova Scotia to Virginia,” presented by Mr. Dudley Cooke.
1968 saw the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of the Town of Rocky Hill and its separation from Wethersfield on June 7, 1843. The town-wide celebration on July 4, 1968 included the RHHS taking part with the Post Rider, Everett Kanderian, stopping at the museum, and hand-carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Several women, including Ethel Cooke and Edith Foster, were dressed in Colonial dress to greet the Post Rider. There were also three walking tours of the historic area near the museum during the morning, and two bus tours covering a wider area in the afternoon. This was also the year that Peter Revill was instrumental in getting the Rocky Hill Junior Historical Club formed.
For the 1969/1970 membership year, Mr. Donald D. Parry was elected Vice President; Mrs. Christine Moser, Corresponding Secretary; and Mrs. Grace Lowell, Museum Recorder. Shows at the museum included an exhibit, “Two Rocky Hill Doctors,” about Rufus Griswold, M.D. and Frank Burr, M.D., two doctors who practiced in Rocky Hill during the latter half of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries. The exhibit included medical instruments, writings and other possessions of these two men. Programs for the year included “The Connecticut Clock Industry,” presented by Mr. Kenneth Rogers, Curator of the Bristol Clock Museum; “Colonial Blacks,” presented by Mr. John Rogers; “American Indians and the archaeological work involved in searching for the remains of their culture,” presented by Dr. Constantine Zariphes; “Pewter,” presented by Mr. Wendell Hilt; and “The Connecticut River,” presented by Mr. and Mrs. Willis Cone.
For the 1970/1971 membership year, Mrs. Edith Foster was elected Museum Recorder. Mr. Donald D. Parry had to step down from his position as Vice President before the end of his term and was replaced by Mrs. Paul R. Lane. The Junior Historical Club elected Jeffrey Garrett, President; Peter Harbeson, Vice President; and Gregory Revill, Secretary. Programs included an open house at the home of Mr. & Mrs. William Griswold; “Educational Materials used in the Teaching of History,” presented by Miss Shirley Belden; “Early American Needlework,” presented by Mrs. Mary Erf; and “The Italian/American in Connecticut,” presented by Miss Victoria Meucci.
In May 1971, the Rocky Hill Garden Club began planting flowers and bushes around the Academy Hall as part of an effort to beautify the property.
The 1971/1972 membership year saw Mrs. Judith Elliot elected Vice President. The museum exhibits included the doll collection of Mrs. Roscoe H. Gardner and her granddaughters. Programs included three movies: 1903’s “The Great Train Robbery,” 1912’s “Man’s Genesis,” and 1915’s “The Hash House Fraud,” all presented by Gregory Revill; “Tales of Bells Down thru the Years,” presented by Eulah Matthews; “Performance of a magician of the 1800’s,” presented by Mr. Robert Olson; “Early American Music,” presented by Mr. Aaron Pratt; and “The History of the Conn. Valley Railroad,” presented by Mr. Michael Robinson, Jr.
In 1972, the RHHS published “A Short History of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, A Connecticut River Town,” written by Peter Revill
1972-1977 – THE THIRD FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
The 1972/1973 membership year saw Junior Historical Club elections of Natalie Backe, President; Susan Spadaccini, Vice President; and Teresa Frascarelli, Secretary. Museum exhibits included “Quilts,” with a demonstration of quilting, presented by the ladies of the United Methodist Church, and a fabric display with spinning and rugcraft demonstrations. Also exhibited were old tools, featuring the adze, planes, and a brace and bit drill, all used in woodworking. Programs included “Do You Remember the Golden Age of Radio?,” presented by Dick Bertel; “Music from the Attic,” 19th century musical instruments of the type used for home entertainment, presented by Mr. Wesley Reed; “Rocks and the River,” presented by Peter Revill, and “The Flooding River,” presented by the Rocky Hill Garden Club; and a talk on the Connecticut Leather Man, illustrated with slides, presented by Mr. & Mrs. Leroy Foote.
