This article is from a monograph on the history of First Church of Christ, Wethersfield and was written in 1985. The full monograph is available at the Wethersfield Historical Society.
Marked by periods of rapid growth and change, the twentieth century has been the most exciting period in Wethersfield’s history. The Swan report, prepared for the newly established town plan commission in 1928, opened with these two paragraphs:
“This transition means many things to Wethersfield. To grow from a mere village of scattered houses with its surrounding farms into a fair sized residential suburb will involve a complete break with past tradition. Farms that have been tilled for nearly three hundred years will be cut up into building lots; wire fences enclosing dairy pasture will give way to city streets; quiet country lanes, now grass grown and all but deserted will develop into traffic thoroughfares carrying hundreds of vehicles per hour; comparatively small fields will become the home places of crowded thousands. And the more of this that takes place, the more the town will be said to have progressed.”
These predictions have been realized. United States Census figures show the population growth as follows:
1910 = 3,148
1920 = 4,342
1930 = 7,512
1940 = 9,644
1950 = 12,533
1960 = 20,561
1970 = 26,662
1980 = 26,013
[2000 = 26,268]
When the Swan report was written there were more than twenty farms in Wethersfield, most of them dairy farms. Today  only nine farms are listed on the assessor’s records and only two are dairy farms. There are three vegetable growers, a sod farm, and a seed-trial garden. The other farmers raise hay. Farms have indeed been cut up and the only grass-grown lanes are in the riverside meadows. There are more than 120 miles of paved roads in Wethersfield. In 1900 the town budget was $22,913.19, including $1,183.11 from state educational grants. The 1984 budget was nearly thirty-four million dollars and included thousands of dollars of state educational and municipal grants and some federal revenue-sharing funds.
As the century opened the town looked very much as it had looked for generations, with the addition of some homes built in the nineteenth century. The largest concentration of houses was in the village, but there were some communities in Griswoldville, on Jordan lane, and on South Hill (Maple Street). The route through the village from Hartford to Rocky Hill (Hartford Avenue, State, Main, and Broad Streets, and Middletown Avenue) and the Hartford-New Haven turnpike, now Route 5, were the major north-south roads. Although there were farms along Wolcott Hill and Ridge Roads, these were not major thoroughfares. Farms lined the roads to Newington along Jordan Lane, Wells Roads, and Prospect Street; Silas Deane Highway was built in 1930 and Interstate 91 in 1964.
Even in the more densely populated areas there was a great deal of open space. Almost every house had some outbuilding – a barn, woodshed, chicken coops, and a privy. They often also had extensive flower and vegetable gardens, a grape arbor, some berry bushes, and fruit trees. Some farmers had extensive orchards. Some houses had coal furnaces, but firewood for fireplaces and stoves was still cut from the farmers’ woodlots. In the winter, ice was cut at the cove and from small ponds and stored for summer use. Domestic water came from the wells. There was no public sanitation and only limited collection of trash and garbage.
In 1900 there were 432 students in the Wethersfield schools; six grammar schools Broad Street, Northbrick, High Street, West Hill, South Hill and Griswoldville and the high school (now the Governor Thomas Welles Building). The average teacher’s salary was $46 per month. The schools were supervised by the school visitors, precursors of the board of education. The overseers of the poor cared for the needy. The 1900 town report shows that the town farm account had expenditures (mostly for food, medicine, and clothing) of $2,691.65, but gives no indication of the number of persons living or working there.
The selectmen-town meeting form of government continued. The town officials were three selectmen, a town clerk, a treasurer, an auditor, a health officer, and the school visitors and overseers of the poor. None of these were salaried positions, and in this closely-knit community the officials were well known to all of the citizens. They were local farmers and businessmen, as active in their churches as in town affairs, and they were always available to discuss town matters. This does not mean that there was no difference of opinion – discussions in town meetings were often heated – but there were no special-interest groups and citizens had a feeling of closeness to officials.
