Review of the Past Year
Collection of Historical Records and Artifacts
Preservation of the Society
Restoration, Preservation & Rehabilitation
The Wintonbury Historical Society is a vital organization in the town of Bloomfield. It is dedicated to preserving its history from 1640 when, as part of Windsor, it had its first settlement at Messenger’s Farm; becoming Wintonbury Parish in 1734; incorporated as the Town of Bloomfield in 1835; and on into the 21st century. Its efforts are for the benefit of its current and future citizens and as an important part of Connecticut’s history.
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In 1910, Levi Latimer, a Bloomfield resident, left the sum of $720 to the Prosser Library for the express purpose of forming a historical society. However, it was not until 1949 when town residents, Dr. Eugene Bestor and Jack Hoover of The Travelers, actually organized the Society which has continued and grown. From a modest beginning of 32 members, it has grown to an organization of over 200 members.
In this second half century of the Wintonbury Historical Society’s existence, we dedicate this website to the Society’s Charter Members. Their support and continuous membership for over 50 years made it possible for the Society to grow and firmly establish its mission to record , disseminate, and preserve all that is representative of Bloomfield’s illustrious history.
Charter Members in addition to Dr. Bestor and Mr. Hoover included:
Dorothy Barnard Cyr
Harriet Barnard Burnham
Martha Barnard Snyder
Phyllis Bidwell Oliver
Margaret Fuss Bierkan
Charles Bierkan, Past President
The mission of the Society according to the 1949 bylaws included “collection and preservation of historical records; identification, preservation and marking of buildings of historical interest; recording of current history and dissemination of this information.”
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One of the many ways the Wintonbury Historical Society disseminates information is at its public programs. Each year the Society presents five programs of historic interest at the Prosser Public Library and other venues in town. The meetings are held in September, November, February, April, and June–usually, but not always, on the first Wednesday evening of the month.
REVIEW OF THE PAST YEAR
Programs: The program year began in September, 2013, at First Congregational Church, with a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the first ninth grade class held in Bloomfield at Center School. The speaker was R. J. Luke Williams, formerly of the faculty at Hartford Public High School and now the caretaker of its museum. The November program, held at Prosser Library, featured Historian Fred Hesketh speaking about the Browns of Wintonbury and their famous drums. An extra program was held on December 4 in conjunction with Prosser and consisted of a reading by the East Haddam Stage Company of a Sherlock Holmes radio play such as William Gillette might have appeared in. In February we held our Black History Month program at Carmen Arace Middle School with a presentation of songs and stories of the Underground Railroad by Nzinga’s Daughters, a group from Plainville organized by Gail Williams. The April program was the first time we met at the Bloomfield History Center. Fannie Gabriel and Dick Pierce spoke about History and a Civil Society, showed a video of and read a diary excerpt, both focusing on the arrest of a runaway slave in Boston. That brings us down to June’s annual meeting with speaker Carolyn Ivanoff talking about “One Family’s Civil War.”
From Wintonbury to Bloomfield (1983, book). This comprehensive book is the result of the combined efforts of a group of writers, some life-time residents of the town, others more recent, united by a mutual interest in the story covering the years 1650 to 1982.
Over Tunxis Trails (1935, book), Frederick C. Bidwell, highlights historic locations of the town by street. Charlotte R. Goodrich and Florence B. Jewell revised and updated it in 1965. (Mrs. Goodrich was the WHS Historian from 1966 – 1981.) The third edition of Over Tunxis Trails was published in 2011.
“The 1796 Old Farms School” (brochure) gives visitors and tourists a brief overview of the history of this l8th century district schoolhouse.
The Good Old Days, (1992, book) contains reprints of oral histories and stories written by members of WHS and other townspeople that were published in The Bloomfield Journal starting in 1985, during the commemoration of Bloomfield’s 150 years of incorporation and 250 years as the parish of Wintonbury.
What’s Cooking in Bloomfield, (1992, cookbook), is a compilation of old and new recipes. Many are used for the WHS spring bake sale.
“The Captain Oliver Filley House” (1998, brochure) gives visitors and tourists a brief introduction to the house’s history.
The Browns of Wintonbury, Makers of Brown Drums (1999, book), Fred Hesketh, is a genealogical work of the family that made drums in Bloomfield dating back to the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
“Bicycling From Wintonbury to Bloomfield” I and II (2000, brochure), Judith Sitkin, provides a self-guided historic tour of the Town with the eco-tourist in mind.
Hezekiah’s Children by Roscoe F. Metzger (1989, book): provides a history of the First Congregational Church in Bloomfield.
Images of America: Bloomfield (2001, book) is a photographic collection of Bloomfield history.
Bloomfield and the Civil War by Frederick A. Hesketh (2009, book) provides background, stories, and lists of names of Bloomfield people who were involved in the war.
The History of the Catholic Church in Bloomfield by Frederick A. Hesketh (2003, book)
One of the earliest efforts on the part of the newly formed Society was the identifying and marking appropriately the oldest houses and sites of historical importance in Bloomfield. The signs were donated by the Society.
In 1950 the Wintonbury Historical Society leased the Southwest District School, built in 1858, and in subsequent years, roofed, painted, and shored up this one-room schoolhouse with Society funds, so the building could be used for meetings, office space, and storage of the Society’s antiques, records, and artifacts.
A project of much greater proportion was undertaken in the late 1970’s and involved the moving, preservation and careful restoration of the Old Farm School. Built in 1796, it is the oldest municipal building in Bloomfield.
The Society’s most ambitious and challenging project to date is the current rehabilitation of the stone 1834 Greek revival Captain Oliver Filley House on Mountain Avenue. The house was owned subsequently by the Pinney Family and was more recently by the missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette.
The Wintonbury Historical Society has collected many historic acquisitions during its 51 year history. The Old Farm School contains some of the original 18th century furniture, records, and artifacts. The Bloomfield History Center contains records and artifacts, including a few pieces of Filley tinware and a Brown Drum, along with the Society’s books, research documents, and other displays.
During the Wintonbury Historical Society’s first fifty years, it has entered into three lease agreements with the Town of Bloomfield in order to restore, preserve, and rehabilitate three significant historic municipal sites. Under these agreements, the Society assumes the cost of operating the buildings; is the force and primary sponsor of restoring, preserving and rehabilitating them; and researches historic records and documents for placement of buildings on both the Connecticut State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Southwest District School, built in 1858 on Simsbury Road, is the only remaining 19″‘ century one-room schoolhouse in Bloomfield. The need of repairs to this school was one of the incentives for organizing the Society. The roof repair in 1950 was done with borrowed money, which wasn’t fully repaid for several years. The repair carefully preserved the details of the original construction by the men from the town poor farm. The school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
The Old Farm School, a two-room schoolhouse built in 1796 at the corner of School Street and Park Avenue, was moved from the east to the west side of School Street in the 1970’s due to road expansion. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The Captain Oliver Filley House, built in 1834 on Mountain Avenue, is a stone Greek revival farmhouse. The Society spent considerable time and energy on the research of the building, farm site, and religious novitiate. The house was listed on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places in 1994 and the house, outbuildings and site were listed on the National Register in 2008. The house and outbuildings are currently under the purview of the town.
The Gillette House was built by the well-known Connecticut abolitionist, Francis Gillette, in 1834. It was relocated on Bloomfield Avenue after being purchased by CIGNA and is now a group home for a non-profit organization. The Society was instrumental in having it placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The house is not open to the public.