By Elizabeth Normen
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc., Summer 2016
Anyone who knows historian Bill Hosley (and many, many do) knows that his passion for Connecticut history is boundless—and infectious. Bill’s particular passion for local history and the museums and historical societies in small towns was the inspiration for this issue. We invited him to put together this issue’s photo essay featuring his top 10 treasures from small museums and why he loves them. Of course his greatest challenge was whittling it down to 10!
Bill, and others such as David Leff, author of “History Hidden in Plain Sight” (Spring 2013) based on his book Hidden in Plain Sight: A Deep Traveler Explores Connecticut (Wesleyan University Press, 2012), inspire me to be present and keep my eyes peeled as I drive around the state. Connecticut Explored is a source of inspiration, too, because after 54 issues and one book, I constantly see things that we’ve published stories about—things I would have driven right by if I hadn’t read about them in these pages.
Back in February, in preparation for my story about Connecticut towns (See page 20.), I drove out to Lebanon Historical Society to hear Bruce Clouette talk about the subject. The drive out Route 6 was a bonus: I spied several places I’d read about in past issues, including one of the historic country synagogues from “Faith Amidst the Fields” (Winter 2010/2011), Moor’s Indian Charity School (See page 13.), and the Lebanon town green (“Connecticut’s Colonial Town Greens,” Spring 2012). In March, a drive to Bethel landed me in that charming small-town center with its statue of P. T. Barnum in front of the library (“Tom Thumb and the Age of Celebrity,” Spring 2015).
I recommend reading this issue’s Site Lines about poet James Merrill’s house, Summer 2012’s “Attack on Stonington,” Fall 2013’s “They Came Here as Fishermen,” and Winter 2011/2012’s “Destination: The Discoverer of Antarctica” and then heading out for a day trip to Stonington Borough. Having read those four stories, you’ll more deeply appreciate the layers of fascinating history in this one village—visiting either on your own or on one of the walking tours offered by the Stonington Historical Society (Fridays at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.; stoningtonhistory.org). Be sure to stop into the historical society’s Lighthouse Museum and the Palmer House.
I second Bill’s invitation to get out and around the state this summer, as this is the season during which most museums and historical societies are open, at least for limited hours. June is a particularly great month for such outings. You’ll find museums and historic sites offering discounts and special programs during Connecticut Open House Day on June 12 (a program of the state tourism office; see ctvisit.com), and more than a dozen historic gardens will be open to visitors with special events and activities during Connecticut Historic Gardens Day on June 26 (a program offered by a consortium of museums with historic gardens; see cthistoricgardens.org).
Throughout this issue (and every issue), you’ll find lots of great ideas for how and where to find rich and deep experiences in Connecticut’s many small (and big) places.