Alfred W. Hanmer was an outstanding example of this type of public servant. He was born in Wethersfield, attended high school at the Academy, and was graduated from Wilbraham Academy. He owned a grocery store adjacent to his home on Main Street across from the Academy. He was elected first selectman in 1898. He served as senior warden at Trinity Church for many years and was named senior warden emeritus. He was a charter member of the Wethersfield Businessmen’s and Civic Association, the Wethersfield Historical Society, Hospitality Lodge, the Rotary Club, and the Wethersfield Country Club. He served as state senator and was a member of the Metropolitan District Commission. He was a member of the board of directors of Comstock, Ferre & Company and of Wethersfield Bank and Trust Company. He was reelected first selectman until 1944, when he chose to retire. He provided excellent leadership as the town met problems or rapid growth, the Great Depression, and World Wars I and II.
By 1900 Residential property in Hartford was becoming scarce and Wethersfield’s growth as a suburb began. The first areas developed were those convenient to public transportation – the trolley lines to and from the Old State House in Hartford. There was the original line from Hartford to Main and Church Streets, which was later extended to the Broad Street green, and the Franklin Avenue line, which was extended to Rocky Hill and Middletown via Wolcott Hill and Griswoldville in 1909.
There were, of course, many men engaged in building homes in Wethersfield, but two men, Albert G. Hubbard and Harrison A. Bosworth stand out as pioneer real-estate developers. From 1908 to 1911, Hubbard built several homes in the Wolcott Hill area, and the next year he developed Hubbard Park and built homes on Garden Street opposite Standish Park. This was the beginning of the “Hubbard Community” which included many homes built between Main Street and Beaver Brook. By 1933 Hubbard had built and sold 240 houses in Wethersfield.
In 1925 Bosworth purchased land on Hartford Avenue and moved two older houses that stood on the property to Wilcox Street and Harmund Place. He developed these streets and Avalon Place. Bosworth built many fine homes, although they are not in such a concentrated area as those built by Hubbard.
Both Hubbard and Bosworth restored and remodeled older structures, as well, so they were pioneers in the field of preservation. The high-quality houses built by these men and other others represent interesting changes in twentieth-century styles and add to the architectural variety of the town.
The use of the Academy as a town hall began in 1894, when the library was housed in the first-floor north room. In 1900 the south room became the town clerk’s office. Previously his office had been in his home. In 1908 a vault was added to the south room to store permanent records and in 1922 extensive interior alterations were made. The stairs to the second floor had originally been on the exterior south wall and were later installed on the interior south wall. The present center staircase was built in 1922. In 1940 the library was moved to the Governor Thomas Welles School and further alterations were made to the Academy at a cost of $10,000. A two-story vault was added at the rear of the north side. The town clerk, assessor, tax collector, police court and registrar of voters occupied the first floor; the town engineer, building inspector, and welfare department occupied the second floor. When the town hall and library on the Silas Deane Highway was built in 1957, the town leased the Academy, now called the Old Academy, to the Wethersfield Historical Society for an annual rent of one red onion. The Old Academy is now the headquarters of the historical society and a local historical museum.
After church and state were separated in 1818, town meetings were no longer always held at the meetinghouse. For many years they were held at the Academy. As the town grew and the Academy rooms found other uses, it was not easy to find a hall large enough for these meetings. Generally they were held at the auditorium of the Welles School or the high school on the Silas Deane Highway. On one occasion the town meeting was held at the firehouse of Company One.
The Wethersfield Businessmen’s and Civic Association was founded in 1917. This organization has initiated and worked for many improvements for the town – better mail service, the establishment of a sewer commission, Wethersfield’s association with the Metropolitan District Commission, and the change to council-manager form of government. The B.M.C.A. was the first civic organization in this community and is still  alive.
Many Wethersfield men saw service in World War I. Some veterans returned to farming, other pursued skilled trades, and still other found employment in the stores, banks, insurance companies, utilities and industries in Hartford. They organized the Army and Navy Club, which became the Russell K. Bourne D.S.C Post, American Legion, in 1919. The Baptist Church disbanded in 1922, and the Legion post acquired their building as its headquarters. The name of the post was changed to the Bourne-Keeney Post in 1949. The name honors Russell K. Bourne, who was killed in 1918, and Robert A. Keeney, who lost his life in 1945. The Legion has contributed a great deal to the town over the years. In addition to organizing the annual Memorial Day observances, they arranged holiday programs for children on Halloween and for all ages on the Fourth of July. They sponsored Boy Scout troops, Sea Scout ships and Boy’s State. The Legion Hall has served as command post in times of disaster – the 1936 flood and the 1938 hurricane. It was used as a Sunday school when the new parish house was under construction at Trinity Church.