The 1973/1974 membership year museum exhibits included a maritime exhibit displaying the sextant, navigation books, and other maritime items, some dating from the early 19th century. Programs included “Melodies and Memories: The Era of American Music from the American Revolution through the Civil War,” presented by Mrs. Patricia Brown and her mother, Mrs. Young; “Plants and the American Revolution,” presented by Mr. John Scarchuck and the Rocky Hill Garden Club; “Homes and Homesteads of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” presented by Mr. Percy Goodsell; and “The Romance of the Old Country Store,” presented by Mrs. Althea Driscoll. The Rocky Hill Junior Historical Club disbanded this year.
The membership year of 1974/1975 saw George Bruno elected Vice President. Museum exhibits included old wedding gowns and dresses as well as toys, farm equipment, and Indian artifacts. In connection with the 1976 bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, special exhibits in the Museum were prepared to show lives in a 1776 and an 1876 room setting. Programs included “An Illustrated Talk on the History of Aviation in Connecticut,” presented by Mr. Robert H. Stepanek; “Archaeological Activities in Connecticut,” presented by Mr. David Cooke; “Antique Locks,” presented by Mr. Thomas F. Hennessey; and “Scenes of Old Savin Rock,” presented by Mr. Ora Mason.
In 1974, at the request of the Connecticut Historical Commission, the Rocky Hill Historical Society, under the guidance of President Peter Revill, prepared the wording for a Bicentennial Plaque, for the Town of Rocky Hill. This plaque was subsequently erected in 1975 on Old Main Street near the Rocky Hill Volunteer Fire Station.
The 1975/1976 membership year saw Shirley Belden elected Vice President; and Virginia Wood, Recording Secretary. Programs included “A Touch of Class,” presented by the Litchfield County Chapter of the Society for the Preservation of Barber Shop Quartets; two historical films depicting the significance of Williamsburg and Fredericksburg, presented by Mr. Edward McCarthy; “A Kaleidoscope of the Life of Captain John Hurlbut,” presented by Shirley Belden; and “Military Uniforms from the Visigoths to Viet Nam,” presented by Mr. Charles D. Wycoff.
The 1976/1977 membership year saw the celebration of the bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the announcement that the Academy Hall, our museum building, had been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Programs included “A 1976 Celebration of Patriotic Songs,” presented by The Barbersharps, a group of eight women singing barbershop style. Two historical films were shown: “Doorways to the Past,” and “Eighteenth Century Life in Williamsburg,” and finally, “Old Sheet Music,” was presented by Ethel Bacon, George Weeks and Eleanor Mahar.
The new historical book, “Likely Tales, Stepney Parish, 1976,” written by Shirley Belden, Martin Smith, and Peter Revill, was published by the RHHS.
On June 27, 1976, members of the Huntington, L.I. Historical Society came down the Connecticut River in their canoe flotilla in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They bartered hand-made articles for local hand-made items. Mrs. Cooke and Mrs. Adler represented the Rocky Hill Historical Society and bartered copies of the “History of Rocky Hill” for feathers and beads from the “Indians.”
1977-1982 – THE FOURTH FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
On October 7, 1977, the Academy Hall Museum building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1977/1978 membership year, Thomas Schreier was elected Treasurer; and Edith Grigely, Museum Recorder. Programs included “Antique China, Glass and Pewter,” presented by Mrs. Ernest Lowell and Miss Ruth Wilcox; three films were shown at the winter meeting: “The Music of Williamsburg,” “The House That Mark Built (Mark Twain’s Hartford house),” and “America be Seated (Hitchcock Chairs),” all arranged by Mrs. Henry Tinney; “Flower Arranging through the Years,” presented by Mr. and Mrs. John Swingen; and “The Duke of Cumberland Inn,” presented by Ethel Cooke and former owner Charles Crosier.
