Wolcott Historical Society News - November 2012
By Florence Goodman
This month I would like to revisit an article that I first wrote in November 2007 discussing the formation of the Wolcott Historical Society, the acquisition of the stone schoolhouse, and the first Christmas tree lighting ceremony held on the Town Green. All of these events took place a little over fifty years ago. Fifty years may not seem like a long span of time in our town's history, but numerous things have occurred during these years to shape some of our town traditions.
It was April 23, 1958 when fifteen historically minded Wolcott citizens met at the Town Hall to discuss forming of a historical society in our town. Mr. John Washburne served as the chairman of the meeting and suggested the following residents as committee members: Rose Wakelee Badger, Eva Tyrrell, Isabelle Way, Mr. Clifford Herbst, and Mrs. Margaret Hall. Upon request by Eva Tyrrell it was agreed that her daughter, Mrs. William Dumschatt, would be appointed in her place because as Wolcott correspondent for the Waterbury newspaper Mrs. Tyrrell did not have the time to serve on the committee. Town Clerk, Minnie Bergin, motioned that these people be appointed as an acting committee and it was so voted. John Washburne was chosen as acting president and Mrs. Hall as acting secretary. The group met several times each month to work out the details of incorporation, by-laws, membership, fundraising, and transferring ownership of the stone schoolhouse museum from the Mattatuck Historical Society to our Society. These early members of the Society worked tirelessly to keep our local history alive for future generations of our town.
On September 30, 1958 a public meeting of the Society was held at Frisbie School auditorium. A proposed constitution and by-laws were read and approved and the original committee voted to incorporate. The incorporation papers were recorded in the Town Clerk's office on April 29, 1959. The next task at hand was to work with the Mattatuck Historical Society of Waterbury on the proper documentation necessary to deed ownership of the stone schoolhouse on Nichols Road over to the Wolcott Historical Society. It took some time, but on July 3, 1962 the stone school became the property of the Wolcott Historical Society.
Now onto to the last, but not least of the events that I wanted to "enlighten" you about; that's the Tree Lighting on the Green. During the spring and summer months you may not pay much attention to that old spruce that adorns our Green, but an interesting story and yearly ritual is hidden amongst those branches.
The first town Christmas tree lighting on the Green was sponsored by the Wolcott Historical Society and held on December 18, 1961. The Society furnished a 25-foot Norway spruce complete with ornaments and lights. The members of the Wolcott Congregational Church hosted a carol sing and coffee was served at Beecher Memorial. The Connecticut Light and Power Company erected the tree and installed the lights free of charge as a donation to the Society.
The following year, in November of 1962, Mr. Clifford Herbst donated a 22-foot blue spruce to the town to ensure that there would be a permanent Christmas tree on the Green. The tree had been growing on his Wolcott Road property (where the Lion's Club is today) and was dug up by his son David Herbst. It was then transported to the town center and planted on the Green. The Society supplied the decorations, which were placed on the tree by the Wolcott Civil Defense. This tree lighting took place on December 15, 1962 and Mrs. Eva Tyrrell was given the privilege of turning on the lights. Thus began a tradition that is still in existence today.
This year that tree will celebrate a milestone in our town's history; that old blue spruce is celebrating 50 years of adorning our Town Green. The Herbst family and the Wolcott Historical Society played a major role in placing the tree on our Green, but other people and organizations have carried on this tradition over the past 50 years. An organization that has played a major role in this yearly event is the Junior Womens Club. They took over the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in 1972. At the time Fran Culver was the president of the organization. Today they continue to organize this wonderful event and supply hot chocolate, candy canes and a visit from Santa. The Wolcott Congregational Church has also been faithful in their support of the ceremony. They have been opening the Beecher Memorial doors for refreshments for all of these 51 years and will continue to do so.
Mayor Dunn has a special place in his heart for this tree. When he worked for the Department of Public Works one of his jobs was to decorate the tree for the Annual Tree Lighting Service. Since he became Mayor, he has continued to do this job because he enjoys it so much. So mark your calendar and plan to attend this Special Tree 51st Lighting Celebration on Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 6:00 P. M. and admire this 50 year old tree all aglow.
Over the past few years there has been some concern about the condition of this old tree and the possibility of replacing it with a newer and stronger one. Sad, but true, trees do get old and need to be replaced. If that is the case, then at least we have been able to pay tribute to the tree that has stood majestically on our town green for the past 50 years withstanding the forces of nature through every season. Thank you old tree for a job well done!!
(Information for this article was taken from early Historical Society minutes, and conversations with Lee Jenson and Eleanor Herbst.)
Our Schoolhouse Museum, which is usually open in the fall on Sunday afternoons, will be closed for several months this fall and winter because of painting. You may visit the Museum in the spring when it reopens by calling Carl Hotkowski 203-592-8237 or Flo Goodman 203-879-9818.
Charter members of the Wolcott Historical Society on April 27, 1958 are from left to right: Mrs. Douglas Way, Maurice Goodson, town treasurer, Clifford Herbst, Mrs. Maurice Goodson, John Dumschatt, Mrs. Grace Webber, Mrs. Alfred Blanchard, Mrs. Eva M. Tyrrell, Mrs. Betty Coe, Mrs. Rae Brennan, Mrs. Mildred Frisbie, Mrs. Minnie Bergen, town clerk, Mrs. Margaret Hall, Mrs. Ruth Archambault, John Brouker, second selectman, John Washburne, Mr. and Mrs. Claude V. Badger and Robert S. Wakelee, first selectman.
Wolcott Congregational Church behind the tree on the green December 22, 1972.
Church and tree on the green October 28, 2012
To view past installments of the Wolcott Historical Society News, click here.