The Great Elm Post 9945, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States of America, was established in 1949. By 1952 they were cooperating with the Legion in organizing the Memorial Day programs. They still  sponsor a Boy Scout troop and a Little League baseball team.
In 1946 a group of returning veterans organized the Wethersfield Veteran’s Association. This was primarily a social group that lasted for ten or twelve years. When the group disbanded, many members joined the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The Women’s Sunday Afternoon Club was organized in 1901 as a social and cultural group. Members enjoyed lectures, musical programs and card parties. The group raised a considerable amount of money which they contributed to the Colonial Dames to help purchase the Webb House, but their continuing interest was support of the Wethersfield public library through the Emma Kimball Clark Fund.
The post-World War I decade of the 1920’s was a period of major change throughout the country because of technological advances. More people owned automobiles. New homes were built with one or one-and-a-half bathrooms, central heating but oil instead of coal, electric or gas stoves and refrigerators, and a garage instead of a barn. The population of Wethersfield grew from 4,342 to 7,512 and this growth strained local schools and services.
The Charles Wright School had been built in 1917 to accommodate a growing school population. The Griswoldville School was replaced with a four-room brick building at Griswold Road and Prospect Street in 1922. In 1924 The Francis-Stillman School on Hartford Avenue replaced the Northbrick School. This school carries the name of two old Wethersfield shipping families. Miss Jane Francis, who lived at 120 Hartford Avenue, bequeathed the land on which the school was built to Miss Bessie Stillman of New York City. Miss Stillman gave the land to be used for a public purpose.
A new high school was built south of Church Street on the Silas Deane Highway in 1929. This location was chosen because it was the geographical center of the school-age population at the time. It was a combined junior-senior high school and accepted tuition students from Rocky Hill, which did not have a high school at the time.
The Ridge Road School, later named the Colonel John Chester School, was built in 1930 when additions were made to the Griswoldville School (later named Stephen Mix Mitchell School) and the Charles Wright School. The Northbrick and Broad Street Schools were demolished and the High Street and South Hill Schools were sold to individuals and are now private residences. The West Hill School was closed but left standing and was sometimes used for Girl Scout meetings. The old high school, the Governor Thomas Welles School, became an elementary school. These new schools and additions necessitated additional teachers and services. A school nurse was hired in 1921. School buses were first used in 1924. Free textbooks were not provided until 1925.
According to the assessor’s records the first apartments in Wethersfield were built at the southwest corner of Main and Church Streets in 1916, with an addition in 1920. Two houses had stood on this property: one was moved to Garden Street and later demolished; the Edward Shepard house was moved around the corner where it now stands at 25 Church Street. It could be said that the apartment complex was Wethersfield’s first shopping center, for retail stores have always occupied the first floor. There has always been a grocery store and a drug store there, and at one time there was a barber, a tailor, and a hardware store. Originally this building was known as the Sherman Block, later the Central Block, and now  it is called the Baskin Block.
In 1927 the United States Post Office, which had been located at the Standish store north of the Deming-Standish House, moved across the street to the apartment building. The Standish store was moved that year to the front of the Charles C. Hart Seed Company, but was destroyed in a major fire on December 11, 1943. Wartime restrictions delayed the rebuilding of the seed company, but they continued to do business. The new Hart Seed Company building was completed in 1955. The United States Post Office moved to the Silas Deane Highway in 1962.
Hospitality Lodge 128 A.F. and A.M. was chartered in 1921. The next year the Hills Hotel was moved around the corner to Church Street, where it is now a residence, and the Masonic temple was built at the northwest corner of Main and Church streets.
In 1923 the Wethersfield Volunteer Fire Department built its first real firehouse on Main Street at a cost of $25,000. Most of the work was done by the firemen themselves. This firehouse was demolished in 1974, when the present Main Street structure was built. In 1926 the Old Griswoldville School on Griswold Road was converted to a firehouse for a second fire company and served until 1958, when the present No. 2 station was built. Company Three was organized in 1967, and the Kelleher Court firehouse was built that year.
In 1928 sewer lines were completed in the village and a sewer commission was appointed to work toward municipal sewers for the entire town. In 1929 a town engineer was hired and a park board was established.
