Weatogue Storytellers

(From left to right) Lifelong Simsbury residents June Hogblom Mackay and Mary Pringle Mitchell are the Weatogue Storytellers. (By Jessica Moore | Hartford Courant / August 21, 2014)

SIMSBURY — Mary Pringle Mitchell, 90, and June Hogblom Mackay, 79, and Helen Musznski are the Weatogue Storytellers.

The lifelong Simsbury residents and childhood friends said their idea to collect stories and photographs for a book on Weatogue Village was prompted by the Simsbury Historical Society.

"It's amazing the letters I've gotten from different people who have memories of South School and Latimer Lane School," said Mitchell, who said she's heard from people who learned about the project through word of mouth. "It's sort of the history of Weatogue and the people who grew up here — their memories of the town."

For instance, Mitchell said she got a phone call from the original kindergarten teacher of Latimer Lane School, who recalled the time the electricity went out on the first day of school.

"It's really a memory book," said Mackay, who grew up close to the restaurant and inn known as Pettibone Tavern, now Abigail's, on Hartford Road. "Growing up in the Village of Weatogue, you knew everyone … you couldn't do anything wrong because someone would tell your mother."

"I don't ever remember being bored. We used to climb in the mountains, swim in the river, and no one ever locked their doors. It was a different era," said Mitchell, who explained that the town was very rural during the mid-20th century.

Mackay talked about the history of the village, which got its name from Native Americans. "The name Weatogue is derived from the Native American language, 'wit' meaning home and 'aug' or 'og' meaning place."

The women described the Ensign Bickford Co. as the "backbone of Simsbury." The company was established in 1836 to manufacture safety fuses and dynamite. The prominent factory attracted a lot of immigrant workers.

"People today see Simsbury as a very affluent, suburban town, and we don't," said Mitchell, who explained that the town was mostly a farming and factory community.

"It was a melting pot of nationalities," said Mackay, whose father came from Sweden, and was a building contractor in town.

Mitchell said her father, Robert Pringle, an immigrant from Scotland, started a small automotive garage in a barn on Canal Street in 1922. The business today is still family-owned and known as Mitchell Auto Group.

In addition to memories, the book will also discuss the history of landmarks in town, such as the White Memorial Fountain, which was built in the memory of Simsbury physician Roderick White. Also there was a Nike missile site, which had been set up in town during the Cold War, and Weatogue River Boat, which transported passengers on the Farmington Canal.

Mitchell said the book is a "work in progress" and she is still accepting stories and photographs to include in the book, which will eventually benefit the Simsbury Historical Society.

Email stories and photographs to: archives@simsburyhistory.org or mail letters to the Simsbury Historical Society, 800 Hopmeadow St., Simsbury, CT 06070.