In the 1978/1979 membership year, Shirley Belden had to step down from her position as Vice President before the end of her term and was replaced by Edward Soboleski. This year also marked the formal opening of the RHHS Research Library at Academy Hall. Programs included “The History of the Academy Hall,” presented by Ethel Cooke; two Williamsburg movies, “The Colonial Naturalist” and “Flower Arrangements,” were shown; a program consisting of readings of books and papers from the Research Library of the Academy Hall Museum was presented by Ethel Cooke, Elizabeth Healy, Tony Bruno and Peter Revill; and finally, “Down to the Meadows,” was presented by Peter Revill.
The 1979/1980 membership year began with the election of Edward Soboleski as Vice President. Programs included “The Life of General James T. Pratt,” presented by Dr. Nelson Burr; the Williamsburg film, “The Art of the Conservator” was shown; and finally, a presentation by the Bell Choir of the Rocky Hill Congregational Church.
With the 1980/1981 membership year Elizabeth Healy was elected Corresponding Secretary. Programs included “Old Wethersfield Houses,” presented by C. Douglas Alves, Jr., Director of the Wethersfield Historical Society; “Litchfield’s Golden Years, 1787-1830,” presented by William Ellett; “Yankee Ingenuity,” presented by Dr. Eugene T. Sweeney; “The Restoration of the Mark Twain House in Hartford,” presented by Mr. Wynn E. Lee; and “The Martial History of the American Revolution,” presented by Dr. David Courtwright.
In the 1981/1982 membership year Daniel Somes was elected Vice President; and Dorothy Simmons, Corresponding Secretary. Programs included “The Restoration and Adaptive re-use of old buildings in Wethersfield,” presented by Mrs. Lois Wieder; “Horselore and the History of Horses in Connecticut,” presented by Melvin Schneidermeyer and Ruth Hummel; “Antiques, Fine Art and Jewelry, and Their Appreciation,” presented by Leon DelGiudice; and finally, “American Heroines,” presented by Richard Cunliff.
1982-1987 – THE FIFTH FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
On June 14, 1982 the Historical Society celebrated its twentieth anniversary.
For the 1982/1983 membership year, Christine Moser took over as Vice President when Daniel Somes had to step down before the end of his term in office. Programs included “Songs of Old New England,” presented by Jim Douglas; “How Old is That House?,” presented by Katherine Cruse; and finally, the film, “Quilts of Women’s Lives,” was presented by Patricia Ferraro.
In the 1983/1984 membership year Christine Moser was elected Vice President; Anthony Bruno, Corresponding Secretary; and Doris Schreier and Anita Watson, Museum Recorders. Programs included “Songs the Whale Men Sang,” presented by Jim Douglas; “Odds and Ends of Local History,” presented by Peter Revill; “Bustles, Bloomers and Brass Buttons - Women’s Clothing in the 19th and early 20th Centuries,” presented by Dorothy Cantor of the Mattatuck Museum and Historical Society of Waterbury; and “The History of the Bicycle,” presented by David Pooler, Captain of the Conn. Division of the Wheelman’s Association.
Rocky Hill joined with the Town of Wethersfield in its 350th anniversary celebration. The RHHS participated in the April 29, 1984 parade with a float representing an early boat that would have been seen on the Connecticut River in the 17th century.
For the 1984/1985 membership year, Jane Nash was elected Corresponding Secretary. Programs included “Rocky Hill and Connecticut Gravestones and Markers,” presented by Kevin Sweeney; “A Talk on Old and New Quilts,” presented by Barbara Wysocki and the Friends of the Cora J. Belden Library; “The Lure of Sunken Ships,” presented by Mr. David Knibbs; and “Changes in the City of Hartford over the last 150 years,” presented by members of the Connecticut Historical Society.
For the 1985/1986 membership year, programs included “A General How-to on Genealogy,” presented by Thomas J. Kemp and the Friends of the Cora J. Belden Library; a talk on “The Special Photographic Equipment which the Cora J. Belden Library has Installed and the On-going Program to Compile a Pictorial Record of Rocky Hill in Days Gone By,” presented by Michele Marshall, Librarian; “Rocky Hill: A Puritan Commonwealth,” presented by Dr. Robert O. Decker; and finally, “A Program of Show and Tell,” presented by members of the Historical Society.