Wethersfield’s first bank, the Wethersfield Bank and Trust Company, was established in 1928, with offices in the Deming-Standish house. The bank became a branch of the Hartford Connecticut Trust Company (now  the Connecticut Bank and Trust Company) in 1933. In 1952 its offices were moved to a new building at 600 Silas Deane Highway.
The Wethersfield Women’s Association was founded in 1921 as a civic and philanthropical group whose main concerns were health and child welfare. The group provided encyclopedias and supplementary reading material for classrooms before school libraries existed, and members organized the first local parent-teachers associations in the late 1920s. The Women’s Association sponsored dental clinics, tuberculosis testing, and annual physical examinations in the schools. Local physicians gave their time for these examinations. The Association also provided eyeglasses and paid some hospital bills for children and furnished a room for the Visiting Nurse Association at the Francis-Stillman School. During the depression they furnished milk for undernourished children and provided food baskets for the needy at Thanksgiving and Christmas. By the time this group disbanded in 1969 the responsibility for these vital programs had been assumed by town or other public agencies. A group of young women who moved to Wethersfield after World War II formed a similar organization in 1953 – The Wethersfield Junior Women’s Club, which is still alive.
The Wethersfield Garden Club was organized in 1926 and was the only garden club in town until 1949. About that time several others, including a men’s garden club, were formed. At various times these clubs have contributed time, talent, and funds for many beautification projects.
In May 1928 the Businessmen’s and Civic Association promoted a “Trade in Wethersfield Week.” A magazine published for this event shows clearly that the Association was trying to encourage citizens to patronize the growing number of local businesses. The directory on the back page lists two grocery stores, six meat and grocery stores, two druggist, four garages and ‘filling stations”, two barbers, a beauty shop, seven building contractors, two electrical contractors, two plumbers, three sheet-metal workers, a mason, a shoe repairer, two tailors, five physicians, three painters and paperhangers, and three insurance agents. It is evident that Wethersfield was a town in transition for the directory also lists a blacksmith and a horseshoer, three local dairies, a coal company, and a Hartford ice delivery company. About eighty businesses are listed, many operate from offices in homes.
Both local businessmen’s enthusiasm and the growth of the town were slowed considerably by the great depression of the 1930’s. Since this was still a farming community and many residents were employed in Hartford, the effects of the depression were less severe than in many communities, for Wethersfield was not dependent on one industry that employed a majority of the townspeople. However, almost every family suffered a salary cut or cuts and/or a shortened work week. In 1934 all school personnel received a 10 percent cut in pay. There were those who lost their jobs, and when they could not meet their mortgage payments, lost their homes. Some more fortunate families were able to purchase these homes and the population increased by more than 2,100 in the 1930s. The town farm was not a good solution to the growing need for town assistance and it was closed in 1930. A volunteer social worker assisted the board of relief as early as 1934, but it was 1938 before this was a full-salaried position.
In addition to official assistance from the town, churches and other organizations did their best to meet the needs of the less fortunate. Very quietly, local merchants, particularly the grocers, extended credit to families who were hard-pressed to meet their bills. There were many individual acts of kindness and generosity that were never mentioned. The depression and World War II were major factors in uniting the old families and the new residents.
In 1932 Wethersfield shared in the nations’ celebration of the Washington Bicentennial and first-day covers for the commemorative postage stamp were issued from the Wethersfield post office because Webb house had been the scene of the Yorktown conference.
Stiles’s “History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut” had been published in 1904 and the women’s Association published “Homes and Doorways of Old Wethersfield” in 1927 (this was reprinted in 1970). Interest in local history was rekindled as the three hundredth anniversary of the town’s founding approached. The Wethersfield Historical Society was founded in 1932. In 1934 Wethersfield and her daughter towns, Glastonbury, Newington, and Rocky Hill, celebrated Wethersfield’s tercentenary with a week-long program of church services, memorial unveilings and dedications, a pageant, a parade, a costume ball, and a motor-boat parade on the river. The Russell K. Bourne D.S.C. Post, American legion, restored the cove warehouse. Frances Fox Wells’s book, “Wethersfield and Her Daughters” was published. Two rooms at the Governor Thomas Welles School were opened as the historical society’s first museum. All Wethersfield schools were given names of distinguished citizens. Markers giving the names or original owners and date of construction were placed on many houses. This was an exciting and interesting week that emphasized the significance of Wethersfield’s past.
