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From the State Historian
Hog River Journal

A Little Town Begets a Big College

By Walter W. Woodward (c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Summer 2016 In early 1735 the village of Lebanon Crank (now Columbia) was looking for a new minister. The previous minister, hired fresh out of Yale a decade earlier, displayed too much fondness for drink and had been forced to resign. His replacement, another fresh Yale graduate,

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Darkness and Duty

by Walter W. Woodward (c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Spring 2016 It had been a terrible winter. Jedediah Strong, clerk of the Connecticut General Assembly, called it “the severest hard winter within the memory of man,” marked by an “abundance of snow and frequent storms,” and “the extreme degrees and long continuance of the cold.” The

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The Most Enduring Brand of All

By Walter W. Woodward (c) Connecticut Explored, Inc., Winter 2015-2016 Connecticut’s most enduring brand is unquestionably our state seal. While nicknames come and sometimes go—the Provision State, Nutmeg State, Constitution State, Land of Steady Habits, and Arsenal of Democracy (all except the last of which I’ve written about in this column)—the state seal, with its

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The Picture Not Taken

By Walter W. Woodward FALL 2015 In our image-saturated world, nothing is missed more than the picture not taken. Who among us has not regretted—on many occasions—that a particular moment, event, or place wasn’t captured in an image, so we could remember it by eye as well as by mind. Historians know pictures are worth

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The Chips are Down for the Pequot Museum

By Walter W. Woodward SUMMER 2015 Last December, in a move that surprised many members of the state’s museum and history communities, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center closed its doors, laying off 45 of its 55 employees. Fortunately, the hiatus was seasonal, a wintertime shutdown to allow the 16-year-old museum to reorganize, strategize,

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Benjamin Collins, Rock Star

By Walter W. Woodward Spring 2015 (c) Connecticut Explored Inc.  In the early 1700s cemeteries in Connecticut’s Puritan towns took on a new and vital role in community social and cultural life and gravestone carvers became our earliest “rock stars.” Where once the houses of the first settlers, clustered around village greens, had been the source

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A Pint-Sized View of War

By Walter Woodward Winter 2014-2015 (c) Connecticut Explored Inc. This image, taken at Bradley Airfield in Windsor Locks on September 9, 1943, gives one pause. It shows happy school children signing a 4,000-pound blockbuster bomb—the same kind as was used so effectively against German cities and civilians in World War II—under the approving glances of both

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Birth Control and Zones of Privacy

By Walter W. Woodward, Fall 2014 Volume 12 Number 4 Rarely is the pen more powerful than when it expresses a majority opinion of the United States Supreme Court. Sometimes eloquent, sometimes tediously legalistic, the decisions of the justices often turn words into history, even as they shape our futures. In surprising and unforeseen ways,

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Henry Green and the Final Underground

By Walter W. Woodward, Summer 2014 Volume 12 Number 3 Almost all Connecticans have at least one significant encounter with the underground. It comes at the end our lives, when the earth itself becomes our final resting place.  When Henry Green was buried on June 17, 1911 in Hartford’s Cedar Hill Cemetery, he became the

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A Revolutionary Gamble …Again

By Walter W. Woodward, Spring 2014 Volume 12 Number 2  Recent history has not gone easy on Connecticut. The state whose innovation and manufacturing ingenuity made it a leader in the industrial revolution, has, in recent decades, found more to celebrate in historic achievements than future prospects. Since the 1990s, the Land of Steady Habits

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A Historian Comes Home

By Walter W. Woodward, Winter 2013 Volume 12 Number 4 This is a story about a house. Not just any house, but a house with long, deep roots—roots that wind through time, cross through space, and wrap themselves around my consciousness. It is a house that affects in the most primary way my sense of

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Immigrants All…

By Walter W. Woodward, Fall 2013 Volume 11 Number 4 All Connecticans, from the first indigenous settler to the state’s most recent arrival, are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. The Laurentide ice sheets that covered our state with a mile-high wall of ice 22,000 years ago made sure of that. Immigration has, for most

