Brainard Field

If you live in Hartford and want to take an airplane flight, chances are pretty good you will find yourself departing from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. However, long before Bradley, Hartford’s Brainard Field was the only municipal airport between New York and Boston.

Report on the Dedication of Brainard Field, 1921, Ms 56776. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The dedication of Brainard Field was held on June 11, 1921. It was an event that lasted the entire afternoon, beginning with a speech given by Hiram Percy Maxim, President of the Hartford Aviation Commission. Maxim stated that with the field in Hartford, “we have established an Air Port of the first class which opens the way into New England. Before this field was established, it was an adventurous air navigator who would attempt to enter New England. After leaving New York, the traveler by air was compelled to take his chances.” Brainard changed all that. Hartford would now be on the aviation map. According to Maxim, visiting U.S. Government authorities stated that Brainard was “one of the best in the country and only inferior to the military airdromes of the United States Army and Navy.” Maxim concluded by noting that the field was named for former Hartford Mayor Newton C. Brainard.

At 1:45 pilots gathered for the Hartford-Springfield Handicap Race. Lieutenant R. C. Moffatt, flying a De Haviland, won the event in 25 minutes, 35 seconds. For the race, “Planes shall leave on signal at 1 minute intervals and obtain an altitude of at least 1000 ft. before crossing the starting point. This altitude shall be maintained throughout the entire race making left-hand turn around Springfield Municipal tower until contestant reaches high tension wires south of Hartford Bridge. The finish may be made between 500 and 1000 ft.”

Report on the Dedication of Brainard Field, 1921, Ms 56776. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The next event was bomb dropping. As explained in the report, “Each entrant shall be supplied with five dummy bombs which shall be dropped at target destinations from an altitude of not less than 500 feet. The line of flight shall be in a north to south direction. Each contestant is limited to 5 circuits.” It was won by E. P. Lott, flying a Curtiss J.N. 4C.

E. P. Lott had another victory in the landing contest. The report does not mention whether he chose option a) Straight glide from 3000 ft. over Travelers Tower to landing circle or b) Spiral from 2000 ft. directly over landing circle. They also had a seaplane landing contest, won by Lieutenant G. L. Richard in a Curtiss M.F., with a time of 19 minutes and 50 seconds. The seaplane contest had the pilots flying south toward the bridge in Middletown.

The next event of the day was aerial acrobatics. “Each entrant will be assigned a definite sector for stunting to which he will confine himself after reaching 2500 ft. Requirements: 1 loop; 1 Immelmann to right, 1 to left; 1 tail spin. Contestants can perform any other acrobatic feat. Minimum altitude 1500 ft. Do not re-climb.” Once again, E. P. Lott took first place. The day ended with Passenger Carrying.

Report on the Dedication of Brainard Field, 1921, Ms 56776. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

In compiling this report, James B. Slimmon, Secretary of the Hartford Aviation Commission, wrote, “We hope that in these pages your Honorable Court may find further indisputable evidence of the wisdom and foresight of your determination to establish and maintain the premier first-class municipal flying field in New England and one which can be made one of the best airports in America.”

Times have changed, but private planes still fly in and out of Brainard. After World War II commercial flights moved to Bradley Airport. Brainard is currently owned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Two flight schools are located there, as is a restaurant.

This document is open for research. Come visit!


The word Wohelo stands for Work, Health, and Love. Per the Camp Fire USA website, when Camp Fire was founded in 1910, “Wohelo was coined as the organization’s watchword.”

Three years after Camp Fire was founded, in Vermont, it had made its way to Hartford. Louise Blair was a member of the Suckiag Camp Fire club. In a small notebook she recorded the law of the Camp Fire:

Seek Beauty
Give Service
Pursue Knowledge
Be Trustworthy
Hold on to Health
Glorify Work
Be Happy

These seven principles are represented among the pages of another notebook kept by Blair. Meeting agendas began with the Wohelo call.

