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Ephemera And Diaries Gave More Insight Into The History Of Newtown

Published: December 31, 2016

Town Historian Dan Cruson’s Edmond Town Hall office has become a repository for Newtown ephemera discovered all over the country and returned to its hometown.

Among the items that found their ways back to Newtown in 2016 were the diaries of Sandy Hook character Birdsey Parsons. The three volumes span the years 1905 through 1915, as recorded by the resident who was known as a local eccentric. Birdsey Parsons lived from 1884 to 1979, the son of a South Center School teacher, Charles Parsons, and a descendant of Newtown’s first gristmill owner, Moses Parsons. The diaries, said Mr Cruson, reveal life as experienced by one young man of that era, as well as depicting daily farming life in Newtown in that era.

The Bee also took time in April, National Poetry Month, to acknowledge two local poets of yesteryear, Louis Untermeyer and Allison P. Smith.

Mr Smith put his pen to paper as editor of The Newtown Bee for four decades, beginning when he and his brother, Arthur J. Smith, took ownership of the paper. His editorials were valued, but Allison Smith also took time to turn his attention to poetry. The small paperback collection of poems by Mr Smith, The Friendly Kindly Man and Other Poems, made its way into the town historian’s possession this past year.

Amid the many writers who have called Newtown home, Louis Untermeyer lived for more than 20 years on Great Hill Road, until his death at age 92, in 1977. Born in New York City in 1885, the man who in his 1965 autobiography, Bygones, listed his various careers as “an aspiring composer, a manufacturing jeweler, a part-time journalist, a full-time editor, a lecturer, a teacher, a radio commentator, a television performer, and, from time to time, a poet,” is best known for his achievements in the literary world. Among the nearly 100 books he edited or authored, as well as the many essays he wrote, Mr Untermeyer compiled more than 30 poetry anthologies, and was the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, some of which can be found at the C.H. Booth Library.

These writers were not the only residents from Newtown’s history that had significant documents revisited in 2016. Today’s residents may be unaware, but in the 1700s and 1800s slavery was prevalent in the north, as well as the south. This summer, Mr Cruson researched a number of papers pertaining to slavery in town, and one of the manuscripts included the unusual sale of a young black girl named Genny, who was just 3 years old. The document dates back to 1813 and details the deal between original slave owner Abel Bennett and affluent town member Philo Curtis on October 30, 1813. After her sale, there is little that has been discovered about young Genny. Mr Cruson said, “It’s sad, because we have this one glimpse of her life.”

Mr Cruson shared another glimpse of the life of a child in Newtown’s past, when he showcased a historical house panel with The Bee. Three gray boards hang on the wall of his Edmond Town Hall office, and from a distance appear to be blank. Yet, when a spotlight shines across the boards, the glow reveals carvings all over the wood. There are etchings of buildings, paths, and people, along with a handful of unique designs. The house that the boards were initially attached to, on the corner of High Rock Road and Bennetts Bridge Road, was built in 1770 and was owned by the Sherman family. The artwork is believed to be done by one of the young boys who lived in the house. The boards were salvaged after a fire destroyed the home. There are, however, black scorch marks burned onto the left side of the panel.

Not all items can be traced back so easily, as items frequently get dropped off at Mr Cruson’s office with no indication of who they are from. This is the case for how he acquired an impressive collection of old post mortem photographs, all in great condition. Post mortem pictures differ from typical images that we are used to today, because their subjects are deceased. The models are purposefully and respectfully posed, and the image is taken by a professional photographer. None of the images identified an owner or the family’s name of the person photographed. Mr Cruson believes that the snapshots were from a collector who accumulated the photos over time and were not various members from one family.

Mr Cruson openly educates the community on historical artifacts, not shying away from the nontraditional items or eerie historical topics. The latter was highlighted in his conversation with The Bee just before Halloween, where he shared tales about local homes that are said to be haunted. This included the well-known blue Hillbrow House on Main Street that current resident Richard Mulligan says is haunted by the ghost of the man who died there during the Revolutionary War. The spirit is of an elderly Tory who died after French soldiers forced them way into his home and chased him throughout the streets. Despite surviving his suffering ordeal in the moment, the exhausted man died soon after from the effects of the scare. Other stories of homes haunted in Newtown were Effie of Seven Chimneys, the mistress of Palestine Road, and the ghost in the garden on Sugar Street.

Residents who wanted to hear stories of Newtown’s history were invited to enjoy the Newtown Historical Society’s annual Walking Tour of Main Street on Sunday, June 12. Mr Cruson has been leading tours for more than 30 years and has acquired a vast wealth of knowledge about the town’s history during that time. The unscripted tour covered the past of many residential and commercial buildings in town, famous residents, the iconic flagpole, and even debunked a few myths along the way.

2016 just scratched the surface of uncovering the many intricacies of Newtown’s vast history. Along with embracing the New Year, The Bee will also continue to embrace more tales from the town’s past.

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