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“Sui Generous”: The Story of a Shepherd and His Flag

By Walter Woodward, Spring 2013 Volume 11 Number 2 For the better part of a century, history in Connecticut benefited from the generous mind and spirit of Shepherd M. Holcombe. Scion of several of Hartford’s founding families, a decorated World War II veteran, and founder of the actuarial firm Hooker & Holcombe, Shep managed to crowd

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Connecticut’s Small Steps Towards Emancipation

By Walter W. Woodward, Winter 2012/2013 Volume 11 Number 1 As Connecticans reflect on the meaning and importance of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it might be good to consider our state’s own history regarding emancipation. It presents a record that is both mixed and sobering. After American independence, Connecticut, like many Northern

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The Unsteady Meaning of “The Land of Steady Habits”

By Walter W. Woodward, Fall 2012 Volume 10 Number 4 Why has “The Land of Steady Habits” endured as a moniker for Connecticut for more than two centuries? One reason is that its meaning has proven to be remarkably elastic, capable of changing with the times, the issues, and the attitudes of its users. When it

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War of 1812–The War Connecticut Hated

By Walter W. Woodward, Summer 2012 Volume 10 Number 3 Subscribe! © Connecticut Explored, Summer 2012       For most Connecticans, the War of 1812 was as much a war mounted by the federal government against New England as it was a conflict with Great Britain. More precisely, they saw it as a politically

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The Map That Wasn’t a Map

By Walter W. Woodward, Spring 2012 Volume 10 Number 2 The key document mapping out Connecticut’s original boundaries wasn’t in fact a map. It was, instead, a royal charter. The Charter of 1662—arguably the most important document in Connecticut’s history—contains among its other provisions a written description of the colony’s boundaries that served the same

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Discovering the Explorer Hiram Bingham

By Walter W. Woodward, Winter 2011/2012 Volume 10 Number 1 Of all the Connecticans who have left their mark in distant places, perhaps none made a more lasting—or more controversial—impression than Hiram Bingham III. Born in 1875, this scion of two generations of New England missionaries to Hawaii accomplished much in his 81 years. He

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The Final Journey of Nathaniel Lyon

By Walter W. Woodward, Spring 2011 Volume 9 Number 2 Except for an occasional descendant in search of lost roots, visitors to the old Phoenixville Cemetery in Eastford these days are few, and very far between. But 150 years ago, on September 5, 1861, thousands of men, women, and children ringed the hillside surrounding this

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Where Were You…

By Walter W. Woodward, Fall 2011 Volume 9 Number 4 Everyone who reads this has lived through some of them.  Some of us have lived through many of them. They are events of such profound impact that they are seared into our memories the instant we hear about them. They change our world, and the

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“Must Read Book” is 160 Years Old

By Walter W. Woodward, Summer 2011 Volume 9 Number 3 As a professional historian—not to mention the state historian of Connecticut—one might expect that I would have read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After all, this is one of the few books that actually changed history. Stowe’s panoramic study of antebellum slavery as seen

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Celebrating Connecticut’s Founding

By Walter W. Woodward, Fall 2010 Volume 8 Number 4 On a cold afternoon last February, Governor M. Jodi Rell stepped out of the State Capitol accompanied by the Governor’s Foot Guard, legislative leaders Don Williams, Chris Donovan, and Denise Merrill, some 50 school children, invited state officials, and a military honor guard. To the

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Bruce Fraser. The End of a Life. The End of an Era.

By Walter Woodward, State Historian For the last 30 years, virtually every history program of substance produced in Connecticut could have carried the credit line, “Brought to you in part by Bruce Fraser.” His June 13 death after a hard-fought battle with cancer leaves an unfillable void in the history community. It also marks the

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Nutmeg Adds Spice. But is it Nice?

