Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Hebron Historical Society

Enjoy Hebron - It's Here To Stay

Eagle Project Spruces up Old Town Hall

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Eagle Project Spruces up Old Town Hall 
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In the age of the Internet, we sometimes forget that for over a century history has been recorded and preserved in family scrapbooks and photo albums. It is from Mrs. Winthrop (Ethel Hills) Porter’s scrapbook that we are able to envision the spectacular events celebrating Hebron’s 250th anniversary, from July 19 through July 21, 1958, a weekend that saw somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 people visit our small community. Interestingly, many former residents returned to Hebron to celebrate this momentous occasion.

It had taken a year of intense preparation by the General Planning Committee (headed up by First Selectman Winthrop Strong Porter) and its 15 subcommittees. Susan Bingham Pendleton, who had helped organize the 200th Anniversary in 1908, was a welcome addition to the Planning Committee. She flooded the newspapers with various articles on Hebron’s history, concentrating on her favorite topics, the Reverend Samuel, Governor John, and Cesar and Lowis Peters Family, peaking interest throughout the state in Hebron, its significant history, this anniversary event.

The subcommittees covered every major aspect of the celebrations, from the well-advertised Pageant, to Programs, Hospitality, Decorations, Invitations, Tours, Transportation, Parking, Exhibits, Old Cars, Music, Publicity, Traffic, Concessions, and First Aid. Beautiful invitations featuring Hebron’s inaccurate town logo of a water pump were mailed out to officials throughout the state, and heavy attendance was anticipated. Storm clouds gathered early on July 19, and residents scrambled to come up with alternatives in case of heavy rain.

But the weather cleared, allowing for a grand start to the first event, a play called “Quest for Home,” written by Coventry resident Burton E. Moore. Former Superintendent Charles M. Larcomb provided the historical research used in the two-act, 20 scene play, which covered vignettes of Hebron’s history from its founding in 1708 until 1958. A total of 65 residents appeared in the play, including many children, including all the Foote, Horton, and Ellis youngsters. So many people showed up at RHAM auditorium that Friday night that many had to be turned away, prompting officials to immediately announce that a third, unscheduled performance would be held on “the Sabbath” (Sunday night, July 21.) In the end, one newspaper reported that the play “drew in an estimated 900 people,” but that may be an overestimation, since the auditorium only had 220 seats!

The weather on early Saturday morning, July 20, was as unpredictable as the previous day’s, causing a short delay in the start of a massive parade. Once again, storm clouds cleared and the parade went on as scheduled. John Sibun, in a revolutionary era costume, led the parade acting as Official Town Crier. The parade featured a number of impressive floats (the Jones-Keefe American Legion Post took the First Place Prize of $15), two dozen antique cars (organized by Wallace Brodeur), Boy and Girl Scouts, numerous bands, veterans groups, and the Chester Fife and Drum Corps.

Governor and Mrs. Abraham Ribicoff and their son, Peter, arrived during the parade, followed shortly by Associate Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, and former Governor, Raymond Baldwin and his wife. A special performance by the fife and drum corps was given for the Governor, after which he autographed the drum head of one of the members.

Following the parade, visitors and residents had a number of options: traditional Old Home Day events on the Green, featuring concessions, an historic artifact display at Old Town Hall, and an art and handicrafts display at the Douglas Library, or a horse show at Hebron Elementary or the Historic Homes and Sites tours. The historic sites tours, offered at 11:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, and again at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, proved highly popular, with seats on the school bus selling out quickly (tickets were 25 cents per person.) There were three different tours: Albert Hilding (of Hilding Brothers Farms) guided the tour of the south side; Richard Gale (then principal of Hebron Elementary School) conducted a tour of the Hope Valley and Burrows Hill areas; and Daniel G. Morton covered the north side, including Gilead and Gay City. In order to see all three tours, you had to come to Hebron both weekend days, a great strategy for drawing people back on Sunday!

Visitors could also attend Roy Jones’ Chicken Barbeque at Hebron Congregational Church (at a cost of $1.75 for adults). In this day and age of drive-by politicians, surrounded by their beefy security guards, it is amazing to see the 1958 pictures of the Governor spending 6 hours in Hebron, eating chicken with his fingers and surrounded by local farmers. It was a relaxed environment, with the Governor autographing many brilliant gold program booklets that had been distributed.

At 2:00 on Saturday, the crowd moved on to RHAM, where Selectman Porter welcomed distinguished guests with his trademark humor. Both Ribicoff and Baldwin addressed the crowd, with Ribicoff noting that Hebron was the birthplace of two governors (John Peters, Connecticut, 1831-33, and William Palmer, Vermont, 1831-35), as well as one lieutenant governor (Erastus Root, New York, 1822-24.) Ribicoff stated that the celebration “is the kind of event that revives tired minds and bodies.” He also commented extensively on Hebron’s “serene, residential quality,” comparing it to other more industrialized Connecticut towns, and remarked, “I believe you want to remain that way, and I certainly hope you do.” Thought-provoking words, given they were delivered 48 years ago….

Saturday night’s primetime event was again the “Quest for Home” pageant, performed to another sell-out crowd. One newspaper reporter commented, “Who had the most fun, the audience or the cast?” Plays have traditionally been a significant feature in any major Hebron celebration, and by Saturday night, it was clear that this original play was a great hit, even though “a few blew their lines or lacked the proper enthusiasm when enthusiasm was needed… Burton Moore rates three huzzahs for his chronicle of human events in what was once one of Connecticut’s largest and most prosperous towns.”

Sunday morning’s weather was brilliant, and the main events were special sermons at Hebron’s three major churches, St. Peter’s Episcopal, Hebron First Congregational, and Gilead Congregational. All churches were packed, wall to wall, with residents and visitors as prayers of thanksgiving were offered for Hebron’s roots, character and history. Concessions were again available on the Green, followed by the final opportunity for the historic sites tour at 2:00 p.m. Formal celebrations came to an end that night with the third and final performance of “Quest for Home” at 8:15 p.m.

Now, how much did these 1958 celebrations cost? According to Ethel Porter’s careful accounting records, expenses were $2,449.83. In today’s dollars, based on inflation, that equates to $16,070.66.

At their regular meeting on Thursday, July 20, 2006 the Hebron Selectmen voted to create a 300th Anniversary Committee, charged with organizing and fundraising for Hebron’s 300th anniversary in 2008. The initial committee includes Robert Norton Warner, Judith Podell, Warren Holbrook, Peter Moon, and Holly Habicht. Additional members to this important committee will be added later, as more volunteers offer their time and services.

The time is now to plan for Hebron’s 300th birthday; it’s right around the corner, and will be here before we know it. Our challenge is not a “one-upsmanship” over the 1958 celebrations. It is to make sure we celebrate our 300-year history with a reverence for the significant people and events that have helped shaped Connecticut history.

Donna J. McCalla is Vice President and Historian for the Hebron Historical Society.

All photos from the collection of the late Mrs. Winthrop (Ethel) Porter, courtesy of Wilbur and Maralyn Porter.

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