On June 17, 1985, the Town of Rocky Hill awarded a plaque to the Historical Society’s Librarian, Mrs. Ethel M. Cooke, in recognition of her paper on “The History of Rocky Hill Parks.”
For the 1986/1987 membership year, Jean Miller was elected President; and Miss Edith Thorton, Vice President. Programs included “Recreating a Prehistoric Voyage up the Connecticut River,” presented by Jim Dina; “Costumes of the Rocky Hill Historical Society,” presented by Michele Norton; “Archeology of Rocky Hill’s Woodland Indian Site,” presented by David Cooke; and finally, “Local Farms in Rocky Hill,” presented by Richard Griswold, and “The History of The Rocky Hill Grange,” presented by Albert (Bud) Griswold.
1987-1992 – THE SIXTH FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
For the 1987/1988 membership year, Betty Sinclaire was elected Recording Secretary. Programs included “The Image of the Presidency,” presented by Dr. Edmund Sullivan, a professor at the University of Hartford and Curator of the Museum of American Political Life; “The Making of 17th Century Furniture,” presented by Dr. Larry Venham; “Lands in New Connecticut,” presented by University of Connecticut Professor George H. Murray; and “Collecting and Restoring Antique Autos,” presented by Gerald Lettieri.
On May 19, 1988, the Historical Society signed a second 25-year lease on the Academy Hall building with the Town of Rocky Hill. Considering that the original lease proposal in 1963 had been for 99 years, we were now halfway there.
The 1988/1989 membership year included the election of Grace Cone as Vice President. Programs included “The Role of The Nature Conservancy in the Preservation and Protection of Endangered Species along the Connecticut River,” presented by David Reynolds; “The Billings and Spencer Factory,” presented by Kim Brewer; “The Life and Times of Josiah Gardner, a Sailor in the mid 1800’s,” presented by Glenn Gordinier of Mystic Seaport; and “The Etiquette of Elegance, Social Manners in the 19th Century,” presented by University of Massachusetts Associate Professor Dr. Barbara Schreier.
On July 23, 1988, the Connecticut League of Historical Societies awarded the RHHS its prestigious Award of Merit for “Outstanding Contribution to the Development of Interest in Local History” for its efforts in promoting Rocky Hill history.
The 1989/1990 membership year programs consisted of “Shipbuilding in Early Rocky Hill,” presented by Brenda Milkofsky, Director of the Connecticut River Museum in Essex; “The Story of Pewter From 1076 to the 1850’s and the Danforths of Connecticut, Merchants Extraordinary,” presented by Ethel Cooke; “Understanding History Through Music,” presented by Chanterelle (James Dalton and Margaret Smith Dalton); and “A Historical Night on the Stage,” presented by members of the Historical Society.
In the 1990/1991 membership year, the RHHS Research Library was formally dedicated and named The Ethel Miner Cooke Historical Library in recognition of Ethel’s many years of dedication in establishing and managing this most important facility of the Historical Society.
Programs for 1990/1991 included the films, “The Road Between Heaven and Hell: The Last Circuits of the Leatherman,” presented by the CT. Chapter of the International Television Association, and “Inherent in the People,” produced by CPTV; “The History of Clock Making in Connecticut,” presented by William L. Willard; “The History of the Rocky Hill Fire Department,” presented by Alexander J. Brilliant, Rocky Hill’s Fire Marshall; and finally, a presentation by Michele Marshall, Director of the Cora J. Belden Library, from the library’s “shoe box collection” of slides of old Rocky Hill made from citizens’ old post cards and photographs, and a short feature, “The Essence of Rocky Hill as it can still be seen today,” presented by Jan Kochanek.