Louise Blair Camp Fire records, 1913-1915, Ms 79896. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The group pursued knowledge indoors and out, learning sign language, going on nature hikes, and similar activities. There was a heavy Native American influence, evidenced by the name of the group (Suckiag). Each girl was also given a Native American name. At periodic ceremonial meetings, the girls were rewarded for their efforts with beads, used to decorate their uniforms.

Louise Blair Camp Fire records, 1913-1915, Ms 79896. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The beads were orange for home crafts, red for heath crafts, brown for camp crafts, green for hand crafts, blue for nature lore, yellow for business, and red, white, and blue for patriotism. Some activities were required, such as tying a square knot and opening windows (presumably for the health benefits).

The optional activities included walking 40 miles in 10 days, preparing eggs in four different ways, keeping notes on raising two families of birds, knowing ten city institutions, and making shirtwaists. Each girl’s accomplishments were noted, along with the corresponding bead she would receive.

Louise Blair Camp Fire records, 1913-1915, Ms 79896. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Blair typed up a report of the group’s activities in 1915.  Among other events, the report mentions a joint meeting with a Camp Fire group from South Manchester. We do not know what other towns had groups at the time.

When the author of this post participated in Camp Fire in Glastonbury in the late 1980s, it was still exciting to earn beads and patches. Our activities had changed somewhat, though. While we still took nature hikes and completed craft projects, I can’t imagine any of us knew what a shirtwaist was.

Camp Fire was present in Connecticut until the 1990s. Examples of Camp Fire uniforms may be found among the museum collections. Come visit and research!

South School Gang

If you had attended the South School in Hartford, Connecticut during the 1880s, you were eligible to join the South School Association of the Eighties. The concept was not new, and an association for those who attended the school in the 1870s already existed. The eighties group met for the first time, in the Assembly Hall of their old school, on October 28, 1921. Their nickname was soon the South School Gang.

Handwritten meeting minutes were kept in a notebook until 1940. They note attendance at the meetings, who should be included in the membership committee (two members of each class), those who would be arranging the annual assembly for the following year, and similar information regarding the running of the club.

In addition to the minutes, the collection includes financial statements, and a bank book, covering much of club’s existence. Dues were $1 per family each year. This money covered the cost of rentals for gang gatherings, frankfurters, ice cream, and, especially as time went on, bouquets of flowers for families of members who passed away. Additional items in the collection are an address book with member names and addresses, newspaper clippings about gang activities, and correspondence. The gangsters who contributed the most to the collection were Mrs. Grace Kilby, J.W. Tyroll, Raoul W. D’Arche, and William J. O’Brien.

By 1947, the number of remaining classmates was dwindling, their ages ranging from 76 to 85. The gang disbanded that year, donating the remainder of their treasury to the Newington Home and Hospital for Crippled Children (later the Newington Children’s Hospital and now part of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center).

The date of the photo below is not certain, but obviously was taken  in the hey-day of gang activity.

South School gang group photograph, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT (click to view larger image)

South School was later named for its principal, Chauncey Harris. According to Google Maps, a Chauncey Harris Park remains in the area of the school, in the block bordered by Buckingham Street (N), Park Street (S), Hudson Street (E), and Wadsworth Street (W).

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

A letter from William Gillette

William Gillette was a native of Hartford, Connecticut, growing up in the Nook Farm neighborhood. An actor, playwright, and stage manager, Gillette is best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. By the 1930s, when this letter was written, he had retired to a home in Hadlyme, Connecticut. Today his house is known as Gillette’s Castle. The Manchester Cheney’s, who he mentions, ran the Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company in Manchester, Connecticut. At the time, Manchester was the center of silk production in the country.

I am sure I have written this before, but stumbling upon documents like this is part of the reason I love my job. This letter, the rest of the collection, and many others are all available for research. Come visit!

This week’s curiosities

Every week there are one or two items that, while I find them incredibly interesting, hardly warrant their own blog post. So this afternoon, with a few minutes to spare, I thought I’d share some of my recent finds.