The theme of the tercentenary pageant, “The Leaves of the Tree”, was inspired because by one of the fine American elms that once graced Wethersfield’s streets. The Great Elm, which stood on Broad Street just north of Elm Street, was considered the largest American elm in the United States. John Smith planted it in front of his house in 1758. The park board and the tree warden tried valiantly to save this magnificent specimen but age, ice storms, hurricanes, and the Dutch elm disease took their tolls, and its twenty-ton stump, all that remained, was removed in 1953. Small elm tree pins were sold as tercentenary souvenirs for 10 cents apiece.
The two major natural disasters, the 1936 flood and the 1938 hurricane, caused considerable loss of property in town. The police force and town maintenance crew were small, but were assisted by volunteer firemen, legionnaires, and other volunteers – even including, during daylight hours, inmates from the state prison – in rescuing people from flooded homes and protecting life and property. The Legion hall served as emergency headquarters, and in 1936 those driven from their homes were given shelter at the chapel of First Church of Christ and at Trinity parish house.
Many organizations flourished in the 1930s. Every elementary school had an active parent-teacher association, Boy and Girl Scout troops met in every school – the Sea Scouts met at Legion hall. The Hartford Y.M.C.A. sponsored Hi-Y or Y-Teen groups. The Wethersfield Athletic Club – particularly its baseball team – was supported enthusiastically. The Wethersfield Game Club was organized as were the first men’s service clubs – the Rotary and Exchange. The Wethersfield Community Players came on the scene in 1932 and for some years presented two productions a year.
The town met the emergencies of World War II in the same patriotic spirit as other communities throughout the land. Fifteen hundred young people, including forty-five women, enlisted or were drafted. Thirty-four men lost their lives. All who served were listed on the town roll of honor, which stood north of the Deming-Standish house. Residents purchased war bonds, rolled bandages, volunteered for work with the American Red Cross and other support organizations, served as airplane spotters, air-raid wardens, or in first aid units. They saved paper, fats, and metals for recycling. Food, gasoline, and fuel oil were rationed. The selectmen appointed the draft and ration boards and provided space for their offices at the Governor Thomas Welles School. The museum rooms of the historical society were closed.
Comstock, Ferre & Company raised large quantities of small English tomatoes for seed. The harvest was gathered by school children. The juice from the fruit was given to the cannery at the state prison and the seed was shipped to England. Tomatoes raised from this seed provided a war-torn country with an important source of vitamin C.
In 1943 the Westfield Heights housing project was built to provide low-cost housing for those working in the defense industries in the greater Hartford area, and at the end of the war preference was given to returning veterans. In 1947-48 the Highview housing project was built to provide more homes for veterans. Both of these projects were built with Federal Public Housing Authority funds.
With the purchase of land for Mill Woods Park in 1944 and the opening of swimming and picnicking facilities there the following year, the town park board began to be responsible for a large number of recreational programs that had begun during the depression and the war. In 1946 the park board supervised about fifty acres of parkland; in 1984 the recreation and parks department administers more than 500 acres including Cove Park, Mill Woods park, Wintergreen Woods, the 1860 reservoir, the Nature Center, and the John C. Willard Pool, named for the former town historian and long-time member of the park board. A full-time director of parks and recreation was hired in 1960, and a full-time naturalist in 1973. The town offers or coordinates year-round programs for all ages and interests – sports events, nature programs, senior citizens activities, and community celebrations such as the spring arts festival, Easter egg hunt, July 4th picnic, and arts and crafts exhibits. There are programs for the retarded and the handicapped. Volunteers and various community organizations cooperate with the town to present many of these programs.
In the 1940s the population grew by almost 3,000. A full-time assistant town clerk was employed and all town departments increased their staffs. Library services were increased by the addition of neighborhood branches, but these were discontinued when the new library was built. However, this growth was only a prelude to the major growth and development which was to take place in the next two decades.
From 1950 to 1960 the population increased by 64 per cent – from 12,533 to 20,561 – and the town became the cosmopolitan community it is today, as new residents with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds chose to live in Wethersfield because of its good services and schools and its proximity to Hartford.
There is no official record of the numbers of Wethersfield men who served in the Korean conflict (1951-53) or the long and controversial Vietnam War, but two men lost their lives in Korea and three in Vietnam.