The 1991/1992 membership year included the election of Grace Cone as President; and Christine Moser as Vice President. When Mrs. Moser unfortunately passed away on December 18, 1992, Rod Wilscam was chosen to complete her term of office. Programs included, “Charting the Course of Liberty and Justice,” written by Peter Revill and presented by members of the RHHS to celebrate the Bicentennial of the Bill of Rights; “Rocky Hill Memories,” presented by Mike Martino; “Memories of Rocky Hill,” a paper written by Ruth Brooks and read by Rae Ryan; and “The Old Towne Tourism District,” presented by Mrs. Andrea Ader.
1992-1997 – THE SEVENTH FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
For the 1992/1993 membership year, Rod Wilscam was elected Vice President. Programs included “Thirty Years of the Rocky Hill Historical Society,” presented by Rod Wilscam, Peter Revill and Anita Watson; “The History of Libraries in Rocky Hill,” presented by members of the Rocky Hill Historical Society; “Rocky Hill’s Center Cemetery,” presented by Grace Cone; “Rocky Hill’s Maritime History,” presented by Dr. Robert O. Decker; and “The Early Government of Rocky Hill,” presented by Rod Wilscam.
The Rocky Hill Chamber of Commerce, at its 1993 annual meeting, presented the Rocky Hill Historical Society its Public Service Award. This was in recognition of the Society’s contribution to the Town by the publication of the book, Looking Back at Rocky Hill, Connecticut.
As part of 1993’s sesquicentennial celebration of the Town of Rocky Hill, a Victorian Kitchen Garden was established by Roseanne Gorski and Eileen Carey next to the Academy Hall. This type of garden existed outside the kitchen door of many houses in this era and provided the herbs used in meal preparations.
The RHHS also garnered the Rocky Hill Sesquicentennial 1993 Floats – 1st Place award in Rocky Hill’s 1993 Sesquicentennial celebration parade.
For the 1993/1994 membership year, John Serra was elected Treasurer. The Historical Society sponsored a tour of Center Cemetery on October 31st (Halloween, of course!) with the participation of the Center Stage Players adding a touch of realism. Programs for the year included “Bridal Gowns Presentation Program,” presented by Jean Tennyson and Grace Cone; “The History of Government in Rocky Hill,” presented by Dana T. Whitman, Rocky Hill’s first Town Manager; “Progress to date in Restoring the Center Cemetery of East Hartford,” presented by Doris Suessman, President of The Friends of the Center Cemetery of East Hartford; an amusing and entertaining film, “Grandma’s Bottle Village”; and, as a final program of the year, a Victorian Tea, hosted by Patricia Bradley, followed by entertainment, including instrumental and vocal music, a recitation, and a juggler for the children, led by Anthony “Tony” Bruno.
For the 1994/1995 membership year, Irene Zarko and Jean Holmes were elected Museum Recorders. Programs consisted of “The History of the Connecticut Valley Railroad,” presented by Max Miller; “Bring a Thing or a Story Program,” presented by members of the Historical Society; “Experiences in Reconstructing a House,” by Martin Smith; and “A Collage of Historical Society Events,” presented by Anita Watson and Jackie Little.
For the 1995/1996 membership year, Rod Wilscam was elected President; Sandee Brown, Vice President; Jane Oryell, Corresponding Secretary; and Jackie Jacobs and Jane Nash, Museum Recorders. Programs consisted of “Veteran’s Stories,” presented by Mike Martino and veterans in the audience; “The Renovation and Restoration of an 18th Century House on Pratt Street,” presented by John Brush and Nancy Bertwell; “Quilts,” presented by Barbara Wysocki; and “The Howes Collection,” presented by Kimbal Howes (grandson and grandnephew of the Howes Brothers).
For the 1996/1997 membership year, programs included “Rocky Hill: Then and Now,” by Mike Martino; “History of the Old Wethersfield Prison,” presented by Frank Winiarski; “Comments on the former Valley Hotel at 3109 Main St., Rocky Hill, A Cooking Demonstration using 18th Century Fireplace Implements, and Herbs Used in The Colonial Kitchen,” presented by Rod Wilscam, John Brush and Sharon Gardner Platt respectively; and “Home Town Post Cards,” presented by Gail Shay.