Ms 76796: Marriage certificates were as necessary in the early 1800s as they are today.

What struck me, though, about Rev. Aaron Hunt and Hannah Sanford‘s marriage certificate was how small it is. At a mere two and a half inches long, this could easily have been lost over the past 200 years. Yet this unassuming vital record has survived.

Ms 77209: How great would it be if your rent did not increase at all over the course of 14 years? Mrs. Margaret (Williams) Green moved to Hartford in 1906 with her daughter, Lucy Green. Mrs. Green had been widowed for over 20 years. In Hartford she was near her brother, Job Williams, longtime principal of the American School for the Deaf.

In researching the Greens I learned that Lucy died in 1909. The next year, her sister Julia returned from Ceylon to live with her mother. Julia had actually been born in that country; her father, Dr. Samuel Fiske Green, served there for a number of years. Julia and Margaret moved to 264 Whitney Street in 1925. Margaret died in 1927 and Julia continued to live on Whitney Street until her own death in 1951. Bills from items the Greens purchased during their first year in the city may be found in another of our manuscript collections (Ms 99928).

Ms 77548: Want to try your hand at some magic? Take a look at the Catalogue of Fred D. Jewett‘s Magic Tricks as Performed by him in his Regined Sleight of Hand Entertainments. According to The Connecticut Catholic in 1891, Jewett, “has won a well deserved reputation in Hartford and vicinity for his achievements in the world of magic, has a remarkably fine collection of magical apparatus at his residence on High street.” The article continues to describe a visit to Jewett’s “den of mystery.”

Fred D. Jewett catalogs of magic tricks, 1890-1892, Ms 77548. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The catalog lists 175 magic tricks, most with illustrations. Prices for the items range from the 50 cent Spinning of a Handkerchief on a Walking Stick to the $150 Thought Transfer and Wonderful Feats in Second Sight.

All of these collections, and many more, are available for research. Not sure what we have? Take a look at our online resources. Come visit!

“We saw Main St. as we never saw it before.”

Many of the great programs offered today by one of our sister institutions, the Hartford Public Library, are rooted in the work of Caroline M. Hewins. During her 50-year tenure as librarian at the Hartford Public Library, Hewins ran many programs for Hartford children, including the City History Club. In 1910, at least two of the participants, Rebecca Miesel* and Anna Goldberg**, kept journals of their experience.

The street on which Rebecca Miesel lived. (Photograph from Connecticut History Online)

Rebecca Miesel lived with her mother at 21 North Street. She was 13 when she inscribed her name and address inside her notebook. She also noted participating in the Out Door School at the city’s Goodwin Park.

Windsor Green, a park at the intersection of Windsor and Village Streets, Hartford, CT (Photograph from Connecticut History Online)

Anna Goldberg lived close by at 22 Village Street. Twelve years old, Anna was in Room 26, Grade 7, at the Brown School. According to the 1910 Census, Anna lived with her grandfather, parents, an uncle, and six siblings.

Neither North Street nor Village street remains today, having become victims of redevelopment.

In identical composition books, Rebecca and Anna described visits to the Travelers Insurance building, Colt’s Park, a bridge dedication, the Capitol, and other local monuments. Anna wrote more entries than Rebecca, seemed to have a better command of English, and went into more detail in her descriptions.

Rebecca Miesel, City History Club notebooks, 1910, Ms 75764. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

The trip to the Travelers building was their first outing. Rebecca noted they were able to see the nearby towns, the Connecticut River, and that Miss Hewins, “told use [sic] many interting [sic] things about them.”

Anna Goldberg, City History Club notebooks, 1910, Ms 75764. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Anna’s first comment about reaching the rooftop (the tower we are familiar with today had not yet been built) was that they could “see Main St. as we never saw it before.” She went on to describe nearby buildings they could see (City Hall, the Hartford Public Library) and hills farther away (Meriden, Talcott Mountain). The group could see the reservoir and learned it was the source of their drinking water. When they were back down, Anna concluded, “we felt as if we [k]new more about the city than we ever knew before.”

