Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Hebron Historical Society

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In 1908, as a result of the dedication of (and perhaps a little arm-twisting from) Ida Porter Douglas, Hebron celebrated its 200th anniversary of incorporation, the first time the town engaged in such a commemorative event. It was so successful that the town continued the tradition, celebrating the 250th anniversary in 1958, the 275th anniversary in 1983, and now the 300th anniversary in 2008.

Municipal anniversaries of incorporation often provide unique opportunities to reflect on the past. It is often the case that a town’s history – over time – defines the community and becomes a predictor of its future.

In 1908, as a result of the dedication of (and perhaps a little arm-twisting from) Ida Porter Douglas, Hebron celebrated its 200th anniversary of incorporation, the first time the town engaged in such a commemorative event. It was so successful that the town continued the tradition, celebrating the 250th anniversary in 1958, the 275th anniversary in 1983, and now the 300th anniversary in 2008.

We all know that the community has changed radically since 1908, and the celebratory events of 1908 are far different from the planned activities of 2008. But in focusing on the 1908 events, we learn much about a different time, different values, and different perceptions among Hebron residents. We also learn how, in many ways, we haven’t changed that much.

Those events were encapsulated in a hard cover book published by the Bicentennial Committee in 1910. Entitled Hebron, CT Bicentennial, August 23d to 25th, 1908: An Account of the Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Incorporation of the Town, the book recounts numerous speeches, sermons, songs, and poems given that special weekend.

The book was compiled by F. C. Bissell, considered by most at that time to be the Town Historian. Interestingly, in his cover letter, Bissell notes “As I am writing to-day, May 1910, the new Town Record Building [has] just been completed. This is a direct result of the historical interest aroused at the Bicentennial, being built in part by a subscription commenced at that time and it is a substantial memorial of the occasion.”

Today? The 300th Committee is working hard to create a memorial stone wall, it also “being built in part by a subscription commenced at that time and it is a substantial memorial of the occasion.”

How much did the 1908 Committee spend on the celebrations? A grand total of $729.10. $729 in 1910 equates to $17,100 in today’s dollars. How much will we spend on the 2008 celebrations? Probably more, but inflationary pressures a century later easily account for the difference.

Sunday, August 23 was dedicated to church services and thanksgiving. Kate Trumbull Way wrote a beautiful hymn, sung to the tune “Hebron”. It begins:

“Two hundred years have come and gone,

Since in this dear old Hebron town.

A little band of holy men,

Did pray and call God’s blessings down.

Now raise our voice and shout and sing

Help us to laud and glorify,

These men of old who built this town,

And left it fair for you and I.”

Does anyone know or remember the tune “Hebron” from those 1908 celebrations? Here is an important part of history that should be revived for 2008, and preserved for the future. If so, please contact the Historical Society!

On Monday, August 24, the “new” Center School (now American Legion) was dedicated. Bissell notes that it had been “thoroughly repaired and enlarged by the addition of a new room to accommodate the grammar and high school preparatory departments.” Flavel Luther, president of Hartford’s Trinity College, gave the address which he entitled “The Modern Public School, its Influence and Advantages.”

That same night was the “Old Folks Concert, admirably planned and executed [that] engaged the attention of an audience that filled the town hall to overflowing.” The evening began with “Ye Concert.” Several tongue-in-cheek warnings were included in the program, such as “careless boys, old and young are warned against throwing peanut shucks and spit balls at ye singers” and “If anyone is not pleased with ye Concert, he can as he retires, get his ticket back – or if he fears that he has received too much benefit for the money paid, he can make a further payment to ye Keeper of ye door.”

The biggest day came on Tuesday, August 25, “Governor’s Day.” Bissell reports that “the weather was perfect and the people of the town fairly outdid themselves in the cordial welcome and generous hospitality accorded to their visitors. Fifteen hundred persons at least were present… By railroad, automobile, teams of all descriptions, bicycles, and by foot the crowds passed into the village” to greet Governor Rollin S. Woodruff, who arrived on the 9:15 a.m. Turnerville train. First stop? A social visit at Governor Peters’ old house on Church Street, as well as St. Peters Church and the St. Peters Cemetery where Governor John Peters is buried.

Opening remarks were made by John Way, Chairman of the Bicentennial Committee, followed by another address by Flavel Luther. Just before lunch, Reverend Samuel Hart, President of the Connecticut Historical Society, gave his “Historical Address,” entitled “The Place of Hebron in the Colony.”

Hart noted that three other towns had been incorporated in 1708, those being Killingly, Newtown and Ridgefield. One of the interesting parts of Hart’s address focused on the name “Hebron,” and why the community was ultimately named “Hebron,” a question that many people ask.

He acknowledged that Lebanon was the first Connecticut town with a Hebrew name, but noted “the Lebanon of holy Scripture is the name of a mountain, the “white” mountain of Palestine, and not of a city. Hebron is the first city name taken from the Bible for a Connecticut town. It was proposed by the legatees; but why it was given, or who first selected it, does not appear. It may have been chosen by some one of the ministers who, from his knowledge of Hebrew, recalling that the word means a confederacy, thought it apt for a settlement of people who came from diverse directions…”

Hart then recounted two famous sons of Hebron, also considered exemplary historians: Dr. Benjamin Trumbull and Reverend Samuel Peters. Significantly, Dr. Hart closed his address with the fervent plea to “guard your history and its annals, and to make it and them known to the children of the generations to come.” Wise words that faintly echo into our modern world of chaotic schedules and frenetic lifestyles…

Lunch hour was announced by an imaginary “firing of the pump,” invoking memories of the old legend that led to Hebron’s moniker “Pumptown.” Governor Woodruff’s address began at 1:30, followed by the town’s historians. F. C. Bissell gave a summary of the town’s first hundred years of existence, followed by Dr. Cyrus Pendleton, who recounted events of the second hundred years. These addresses provide valuable information about our town’s history, as it was known and interpreted in 1908.

Miss Susan Bingham Pendleton, a noted poet and writer who later took over her father’s role as unofficial town historian, read her poem, “Hebron.” Almost four pages in length, it is one of Pendleton’s most glorious efforts. To read more Pendleton poems, go to the Douglas Library and ask to see her short collection, They Shall Remain.

Many songs and hymns followed, ending with a benediction by St. Peter’s Reverend John Fitzgerald. That evening, from 8:00 until 10:00 p.m., residents and guests gathered at Caroline Kellogg’s home at the center of the Green for an informal reception and a “Grand Handshaking.”

So much activity in just three short days back in 1908, activities heavily punctuated by religious and historical themes (but with a bit of wit thrown in too). This year’s activities – occurring throughout the year – are different, and yet somewhat consistent with the bicentennial theme. We’ll pay homage to our past, have fun, sell lots of commemorative items, and leave valuable memories for future generations when they celebrate Hebron’s 400th anniversary of incorporation in 2108.