On June 23, 1996, about forty members and guests of the Historical Society participated in a private tour of Armsmear, the Hartford home of Samuel and Elizabeth Colt.
1997-2002 – THE EIGHTH FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
For the 1997/1998 membership year, Sandee Brown was elected President; Mike Martino, Vice President; and Jean Holmes, Museum Recorder. Programs included “Jed Summers Rambling Mountaineers,” presented by Mike Martino; “Rocky Hill Men in the Civil War,” presented by Jack Gerster; “Rocky Hill: Then and Now,” presented by Mike Martino; and “Tunes of Selected Bands From The Big Band Era of Yesteryear,” presented by Mike Martino.
For the 1998/1999 membership year, Mike Martino was elected President; and Sandee Brown, Vice President. Programs included “Where Did Grandpa Find These? Indian and Colonial Artifacts Identification,” presented by David Cooke; “Visions of Christmas Past,” presented by Ms. Herma Kluck; “Everyday Life from the Viewpoint of a Resident of Noank and Mystic in 1876,” presented by the Mystic Seaport Museum; and “Rocky Hill: Then and Now,” presented by Mike Martino.
For the 1999/2000 membership year, programs included “Rocky Hill: Then and Now,” presented by Mike Martino; “Stories from Mark Twain’s Private Life,” presented by Sally Whipple; “The Early Hollister Homestead and the Early Days of the Rocky Hill/Glastonbury Ferry,” presented by Brian Hollister; and “Wethersfield State Prison History,” presented by Frank Winiarski.
For the 2000/2001 membership year, Anne Choquette was elected Recording Secretary. Programs included “Civil War Medicine,” presented by Dr. Robert Bedard; “10,000 Years of Early Man in the Connecticut River Valley,” presented by State Archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni; “An Overview of Pewter in America, the Danforth family in Middletown,” presented by Wayne A. Hilt; “The Music Squeezer,” presented by Mary Morse; “A Park For All Seasons – History and Uses of Elizabeth Park,” presented by Donna Fuss, co-founder of the Connecticut Rose Society; and “Rocky Hill: Then and Now,” presented by Mike Martino.
In March, 2001, the Historical Society finally entered the modern age with the opening of a web-site. People from around the world now have access to our programs and information on local history.
For the 2001/2002 membership year, Chris Sprague was elected Vice President. Programs included “Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Civilian Conservation Corps,” presented by Marilyn Aarrestad; “The Public Works Administration,” presented by Dr. Bruce Cloette, Director of Historical Services for Public Archaeology Survey Team (PAST), Inc. of Storrs; “A Panel Discussion: Personal Memories of the Air War in Europe – World War II,” presented by Russ Baril, Bob Conrad, Jim Fontana and Art Frechette; “A Panel Discussion: Local Women in World War II,” presented by Laurette Mittler Swingen, Ellie DelMar Revill, Gladys Young Sztupak and Doris Donovan; “World War II: Connecticut Keeps the Home Fires Burning,” presented by Christine Ermenc; and, “Music and Dance of the World War II Era,” presented by members of the US Dance Club, Rocky Hill.
2002-2007 – THE NINTH FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
For the 2002/2003 membership year, programs included “Early Development of Trade along the Connecticut River.” presented by Shannon Burke Sikorowicz; “The Colonial Tavern: An Architectural and Cultural Perspective,” presented by Steven Bielitz; “Cherished Dolls of Christmas Past,” presented by Kathy Simonsen; “20th Century Connecticut Involvement in the Automotive Industry,” presented by Gerald Lettieri; and “A History of Colonial and Victorian Gardens in the United States with Emphasis on New England,” presented by Roxann Lovell & The Rocky Hill Garden Club.