Miss Hewins was dedicated to enriching the lives of the city’s underprivileged children. Even remaining in their own backyards, she was able to show them more of the world than they may have previously seen. As an archivist, I’m thrilled Hewins had the students record their experiences, and that the notebooks have survived. This is also an experience that could be repeated today. Though so much of the world has changed in the past century, seeing our cities and towns from above still fascinates many of us.  Whether from the Travelers Tower, a hike up Talcott Mountain to the Heublein Tower, or the roof of a friend’s apartment building, I hope every Hartford student will have a similar adventure.

* Miesel may be found as Meisel or Missal in the City Directories
** Other sources, including the 1930 Census and Morris Silverman’s Hartford Jews, have Goldberg’s first name as Hannah

Cold Water Army

The drink, that’s in the drunkard’s bowl,
Is not the drink for me;
It kills his body and his soul;
How sad a sight is he!
But there’s a drink that God has given,
Distilling in the showers of heaven,
In measures large and free;
Oh, that’s the drink for me.
~H. Reed

The verse above is from the song The Drink We Choose, one of several ballads sung by the Cold Water Army, a childrens temperance group in Connecticut during the late 1840s. James A. Williams (1833-1909),  a native of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, was among those who took the group’s pledge.

Abuse of alcohol, especially among teenagers, is not a laughing matter. While today we have school-based programs, such as D.A.R.E., and organizations such as M.A.D.D., in the nineteenth century temperance was largely (if not exclusively) part of a religious movement. The footnotes to the pledge make this quite obvious; they are all references to Bible passages.

We do not know what drew Williams to the Cold Water Army, but temperance was a fairly popular movement among religious adults and children. As an adult he moved to Hartford, and became one of the city’s prominent merchants. His obituary states Williams was involved with two Baptist churches in Hartford.  Regardless, some of the songs on the reverse side of his temperance pledge are quite imaginative. I expect it must have taken a good amount of time to compose so many rhyming verses.

The song Away the Bowl describes the different roles boys and girls had in the movement. Boys were not to buy, sell, or drink alcohol. It was assumed girls would not take part in those activities, but to do their part, they were not to form relationships with boys or men who did drink.

temperance pledge

Cold Water Army pledge, Connecticut Temperance Society, ca. 1845, Ms 73428. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

For those interested in the temperance movement, we have other collections listed in our online catalog. Several of the collections are volumes of meeting minutes, with lists of individuals who belonged to the organization. It is interesting to note that some people did have their memberships revoked!

We hope you will come visit, research, and learn!

Holly Ball: Hartford’s Debutantes are Presented

“The Holly Ball was originated in 1950 by a small group of congenial friends for the purpose of honoring their daughters at a formal and private dance, with no commercial or civic obligations.”

That sentence intrigued me as I stumbled upon the records of the Holly Ball (Ms 73446). I continued to read and soon learned of a Hartford tradition, how it reflected the societal norms of the 1950s and 1960s, and how it fell victim to changing times.

Every December, between 1950 and 1969, a select group of young women from the Hartford area were presented to society by their parents. The Holly Ball was held (until the final two years) at the prestigious Hartford Club. The girls all wore white dresses and, apropos of the season, carried bouquets of holly. Each girl wore a different dress, but all wore the same style white gloves. The evening included dinner, a receiving line, the Grand March, and the Father’s Waltz. A supper was held following the dance.

The records in the collection date to 1954. They include a history of the event, descriptions of the various committees, and reports of the committee chairmen (yes, though all the ball was run by women, the term chairmen was used consistently). There was a committee for each aspect of the ball, ranging from dresses and decorations to invitations and ushers. Records for later years include lists of Holly Ball girls. When the girls were first recommended for a year’s ball, the list was confidential. On the days surrounding the ball, however, the names and photographs of all the girls would be printed in The Hartford Courant, The Hartford Times, and the West Hartford News.

