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Local History Pieces Among A Mother’s Collections

Published: December 26, 2017

In 1992 Doris Dickinson wrote a note on an unlined white piece of paper: roughly 25 years later, her daughter, De Egee, found the note. It was folded up and placed in a drawer of a dresser in her mother’s Sandy Hook home.

Mrs Dickinson died in March 2016, months short of her 105th birthday. Mrs Egee said her mother’s mind was sharp until the end, as was Mrs Dickinson’s habit of being meticulously organized. After her mother’s death, Mrs Egee began the long process of searching the home, organizing her mother’s belongings, and preparing the house for a new owner.

Over months of effort to organize the home — in boxes, filing cabinets, trunks, and dressers — Mrs Egee found historical documents and items, along with notes from her mother. The notes shared directions on what to do with some things and informative descriptions of other items. Everything was labeled.

“She was very organized and into family history,” said Mrs Egee of her mother.

Mrs Dickinson was the wife of the late A. Fenn Dickinson, former first selectman of Newtown. She was an active member of the community, at one point serving as Newtown’s town clerk.

A number of people have been helping Mrs Egee organize her mother’s home, including her cousin by marriage, Angela Dayton, who grew up in Danbury and lives in Brookfield. Although Mrs Egee lives in Massachusetts, she said she came home to visit her mother often. Carlen Gaines, a friend, has also helped.

The family home on Old Green Road was built in 1956 after a log cabin that had been on the property burned down. Mrs Egee remembers the log cabin and all of the land her family had owned around it, stretching to what was once a dead end road. When the family moved into the newly built home in roughly 1957, Mrs Egee said her mother brought furniture and more that had been in a family home on Dayton Street. The Dayton Street home had been Mrs Egee’s grandmother’s home. The sturdy wood dresser, in which Mrs Egee would eventually find the note from her mother, was one of the many items moved from Dayton Street to Old Green Road.

A drawer of the dresser is marked underneath with the purchaser and date. The note also described this and more information about how the dresser came into the family. As Mrs Dickinson wrote in 1992, the dresser was purchased in 1884 in Newtown by Charles Dayton, Mrs Egee’s great-grandfather.

By late September, Mrs Egee had gone through boxes, and had been working to order the house throughout the spring and summer.

“And we still think there are pieces coming,” said Mrs Egee.

As November came to a close, Mrs Egee still had more boxes to look through, and she had compiled a number of historical Newtown documents. She plans to share all of the Newtown documents she found with the town.

Many of the items Mrs Egee has been combing through are collected town papers and saved newspaper articles. In December, she said she found some newspaper clippings from the 1880s.

Numerous family documents and items were also discovered. She found an old bowler hat, but letters to her great-uncle William Dayton sparked the most interest. They were from “all the ladies,” Mrs Egee noted, adding that she and her cousin found them entertaining. They also found dance cards that had been her uncle’s, and many of the books lining the shelves in the house had also been from her great-uncle. Among the books was the complete collection of the work of Honoré de Balzac.

“We wish we could have known this man,” said Mrs Egee.

She found many postcards, and some depict Newtown landscapes, like one dated from 1907 that shows “Niantic Lake, Sandy Hook, Conn.” Town Historian Dan Cruson suspects the postcard refers to a pond near the base of Church Hill Road, which was next to the Niantic Mill around the turn of the 20th Century.

Another postcard dated from 1911 shows the “bridge over Housatonic at Sandy Hook, Conn,” and it has a handwritten note on the back that reads,” Hello George, how are you? Have you seen the baby yet? Hope you are well.” Two others show St John’s Church in Sandy Hook and “St Rose’s Church” in Newtown. Another shows “The Grove, South End of Taunton Lake.”

One postcard showing the Newtown Inn and dated 1910 reads, “We are taking in borders. Come up and see us, $12 per week.” The Newtown Inn stood where the C.H. Booth Library is now on Main Street. According to Mr Cruson, town benefactress Mary Hawley purchased the building, and after she died, the library was built on the property.

Mrs Egee also found photographs among her mother’s belongings. One picture shows work being done on Main Street’s flagpole. The picture is dated with a stamp on the back as January 1, 1958, but it is unclear whether the photo was taken in 1958 or simply printed in 1958.

Town Documents

A trove of old annual town reports was also found. One, the annual report for the year ending 1895, sheds some light on what has become known as the Gray’s Plain School War, which took place in 1894 and which Mr Cruson detailed in his 2005 book, A Mosaic of Newtown History. As described in A Mosaic of Newtown History, the incident revolved around authority to hire the teacher for the one-room school house. By the end of the event, the book reads, “education in Gray’s Plain had come to a complete halt for seven months, two court injunctions had been issued, and there was a criminal trial for assault and another for misuse of funds.”

In part, the 1895 report for the Newtown schools reads, “The Board points with regret to the late unpleasantness in Gray’s Plain District the past winter. One side, from statements made then, contended they were in the right and the other held to the same. The old law was ‘that the Committee had a right to hire a teacher for a time extending beyond his term of office,’ providing he did it before July 14. The old Committee hired Miss Ryan, who persistently maintained and declared she had never been discharged by the new Committee. Mr Winton, the new Committee, stated in public recently, that, had he allowed Miss Ryan to go on and teach the school after she had been hired by the old Committee, as had been done in town before, there would have been no trouble, hence, the beginning of all the trouble must lie at Mr Winton’s door.

“It has also been hinted that a resolution will be introduced in town meeting to defray the expense of the turmoil and shift the burden from Gray’s Plain District to the shoulders of the Town. This would be entirely wrong, as the Board was in no way connected with the beginning of the trouble.”

An unattributed clipping, but apparently from The Newtown Bee, is adhered to the back inside cover of the 1895 report. It shares a note that distances some Board of School Visitors from the annual report. The published message was signed by Board of School Visitors of Newtown members O.O. Wright, D.G. Beers, and E.L. Johnson, and it stated that the secretary of the board report published in the annual report, was neither adopted nor authorized by an action of the board.

The annual reports Mrs Egee found also include the 1891, 1893, 1896, 1897, 1901, 1903, 1905, 1906, and 1908 years. Most have held up well against time, but the bindings have come loose on some. The cover of the annual report from 1949, titled, Your Town Government, has a cartoon man wearing a black suit and smoking a pipe. He is shown reading the town report. Someone tried their hand at redrawing the character, as, to its left, the remains of a pencil drawing of the same man and his pipe can still be seen.

Another document discovered among Mrs Dickinson’s belongings was a trifold brochure that was created for the opening ceremonies of Interstate 84, “The Yankee Expressway,” which was officially opened on December 16, 1964. It unfolds to reveal a map of the highway from Danbury to Newtown. Part of the brochure shares, “The surface of and structures of the highway are reinforced concrete — 222,500 cubic yards were used. It was necessary to move 4,000,000 cubic yards of earth and 1,000,000 cubic yards of rock.” Music for the event was provided by the Sandy Hook Fife and Drum Corps.

Mrs Egee said all of the Newtown-related items she found will be given to the town.

“It was very interesting to discover all these things that the average person probably would have thrown out along the line,” said Mrs Egee in December.

Looking back over her months of effort, Mrs Egee said she thinks her family was fortunate to move from her great-grandmother’s home into the Old Green Road home, as it enabled so many family heirlooms and documents to be moved to the new house. Mrs Dickinson, Mrs Egee said, must have brought most of the items recently found with her during that move.

“She kept everything,” said Mrs Egee, “which in some ways was great because it led us to a lot of history that we didn’t realize, that I don’t think she even realized she had.”

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