In 2003, the RHHS published an updated version of “A Short History of Rocky Hill, Connecticut,” written by Peter Revill. This edition included town events up through 1993.
The Historical Society also celebrated the 200th birthday of Academy Hall with a party in 2003. Built in 1803 as a school of navigation, Academy Hall has seen many uses over the years as it has been transformed from a navigation school to an elementary school and finally to a home for the Historical Society.
For the 2003/2004 membership year, Alice Evans was elected Corresponding Secretary. Programs included “Connecticut Foundry Employees Reunion – A Night of Memories and Stories,” presented by the Historical Society and former Connecticut Foundry employees; “Tracing Your Family Tree and using Resources of the Connecticut State Library,” presented by Richard Clarke Roberts; “Preserving Old Cemeteries,” presented by Ruth Shapleigh-Brown; “The Bulkeley Family Tomb in Colchester,” presented by State Archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni; “Vintage Clothing Fashion Show,” presented by Vivian Partridge; “Ivory and Witch Hazel Industries Exclusive to the Connecticut River Valley,” presented by Don Malcarne; and “Rocky Hill Remembers,” stories from members of the Historical Society.
For the 2004/2005 membership year, the Vice President’s position became vacant when Chris Sprague passed away on November 2, 2004. Programs included “The 60th Anniversary of the Hartford Circus Fire Tragedy,” presented by survivors, their families and friends; “Vintage Baseball Program,” presented by David Arcedia; “Natural Disasters in the Connecticut River Valley,” presented by Don Malcarne; “A Quilt Raffle Reunion,” presented by the Rocky Hill Congregational Church Quilters; and “Traditional Irish and Scottish Folk Songs,” presented by Tara’s Thistle (Bruce and Sandy Hedman).
A summer program held on August 26, 2004, highlighting Front Street in Hartford, turned into a reunion as 40-50 former residents now living in the Rocky Hill/Wethersfield area were in attendance. The Front Street neighborhood was devastated by flooding from the Connecticut River in 1936 and was subjected to the fury of the Hurricane of 1938 two years later. This area was eventually razed and became part of the Constitution Plaza complex.
On April 2, 2005, Erika O’Dierna, Treasurer of Rocky Hill Cub Scout Pack 135, along with members of the Pack, placed a 25 year time capsule of their own creation in Academy Hall Museum. Forty families contributed to the contents of the capsule. It will be very interesting to find out in 2030 what Pack members found so important in 2005.
For the 2005/2006 membership year, the Vice President’s position was vacant and Eileen Oslund was appointed Recording Secretary. Programs included “Memories of Summer Nights at the Drive-In Movies,” presented by members of the Historical Society; “Favorite Car Memories,” presented by Gerald Lettieri; “Women’s Work: Making Burial, Coffin and Casket Quilts,” presented by Dr. Cynthia Toolin; “Significant Houses of The Connecticut River Valley,” presented by Don Malcarne; “Victorian Valentines,” presented by Christine Ermenc; and “Social Inequity in Southern New England – The Plantation in Connecticut,” presented by Gerald F. Sawyer.
On August 6, 2005, members of one of Rocky Hill’s oldest families, the Griswolds, held a reunion in the area and toured the Academy Hall Museum as one of the events on their itinerary. A busload of members stopped by and was treated to old photos of past family members as well as farms and homes where their predecessors once lived.
For the 2006/2007 membership year, Jennifer Picagli was elected Vice President. Programs included “Sheldon’s Horse: Connecticut Dragoons who fought in the Revolutionary War,” presented by Captain Sal Tarantino; “Finding History under Our Feet – Metal Detecting,” presented by Mark Sutcliffe; and “Rocky Hill: Then and Now,” presented by Mike Martino.