By 
Walter 
W.
 Woodward, Winter 2007 Volume 6 Number 1 ©Connecticut
Explored State 
historian 
Walt 
Woodward 
tells 
us 
the 
story 
behind 
the
 state’s 
association
 with 
nutmeg 
and
 sheds some 
light 
on 
an
 unusual 
object 
in 
the 
collection 
of 
the 
Museum 
of
 Connecticut 
History: 
a
 wooden 
nutmeg
 carved
 from
 a 
piece 
of 
the 
famous 
Charter 
Oak. Of

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Re: Collections. The “Genius of Connecticut”

By Walter Woodward, Winter 2006/2007 Volume 5 Number 1 A once-fallen angel will again soar above the skies of Hartford, providing an object of inspiration to gridlocked citizens on Interstate 84 and to our governmental leaders. The “Genius of Connecticut,” the Randolph Rogers sculpture that stood atop the summit of the state capitol from that

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Are We the Constitution State?

CREATIVE LICENSE, OR FUNDAMENTAL FACT?  By Walter W. Woodward, Spring 2005 Volume 3 Number 2 In 1973, in a fit of pre-Bicentennial fervor, the state legislature mandated that Connecticut ‘s license plates should display the state slogan the assembly had adopted 14 years earlier. Since the blue tags with white lettering declaring Connecticut the “Constitution State

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What’s a Puritan, and Why Didn’t They Stay in Massachusetts?

By Walter Woodward, Summer 2005 Volume 3 Number 3 How do we in the 21st century come to honest understanding of the Puritans, those influential culture shapers from the 1600s? Answering two questions helps us not only get at the heart of Puritan beliefs but also understand why Puritanism in Connecticut differed in at least

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We’ll Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends

Our Fall issue goes to press soon–even as we receive word that, due to Governor Malloy’s line-item veto of funding for Connecticut Humanities (CTH) in the state budget, we will not receive funding from CTH this year. Many have asked how this will affect CT Explored. The answer is that we’ll need to rely on our Friends of Connecticut Explored

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Even with History, Go Local

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

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Our Hard-Won Right to Vote

by Elizabeth Normen (c) Connecticut Explored Inc., Spring 2016 In this presidential election year, we decided to focus our spring issue on stories about voting rights and civic engagement. These stories remind us how hard-won our right to vote is. Often the story of women’s suffrage in this state focuses on the valiant efforts of

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Launched from a Connecticut Kitchen

By Elizabeth J. Normen (c) Connecticut Explored Inc., Winter 2015-2016 In the Winter 2015-2016 issue, we tell the stories of some of Connecticut’s iconic brands—and we mean the majors! Connecticut has been home to such nationally and internationally-known brands as Pepperidge Farm, Bigelow Tea, Timex, Stanley (now Stanley Black & Decker) and more. I love

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Time, Talent, Treasure

By Elizabeth J. Normen FALL 2015 I was raised in a philanthropic family. That doesn’t mean I was raised with wealth. Like many others, my parents shared their time, talent, and treasure, as they were able, with their church and community. They did it quietly; I understood they were taking part in a long tradition,

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Historic Preservation: It’s not just about buildings

By Elizabeth J. Normen Summer 2015 Is historic preservation only about saving old buildings from demolition? Unless you’re deeply involved in the field, you might not know that current thinking looks at the bigger picture and appreciates that individual buildings are components of something larger, such as a neighborhood or a community, that deserves preserving,

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Connecticut Celebrities Through and Through

By Elizabeth J. Normen Spring 2015 One upside to Connecticut’s proximity to New York City is that so many of our nation’s most creative people have wandered over the border to find refuge and inspiration among our rolling hills and fertile valleys and along our rocky shoreline. Our state can claim a number of bold-faced

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WWI’s Impact on Connecticut

By Elizabeth J. Normen (c) Connecticut Explored, Winter 2014/2015 “Knowledge Wins!” proclaims a World War I-era poster featured in the Winter 2014-2015 issue’s photo essay. That seems an apt theme for the entire issue. Last August marked the centennial of the advent of World War I, and though the U.S. would officially stay neutral for

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Can You Trust What You Read?