In addition to the girls being honored, those receiving invitations would be the Holly Ball girls from the previous two years, Oxford  School and Chaffee  School classmates of the current girls, ushers, parents, grandparents, and house guests.  The current girls were also allowed to invite a certain number of friends to attend. The number of friends varied each year, but the sponsors tried to maintain a ratio of about two boys to every girl.

Maintaining the ball traditions meant that the records varied little from year to year. Over time, though, the chairmen shifted from signing their husbands’ names to signing their own names. In 1963, holding the ball on a Friday night was cause for one chairman to write to Hartford’s Bishop. She requested special dispensation for any Catholics who might be attending, as the main course would be meat and not fish. It was granted.

Renovations of the Hartford Club’s ballroom moved the event to the Statler Hilton in 1968 and 1969. In 1970 the original plan was to hold it there once again. A list of 42 girls was compiled, with five on the waiting list. By the middle of June only 16 girls had accepted. Chairmen were withdrawing. Later in the month they were down to 14 girls and switched the location back to the Hartford Club, a smaller venue. At the beginning of July another two girls withdrew. It would not be financially feasible to hold the ball with fewer than 14 girls. After much consideration, the 1970 Holly Ball was cancelled. “My personal feeling,” the 1970 chairman wrote, “is that these troubled times are not here to stay, and that the Holly Ball can certainly be successful when our young people are more settled.”

The changes in society were reflected in the schools many of the girls attended. Oxford merged with the Kingswood School in 1969. The next year Chaffee was reunited with Loomis.

Though the ball itself fell victim to society’s changes, the sponsors maintained their desire for confidentiality and their hope that the tradition would live on. To maintain the memory of the ball, the records were donated to the Connecticut Historical Society in 1970. For confidentiality reasons, the records were closed to the public for 30 years.

Today few women sign their husband’s name. I imagine it would be difficult to find a pair of white gloves. Catholics may eat meat on Fridays. And whether or not our young people are more settled, coming of age ceremonies such as the Holly Ball have faded from the landscape. Thanks, though, to the tradition-minded women who organized  the ball, we have not entirely lost the Holly Ball.  It’s records will remain open for future generations to study.

Did you ever attend the Holly Ball? Did you attend a similar event in Connecticut? Do you have memories of formal events in Connecticut during the 1950s and 1960s? We would love to hear your story!

Please come visit, too!

Mary and Stephen Tilden: Marital Woes in the 1730s

“I do believe he hath committed ye sin of fornacation [sic] with Sarah Ellis,” explained Mary Tilden in a letter to the pastor of the First Church of Lebanon, Connecticut. Tilden wrote of her husband, Stephen, with whom she refused to live following his transgression. A committee of church members had been formed to advise her regarding this failure of duty on her part.

Divorce certainly was uncommon when Nicols wrote in 1732, but as remains true, not every relationship was successful. The letters and testimonies comprising the Mary Tilden court documents collection (Ms 71053-58) depict the tale of a woman jealous of her husband’s infidelity and the twists and turns of their relationship as they tried to reconcile. The collection contains Mary Tilden’s letters to the pastor, letters to her husband, one letter of testimony in favor of Mary, and one in favor of Stephen.

Humphrey Davenport of Coventry, Connecticut wrote on behalf of Stephen Tilden. “By ye singular expressions of his love and tender regards towards her, which he so variously manifested & so often repeated that during ye whole of my abode at his house I did esteem him…a real patern of conjucal love.” A much different view of the relationship was presented by Mary Nichols. In relating her interaction with the couple, Nichols described an incident in which Stephen Tilden threatened to beat a boy’s brains out because a part for his cart was missing. Nichols concluded, “the little time I was there, I see him act so towards his wife and children, I thought he had ye least tenderness I ever see in any man in my life.”  There is no way for us to know precisely what transpired between Mary and Stephen Tilden, though Mary’s letters are more closely aligned with Nichols’ view than with Davenport’s.

