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250th Anniversary of Waterbury

An interest in history comes to each person differently. Although I grew up in Waterbury I, like so many, took the experiences of a childhood followed by adulthood for granted. I didn't know that I was living and making history every day along with everyone else in town. Nor did I have a curiosity of why streets, buildings, and streams were named as they were, that is, until I began work at the Green Mountain Coffee Visitor Center and Cafe located in our town’s historic train station.

My work at the cafe and visitor center went beyond creating a warm, welcoming, coffee experience. The train station not only became a place to learn about coffee but also a place for learning about Waterbury. In my quest to learn more about the rich history of Waterbury I came across two books published by the Waterbury Historical Society, History of Waterbury, Vermont 1915 - 1991 and Waterbury Bridges the 20th Century. I somehow became a “conductor” of sorts, sharing the information that I was learning with anyone who was interested in learning more about our town.

I was most interested in the celebrations that occurred during our town’s bicentennial and knew that I wanted to be a part of the next celebration of our town. I, as a member of Waterbury’s Rotary Club, helped organize the 250th Anniversary committee. The committee was comprised of members from a wide range of community groups including; Waterbury Historical Society (WHS), Revitalizing Waterbury (RW), ReBuild Waterbury, Stowe Street Arts Festival, Waterbury Tourism, Waterbury Fire Department, American Legion Post 59, and various church organizations. Everyone who had an interest in our town should be a part of the planning and execution of honoring our history.

The Bicentennial in 1963 was eight days of parades, events, and performances but in 2013 it didn’t seem practical to follow that model, afterall, life was different. It was decided that each event held in 2013 would be highlighted as part of a year-long celebration of our 250th anniversary. Iit is these community-based events that, in part, make Waterbury the special place that it is. Along with our annual, and not so annual events, specific 250th anniversary related experiences would continue throughout the year including:

  • Waterbury Record newspaper using the 250th logo on its front page throughout the summer

  • historical trivia and photos presented by the WHS, to inform and engage the community, would be featured in the Waterbury Record, Senior Center window, and their website

  • historical window displays in the American Legion, WDEV, Waterbury Police Department, Stowe Street Emporium, KC’s Bagels, Proud Flower, Axel’s Frame Shop, and Chila’s Coiffures

  • several commemorative items made available including: Waterbury, Vermont Semiquincentennial Anniversary Commemorative Books (250th book), 250th T-Shirts, and two U.S. Postal Stamps featuring the train station and seminary buildings

  • several WHS programs including: Semi-annual meetings highlighting the history of the names of streets, hills, and churches in Waterbury and Waterbury Center; Historical Tours; and a Meal of Remembrance

  • Happy Birthday Waterbury! themed parade for Not Quite Independence Day (NQID), featuring Florilla Ames who at 102 was, and is, Waterbury’s oldest resident

  • 250th Anniversary Birthday Picnic and Social to commemorate the signing of our charter

Throughout the year the Waterbury Historical Society created trivia questions to engage and inform the community. An example taken from the Waterbury Record [June 6, 2013] is: Trivia Question for Week 24: C.C. Warren, whose house still stands at 89 South Main St., was a leader in the manufacturing of: A) Leather Harnesses B) Baseball Bats C) Baby Carriages The answer can be found at the end of this article

The annual Memorial Day Ghost Walk was held at Hope Cemetery on May 27th, and featured historical figures that came to life through stories told by descendants or reenactment role playing. Those remembered were James Marsh, Ezra Butler, Mary Harmon Austin, and Paul Dillingham, Jr.

I was honored to work with my friend, graphic designer Joseph Yglesias, on the creation of the Waterbury 250th book and commemorative T-Shirts. The book project took on a life of its own as we worked to visualize how best to capture 250 years of history. In the end we decided to use a timeline format highlighting people, news, and events with photographs and short little snippets. Although the book began as a Waterbury Rotary project it could not have been done without members of the Waterbury Historical Society, who provided immeasurable support with photos and fact checking and all of the people and businesses that supported the book through advertising and distribution. 1000 copies of the book were printed and were offered for a suggested donation of $5.00. All proceeds from the sale of the books and T-Shirts were put back into the community through Rotary’s charitable giving fund.

A 250th Anniversary Birthday Picnic and Social was planned for Friday, June 7, 2013, exactly 250 years after the signing of the original charter by Governor Benning Wentworth. The celebration was originally scheduled to be held at Rusty Parker Memorial Park but Mother Nature had other ideas. The event was moved to Thatcher Brook Primary School (TBPS), which was fitting because of the historical significance of that building. The evening was emceed by Brian Harwood and Ken Squire, both of whom are historical figures in their own right.

A reenactment of Governor Benning (Gil Coates, a member of the Monkton Historical Society), signing the charter began the evening, with copies available for everyone. We were honored to have Florilla Ames with us. Neither President O’Bama nor Senator Leahy could attend the celebration, however they both sent letters acknowledging the occasion. Senator Leahy also sent along an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol building. Both letters were read along with a Vermont State Resolution commemorating Waterbury’s anniversary.

Brian and Ken shared many stories about themselves and Waterbury and welcomed others to share their tales as well. Along with the stories from those in attendance, there were memories read from “memory boxes'' which had been distributed throughout town prior to the event. A special Waterbury 250 post mark was designed and made available along with historical stamps, birthday cake and ice cream was served, and a group photo was taken. The evening ended with Vermont folk storytellers Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder sharing their music and tales.

The celebration continued on Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. with an open house at the new Waterbury Fire Department, which had just opened the previous year. At 1 p.m. a two hour guided walking tour with the Waterbury Historical Society began at the dry bridge. Open houses were held from 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the Waterbury High School, currently TBPS by the Waterbury Alumni Association, Waterbury Historical Society, and Waterbury Public Library.

Even the local elementary and middle schools participated in celebrating Waterbury and Duxbury’s (Duxbury’s charter also signed by Governor Benning on June 7, 1763) history. Crossett Brook Middle School 7th and 8th grade students in Lori Morse’s social studies class created a table-sized model of Duxbury in conjunction with learning how landscape was key in forming settlements. The model was presented at Duxbury’s 250th celebration. While middle schoolers focused on Duxbury, 3rd and 4th grade students from TBPS created a live-action history walk which they presented on June 13th. As reported by Kristen Fountain in the Waterbury Record [June 6, 2013], “...students will be arrayed throughout the playground dressed as important Waterbury and Duxbury figures, living and dead, reciting biographical information.” “Characters include Ezra Butler, the second settler in Waterbury, who also served as state governor; Henry Janes, the philanthropic Civil War surgeon; and Ken Squier, a pioneer NASCAR announcer and current owner of Waterbury-based radio station WDEV.”

A historic bus tour of Waterbury Center on October 19th proved quite popular. The tour, organized by the WHS and guided by Jack Carter, took people on a historical journey through Colbyville, Shaw Mansion Road, Loomis Hill, and the Waterbury Center Green. The tour ended where it began at the Waterbury Center Community Methodist Church where refreshments were served and historical displays were available for viewing. A $5.00 donation was suggested.

Answer to Trivia Question - A) C.C. Warren was a leader in the manufacturing of leather harnesses.

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