To meet the needs of growth and the postwar “baby boom” more schools were necessary. In 1949 the community building at Westfield Heights was taken over as a school and in 1952 the West Hill School on Wells Road was reopened as the Little Red Schoolhouse. In 1953-54 the Emerson-Williams School and the high school west of Wolcott Hill were completed and the former high school became the Silas Deane Junior High School. Two years later there were additions to these schools and to Stephen Mix Mitchell School. In 1956 three new elementary schools were built: the Lancaster Road School, a kindergarten through third-grade unit; the Greenfield School and the Valley Crest School, later renamed the Harvey R. Fuller School for the man who served as principal of the high school from 1931 to 1945 and as superintendent of schools from 1945 to 1959.
In 1952 the police department moved from its offices in the West Hill School to the first floor of the Deming-Standish house and the town building and engineering departments moved in to the second floor.
One of the sharpest breaks with tradition occurred in 1954, when the town changed from selectmen-town meeting to the council-manager form of government. The members of the first council were Noel J. Belcourt, Daniel J. Donovan, William A. Elrick, James H. Lennon, Peter Nichols, Sidney D. Pinney, Sr., Dr. Philip T. Sehl, Warren G. Willsey Sr., and James C. Wilson, Jr. The council elected Mr. Elrick as its first mayor. Albert Gray was hired as the first town manager and began his duties on July 1, 1954.
The town hall and library on the Silas Deane Highway was built in 1958 and all town departments except for the board of education were housed under one roof. The Deming-Standish house became the administrative offices of the board of education. The Academy was leased to the Wethersfield Historical Society for an annual rent of one red onion. The town garage on Marsh Street was built in 1969 and now houses the town maintenance department.
From the 1940s the Silas Deane Highway developed roughly from north to south in a haphazard fashion. There are some residential areas on the highway, but gas stations and small shopping centers occupy strategic corner locations and various businesses and industries fill in the remaining land. With the exception of a few neighborhood shopping centers that have existed since the 1920, the Silas Deane Highway is the principal commercial artery in town. There are a second large shopping center, several motels, and small businesses on the Berlin Turnpike.
Three more schools were built in the 1960s: in 1962 the Samuel Blatchley Webb Junior High School, in 1966-67 the Alfred W. Hanmer School, and in 1969 the Highcrest school. The Silas Deane Junior High School was demolished and replaced with a larger modern structure in 1967. Ten years later, when the postwar children had been educated, the town began to close some of these schools.
Wethersfield has always tried to find alternate uses for existing structures. When the Alfred W. Hanmer School accommodated pupils who had attended the Francis-Stillman and Governor Welles Schools, these still served useful purposes. For several years the Francis-Stillman School was used for meetings of youth groups and senior citizens, and the nature center was housed there for a time. The building is now  leased to the Capitol Region Education Council, which operates a day-care facility and a center for assistance to the hearing impaired. The Governor Thomas Welles School became the board of education’s media center. (The media center is now  at the Samuel Blatchley Webb School.)
The colonel John Chester School was closed in 1976. Many attempts to find a use for this building were made, to no avail, and it was demolished in the fall of 1984. The property will be subdivided for building lots with the exception of a small portion, which will remain as open space. The Stephen Mix Mitchell School and the Harvey R. Fuller School, closed in 1979 and 1981 respectively, will in all likelihood, be converted to senior citizens’ housing. The last classes were held at the Samuel Blatchley Webb School in June 1982 and this building now houses the administrative offices of the board of education. When the Greenfield School was closed in 1978, it was remodeled to create a community center for meeting and social events.
The Wethersfield Lions’ Club was responsible for raising funds for the Wethersfield Volunteer Association, which began service in 1956. Its first ambulance was garaged at as gasoline station at the corner of Wells Road and the Silas Deane Highway, then at Firehouse No 2. In 1962 the Ambulance Association built its headquarters on land provided by the town of Lancaster Road. The construction of this building was financed by members of the association. The town built the present headquarters on Prospect Street in 1982. The association has two ambulances and a trailer for on-site facilities in case of disaster, and is stilled manned by professionally trained volunteers.