In February 1733 Stephen tearfully requested Mary return home. Two days later he told her she should not. Some time within the next month the Tildens went before the church appointed committee. The documentation does not indicate precisely what the committee recommended, though Mary was advised to return to Stephen. Stephen, however, did not comply with the advice given to him. “Since you do utterly refuse to comply with the advice of ye committee on your part,” Mary wrote in March, “I do hereby offer myself to return to you if you will discover your self willing to receive me as your wife….I think it very hard I must lye in the bosome of a man by his words and actions hath made me jealouse of him…yet I am advised it is my duty to return.”

Mary Tilden letter to her husband, 1733 March 12, Ms 71053-58. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Mary wrote two letters that day in March 1733; in both she spoke of jealousy. In one letter she declared that though she “laboured under many difficulties by reason of your carriage towards me while I lived with you,” she did find she “was in an error in leaving you as I did.” Neither of these letters would resolve the issue. A church meeting was held in November 1733 and Stephen agreed he would take Mary back as his wife, after she made a public apology. When Rev. Solomon Williams wrote to Mary in December, this had not occurred.

Mary Tilden’s brother, Joseph Fowler, replied to Williams’ note. His sister had left town. Rev. Williams had the final word on the subject, as it is presented to us in this collection.

At a church meeting December 21, 1733. Whereas Mary Tilden is gone of ye town ye Reasons of which are unknown to us & we can’t at present be certain whether she has any reason to offer why she did not comply with ye direction of ye church in returning to her husband or what reasons she has to offer- therefore voted to suspend the consideration of said case for some time till something farther appears.

If the situation was ever resolved, the documentation does not exist within this collection.

It would be easy, with our 21st century ideas, to judge Mary and Stephen Tilden’s actions and decisions. Laws and societal norms have changed significantly in the past 278 years. It is obvious, though, that troubled marriages are nothing new.

This collection is open for research. Come visit!

From selling socks to insurance: Lucius J. Hendee

One of the aspects of my job that I truly enjoy is the unpredictable nature of the materials I work with. The other day I was skimming through the Hendee Family correspondence (Ms 69688).  Though in a relatively new box,  the folders were old, and I knew it had been some time since the collection was processed. Whoever started processing had also not finished.

As I skimmed through the unprocessed portion, I learned bits and pieces about Lucius J. Hendee’s life and career. A resident of Hebron, Connecticut, he worked with Abner Hendee until Abner’s death; was interested in politics; and for some time worked as a merchant, selling items such as wool socks.

From the 1850 Federal Census (click to enlarge)

The 1850 census confirmed that Hendee was a merchant in Hebron. According to the 1870 Federal Census, though, he lived in Hartford and was the President of Aetna Fire Insurance Company. Hendee was not a name I recognized, and from what I had seen, there was little indication that this man would have gone from selling socks to leading an insurance company.

1870 Census

From the 1870 Federal Census (Click to enlarge)

However, he did! A Google search led me to an August 1888 New York Times article about Hendee’s failing health. I then searched the Hartford Courant and found his obituary, printed on September 5, 1888. The scattered information I had about Hendee’s life became more coherent. Lucius J. Hendee was born in Andover, Connecticut in 1818. He worked with his uncle, Abner Hendee, an insurance agent for Aetna. According to the Courant, Lucius Hendee’s “faithfulness and success in the discharge of his duties in this agency attracted the attention of the officers of the company, and in 1861, when the secretaryship of the Aetna became vacant, he was elected to fill that responsible position.” Five years later he became Aetna’s president (both papers also mention that Hendee served in the Connecticut Senate and as Treasurer under Governor William A. Buckingham).

I never cease to be amazed how a few minutes of research can alter the value I place on a single sheet of paper.

Letter from Aetna

Letter from E. Ripley, Aetna Insurance Co., 1861, Hendee Family papers, Ms 69688. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Was this an interview for the Secretary position? There’s no way to know for sure, but certainly quite possible.

This collection is open for research and we hope you will come visit.

Those of you who have researched with us, what fun items have you found? Leave a comment; we’d love to hear!