By Elizabeth J. Normen Fall 2014 It’s starting to feel a bit like the Wild Wild West out there. And I’m not talking about gun control. I’m referring to the apparent relaxing of standards by some publications (in print and on the Web) and writers that suggests a shocking disregard for attribution of sources. Citing

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Why Connecticut Didn’t Go Dutch

By Elizabeth J. Normen Summer 2014 2014 marks the 400th anniversary of Adriaen Block’s 1614 voyage up the Connecticut River. Block is credited as being the first European to explore the interior of Connecticut. Unlike the English settlers who arrived 20 years later, Block and his crew weren’t looking for arable land or for a

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Is it Best to be First?

By Elizabeth J. Normen Spring 2014 Here’s why I’m wary of claims of being “first” in history. Last fall I was researching online other publications comparable to Connecticut Explored and came across New York Archives, a magazine published by the New York State Archives Partnership Trust. Their Spring 2013 issue included a story that asserted

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How Times Have Changed–or Have They?

By Elizabeth J. Normen Winter 2013-2014 How often do you shake your head and think, “How times have changed!” Then again, how often do you surprisingly find yourself thinking, “Some things never change!” And that goes for work, which is the subject of this issue and a year-long project led by Connecticut Humanities called Connecticut

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A Swedish Yankee in Connecticut

By Elizabeth J. Normen Fall 2013 In our Fall 2012 10th Anniversary issue we explored Connecticut’s enduring reputation as The Land of Steady Habits—a term that stood for nearly 200 years of political leadership drawn from a handful of founding families. That tradition, as state historian Walt Woodward put it in his column in that

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Why the Sperm Whale is our State Animal

By Elizabeth J. Normen Summer 2013 The sperm whale was designated the Connecticut state animal in 1975. Why do we have a state animal that’s not indigenous to the state or its coastal waters? According to the State of Connecticut Web site, the sperm whale was chosen “because of its specific contribution to the state’s

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Discovering Historic Connecticut Landscape–On Your Bike!

By Elizabeth J. Normen Spring 2013 One of my new favorite things to do on vacation is to go on bike tours. I enjoy the deeper sense of being in a place that you get from the seat of a bicycle—something you don’t get whizzing by on a train or in a car. Plus, it’s

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The Emancipation Proclamation: Who Celebrated in Connecticut?

By Elizabeth J. Normen Winter 2012-2013 True or False: ____   Connecticut was a slave colony/state for more than 200 years. ____   Slavery in Connecticut was more benign than it was in the South. ____   Connecticut was a stronghold of abolitionism, and our soldiers went off to fight the Civil War to free those held in

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Our Own Connecticut Way

By Elizabeth J. Normen FALL 2012 In the Fall 2012 issue we again examine one of Connecticut’s sobriquets. State Historian Walt Woodward first tackled our “Constitution State” moniker in the Spring 2005 issue, and in Winter 2007/2008 issue he took on “Nutmeg State.” In this issue we explore the “Land of Steady Habits,” which has

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Why the War of 1812 Was Good for Connecticut

By Elizabeth J. Normen Summer 2012 Anniversaries provide a wonderful impetus for refreshing our understanding of big moments in history. Last year’s kick-off of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 200th birthday, and the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 gave

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An Art School Forged in the Gilded Age: The Hartford Art School

By Elizabeth J. Normen (c) Connecticut Explored, Summer 2003 “Afternoon Illustration Class”, 1914-1915 brochure of the School of the Art Society of Hartford as the Hartford Art School was then known. (Hartford Art School archives, University of Hartford) The World’s Fair in 1876 celebrating the United States’ centennial drew 10 million people to Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park

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