There are over 150 structures built before 1850 in Wethersfield. Most of these are homes in the area known as the village, then as the center, and now as old Wethersfield. In 1962 the Wethersfield Historic District was established “to preserve and protect the many architectural phases of a Connecticut River community in perpetual growth from the year 1634.” This was the first and is the largest historic district established in Connecticut under state enabling legislation. The district, which is bounded by the Hartford and Rocky Hill lines on the north and south, Beaver Brook on the west and the river on the east, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. A commission appointed by the town council reviews and approves all new construction, any exterior alterations, and any demolitions in the district.
The first deliberate historic preservation project was the purchase of the Joseph Webb house by five Wethersfield men, E.S. Goodrich. A.W. Hanmer, James T. Pratt, John C. Warner, and S.F Willard in 1915 as they feared that the house would be demolished or used inappropriately – possibly as apartments. They sold the house to Wallace Nutting, who improved it and did some restoration work. In 1919 Nutting sold the house to the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut. It was opened to the public as an interesting place to visit and to have tea and attracted more than 1,200 visitors in the first six months. The Colonial Dames furnished the house and it became Wethersfield’s first museum. In 1958 the Colonial Dames purchased Isaac Stevens house (built in1788), and in 1959 inherited the Silas Deane house (built in 1766) from Mrs. E. Hart Fenn. These now constitute the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum. Both the Joseph Webb house (built in 1752) and the Silas Deane house are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another house listed on the National Register is the 1692 Buttolph-Williams house owned by the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society of Connecticut, which began to restore it in 1947. It is a fine example of seventeenth-century architecture, and exhibits a remarkably complete kitchen.
A small group of citizens organized the Historic Wethersfield Foundation in 1961 and purchased the Thomas Newsom and Ezra Webb houses on Broad Street. These were then sold to individuals who agreed to restore them. When the historic district was established, the work of the foundation was unnecessary; it was disbanded and its limited assets given to the Wethersfield Historical Society.
In 1969 Mr. Chauncey D. Stillman of New York City gave the Captain James Francis house (1793) on Hartford Avenue to the Wethersfield Historical Society, and the next year the society received the Captain John Hurlbut house (1804), a bequest from Mrs. Howard Dunham.
The Great Meadows Trust was organized in 1968 to acquire land in the meadows so that the area may be preserved in its natural state or used for agricultural purposes.
Apartments, town houses, and condominiums have been built as the town has grown. Except for apartment or Emerson Street, Old Pepperidge land, and Spring Street, these are located on the Silas Deane Highway or near the town’s borders – on Jordan Lane, Town Line Road, and the Berlin Turnpike.
The Moeller home on Prospect Street and the Church Home on Ridge Road, private housing for senior citizens, were built in 193 and 1932. Public housing for senior citizens is now available at the Adams apartments, built in 1972 on Boardman Terrace and the James Devlin Court, built in 1979 on Lancaster Road, and at Executive Square on the Silas Deane Highway, built in 1984. First Church Village was built in 1975. The demand for low – and moderate housing for senior citizens still far exceeds the number of units available.
Wethersfield has received national recognition for its outstanding programs for the handicapped – recreational and educational programs, accessible public buildings, ramped curbs, and so on. The first housing facility for the handicapped, Thomas B. Lasher Court, was built on Mill Street in 1984. This complex, owned by The United Cerebral Palsey Association was built on land purchased from the Wethersfield Housing Authority. It is named for Mr. Lasher, a longtime resident of Wethersfield whose tireless efforts have made the town a leader in this field.
When the state prison was demolished in 1963 the state Department of Motor Vehicles office was built at that location on State Street. The former warden’s residence, the Solomon Welles house (1774) was given to the town by the state and is now used as a “drawing room” for meetings and social events. Other state buildings in Wethersfield are the headquarters of the Board of Education and Services for the Blind, built at the corner of Ridge Road and Jordan Lane in 1917; the Department of Transportation at 24 Wolcott Hill Road, built in 1959; and the state Labor Department at 200 Folly Brook Boulevard, built in 1960.
The religious community grew as the town grew. Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church was founded in 1942, when the charter members met for worship in a vacant store at the corner of Clearfield and Wolcott Hill Roads. The next year they purchased the F.A. Griswold property at the corner of Wolcott Hill Road and Westway, using the house as a meeting place until 1958, when the present church was built.