2007-2012 – THE TENTH FIVE-YEAR PERIOD
For the 2007/2008 membership year, programs included “An Academy Hall Reunion,” presented by members of the RHHS for former Academy Hall students; “New England’s Other Witch Hunt,” presented by State Historian Walter Woodward; “The Letters Home of Private Henry Brown,” presented by Mr. John Proctor; “Abraham Lincoln: Master of Political Discourse in the Gettysburg Address,” presented by Mr. Patrick McKiernan; “14th Connecticut Regiment in the Civil War,” presented by Col. Alex Hasychak; and “More Rocky Hill Memories,” presented by Mike Martino.
For the 2008/2009 membership year, there was a vacancy in the Vice President’s position and Jane Nash was appointed Acting Recording Secretary. Programs included “Danforth Pewter,” presented by members of the RHHS; “Soap Box Derby Memories,” presented by members of the RHHS; “Club Hollywood, a 1930’s Speak Easy Club,” presented by Mike Martino; “Armistice Day – World War I Posters Exhibit,” presented by Ralph Hick and Anita Watson; and “Old-Time Favorite Songs,” presented by The Parlor Singers.
On April 4, 2009, an art auction held at the Rocky Hill Congregational Church was sponsored by the Rocky Hill Historical Society with proceeds going to the renovation of Academy Hall. Over $3,000 in profit was realized from this event.
For the 2009/2010 membership year, Joe Kochanek was elected Vice President; and Jane Nash was again appointed Acting Recording Secretary. Programs included “Trolley Memories,” presented by Nick Corsi; and “Rocky Hill: Then and Now,” presented by Mike Martino.
On August 1, 2009, the RHHS sponsored A Civil War Living History Program with the Ct. 14th Infantry Volunteers Regiment based in Rockville, CT. Events included a Civil War encampment, a musket demonstration and cooking and medicine demonstrations.
For the 2010/2011 membership year, Jane Nash was again appointed Acting Recording Secretary; and Nancy Bertwell was appointed Acting Corresponding Secretary upon the passing away of Alice Evans on February 26, 2011. Programs included “Memories About Dr. David Moser,” presented by Charlotte Bacon; “How Do Streets Get Their Names?,” presented by Mollie Wilscam; and “William Dwight Franklin, 1853-1867: William Dwight Franklin and the Continental Vocalists, A Little Known Footnote in the History of Rocky Hill,” presented by Marge Murk. The Historical Society also sponsored a visit by the Northeast Paranormal Investigations Society to Academy Hall in a search for bygone occupants (a.k.a., ghosts) of the building. (None made their presence known.)
In 2010, the Historical Society erected a large storage building behind the Cora J. Belden Library on Church Street. Many heavy items in the museum’s collection, which had previously been housed upstairs at the Academy Hall building, were moved to the new storage site in an effort to reduce weight on the museum building. After all, the Academy Hall is now 207 years old and it really needed the relief.
For the 2011/2012 membership year, programs included “Development of the Telephone System in Rocky Hill,” presented by Joe Kochanek; “Rocky Hill Farm Implements,” presented by Joe Kochanek; “From Hula-Hoops to High Fashion: G. Fox in the 1950’s,” presented by Elizabeth Abbe; and “Maritime Civil War in Song,” presented by balladeer Rick Spencer.
The Historical Society is preparing to celebrate our 50th anniversary in June 2012 and, as can be seen, we have been able to present a wide variety of programs over the years in an attempt to present our history. I hope that there will be many more years to come and many more interesting, informative programs to accompany them.
The future can only speak for what has happened in the past, or as put forth by the National Archives, “What is past is prologue”. We can only study the past to embark on the future.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE ROCKY HILL HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Historical Committee - Friends of the Cora J. Belden Library – Minutes – 10/14/1960 to 5/28/1962
Rocky Hill Historical Society - Board Meeting Minutes – 6/1962 to 4/2012
Rocky Hill Historical Society – Newsletters - 1965 to 2012
Rocky Hill Historical Society - Ethel Miner Cooke Memorial Research Library Files
 For each membership year only newly elected officers will be mentioned. All other officer positions were re-elected.
Rocky Hill Historical Society