Since 1965, it has taken dedication from dozens of volunteers to retain and replenish the historical exhibits of Southington. The Southington Historical Society has managed to survive without much money to constantly refresh moments of the town’s history by way of pictures, exhibits and cataloging vital facts and details.
The town has several hundred years of history, dating back to the early settlers like Sam Woodruff and others who tired of traveling to Farmington for church services. Over those decades, the town has grown to 200 miles of roads, 36 square miles and now nearly 45,000 citizens.
The mission of the historical society is to serve as the resource center for the town; to provide educational programs, to collect, interpret and display materials pertaining to the history of Southington founded in 1779.
The town was approached by the society in 1974 with a proposal to allow the establishment of a museum in the old library building. The town embraced the idea and for the past 54 years has been supportive of the society’s efforts.
The group has the responsibility of maintaining its museum at the corner of Meriden Avenue and Main Street. The lower section, once utilized by other nonprofit groups, is being totally refurbished to allow more exhibit space that is badly needed. Much of the history is in computer files, while the rooms are filled with memento pieces of the past. These include small and larger items such as the partial front wall of the original Clark Bolt shop that manufactured the first carriage bolts in the country.
Other displays include a sports section, highlighting the town’s enormous tradition with items like the 1954 football championship jacket of legendary coach Joe Fontana, a Rob Dibble promotional street sign, photos of football teams from the 1930s and the 1940s and team jerseys from the recent quarterbacks of the high school state title teams.
Items from the world wars include jackets, uniforms and posters and there is a unique advertising matchbook collection that ranges from the 1940s to the 1980s. There is a photo booth that sits next to displays of old glassware, some with advertising names and logos imprinted. Until the lower section is finished, hundreds of memorabilia and old photos remain in storage, including numerous items that have been posted occasionally on Facebook.
In 2017, led by board member Kathy Conway, the society partnered with the local school system to work local history into the social studies program in grades K-12 and also eighth-grade classes at both the town’s middle schools. Students have looked at the American Revolution, Industrial Revolution and Civil War. With the transition beginning in the schools that will result in U.S. history in grades 7-9, students will also get history dealing with World War I to the present.
Members of the society have been visiting classrooms and showing historical photos from the group’s vast collection. Student reaction has been extremely positive.
Over the years, leadership of this group has included town historians such as Ken DiMauro, Carl Sokolowski and the current historian, Phil Wooding. Longtime residents have contributed time and effort to maintain the quality of items and continuation of the society’s goals. Many have donated local antiques while others have offered historical papers.
Two remaining one-room schoolhouses are maintained by the group, one on South End Road and the other slightly hidden on West Street. Volunteers staff all events, including keeping the museum open at least one day a week.
The Southington Historical Society invites residents to join. The cost is $20 for single memberships and $40 for families. Donations are welcomed. Interested people may contact this columnist on Facebook.