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Wethersfield Putting Its History Down In Panels For Interpretive Trail

WETHERSFIELD — America's first cavalry unit mustered in Wethersfield, the nation's first and second presidents both visited First Church, and the most famous elm tree in America once stood on the Broad Street green.

Those are just a few of the facts and stories in drafts of panels unveiled this week that tell Wethersfield's rich history. A set of panels will tell the town's history as part of an interpretive trail to be installed in the Old Wethersfield historic district next year.

A group of 25 volunteers has worked since late last year to write and design the panels, said Peter Gillespie, director of planning and economic development. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Connecticut Humanities Council are providing grants totaling $52,000 to pay for the trail's design and construction, he said.

In addition to the well known history, the volunteers have uncovered many little-know nuggets, Gillespie said. Wethersfield and Windsor both claim to be the state's oldest town.

"Even if they [readers] know a lot about Wethersfield history, they're going to come away with an a-ha moment," Gillespie said.

Gillespie said that the panels remain "a work in progress." The town plans to post them on its website and solicit public comment before completing them, he said. In addition, officials are looking for documents, pictures, paintings or artifacts that might serve as better illustrations, he said.

"If they've got anything in their basements from family collections, we'd be very much interested in hearing from them and seeing if they can be incorporated into the panels," Gillespie said.

The trail will tell the story of Wethersfield in 17 panels and four larger kiosks that will be scattered throughout the historic district. Subjects range from the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum to the Ancient Burying Ground to the town's two remaining seed companies. Hart Seeds and Comstock, Ferre.

They also included the arrival of European colonists, the town's history as a major port, the Pequot War and the Connecticut State Prison, which long sat near Wethersfield Cove.

The number of panels and their subjects may still change, Gillespie said.

An example of forgotten history dug up by researchers is the Great Elm of Wethersfield, Gillespie said. The elm, which stood on the Broad Street green from 1758 to 1950, was the largest of its species in the United States and one of the most famous trees in the nation, he said.

"People used to drive here to see this thing because it was so incredible," Gillespie said.

The town originally planned to install the panels at year's end, but now hopes to do so next Memorial Day weekend in conjunction with that day's celebrations, Gillespie said.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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