Members of the Hebrew faith organized Temple Beth Torah in 1954 and purchased the Methodist church building on Main Street in 1960. The Methodist had built their new church on Prospect Street the previous year.
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus moved from Garden Street to the Meggat property on Hartford Avenue in 1923, converting the old seed warehouse to a sanctuary. The present church on Hartford Avenue was built in 1963. Corpus Christi Church was built on the Silas Deane Highway in 1938 and the school in 1960. The Parish Church of the Incarnation was built in 1963. Trinity Church built a new parish house in 1954-55 and the church was enlarged in 1963. The Wethersfield Community Church was built on Maple Street in 1961 and Jehovah’s Witnesses built their church on Elm Street in 1976.
Three Wethersfield men have represented Connecticut in the United States house of Representative in this century. E. Hart Fenn, who lived at the Silas Deane house, served from 1921 to 1931. William G. Miller served during the years 1939-41. Edwin H. May Jr., served from 1957 to 1959.
At the present time there is some light industry in Wethersfield, but most businesses are those retail and service firms that meet the needs of a residential suburb. Wethersfield was able to retain much of its historic atmosphere and develop from a farm community to a suburb because it never had a large manufacturing company which required a large mill or plants or low-cost housing for hundreds of workers.
Poverty is not apparent in Wethersfield, but more than 350 family units are assisted by the town’s Social Services Department, which has an annual budget of over $100,000. In addition to these funds, townspeople make voluntary contributions to a food bank, a fuel bank, a special needs fund, and camperships for children.
In general, Wethersfield is an affluent, though not a wealthy community. Many residents own property – a cottage or condominium – on Connecticut lakes or on Long Island Sound, or in other states as summer or winter vacation homes. Others own boats, campers, or snowmobiles. In addition to public recreational facilities in Wethersfield, there is an eighteen-hole golf course at the Wethersfield Country Club (established in 1916), a marina at the Wethersfield Cove Yacht Club (established in 1908), and tennis courts and a swimming pool at Pine Acres (established in 1957).
Wethersfield residents appreciate the educational and cultural opportunities available in Hartford – lectures, theatres, music, art, and sports events. They attend these programs and support the organizations that sponsor them. The only musical group in town, except for school and church groups, is the Colonel John Chester Fife and Drum Corps, which was organized in 1939 and has been an award-winning group for many years. The Wethersfield Art League was organized in 1959 and has grown steadily.
It would be impossible to list all the clubs, organization, and activities that are available to citizens of all ages. The community is blessed with dedicated volunteers – parents find time to work with Scout troops, Indian Guides, the 4H Club, and the campfire Girls, and to coach Little League baseball and soccer. There are two senior citizens groups in Wethersfield and several of their members volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels or as Friendly Visitors to shut-ins under the two Social Services Department. More than 260 citizens serve with no compensation on boards and commissions. The Volunteer ambulance Association provides a vital service, and it is most unusual for a town of this size to have a volunteer fire department that functions in a thoroughly professional manner.
The year-long celebration of Wethersfield’s three hundred and fiftieth anniversary was quite different from the tercentenary celebration. Although some events – the re-creation of an eighteenth-century military encampment
and the colonial Thanksgiving service, at which some of the worshippers were in costume – looked to the past, the emphasis was on the present and the future. Floats with historical themes and antique cars joined marching units and modern safety-equipment vehicles in a parade that marched more than two miles along Wolcott Hill Road from Jordan land to Mill Woods park. The arrangements section of the flower show featured several period designs. Descendants of some the early settlers gathered for a family reunion weekend, during which a two-day house tour featured homes built from the eighteenth century to the late twentieth. There were musical programs and the Wethersfield Community Players presented Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”. There was a ball, a gala Fourth of July picnic, and an international food festival that included dancing and art exhibits. All events were arranged by town organizations, involving hundreds of people as organizers, participants, and spectators.
For the future, the town of Wethersfield and the Wethersfield Historical Society are developing the Thomas Welles Building as a visitor’s center, cultural center, and museum. Early in 1985 this building was renamed the William A. Keeney Cultural Center. The Economic Development and Improvement Commission sponsored a contest with $30,000 in prizes awarded for professional designs to improve aesthetics, safety, and traffic patterns on the Silas Deane Highway and to preserve and enhance the business climate of this major artery.
About the Author: Lois Wieder