The cool air reminded that autumn was just around the corner as I walked briskly through the Five Points section of the city. I wanted to visit my friend Sharon at the Torrington Downtown partners but their office was moving to a new location and I had timed my unannounced intrusion incorrectly. I waived hello to Lisa Stepler who was helping a customer at The Arts Desire and made my way to the Subway restaurant for an unnecessarily large foot-long sandwich knowing full well that the six inch sub would have been sufficient.
I was looking forward to my second planned visit this year to the Torrington Historical society. As the museum portion did not open until noon, I took my time at the Subway looking out at the bridge. I noticed a butterfly flying gracefully above some rocks and the man-made debris. It was yellow and fast, big enough for me to see with my eye, but too small to take a photograph, even with a zoom from the camera on my cell phone. Earlier I had seen a crane standing at the water’s edge taking comfort in the Naugatuck River, the lifeblood that flowed through Torrington. In generations past storefronts were built atop the bridge over the river at this very point but they had been washed away in the ’55 flood, a fact I had learned on my first visit to the Historical Society this year.
When I arrived a little after noon I met Mark McEachern, the executive director of the historical society. We discussed the “There’s No Place Like Home” permanent exhibit about Torrington History and how it was built with an eye for detail yet edited to ensure the maximum information could be shared with an economy of words. Mark told me I could spend hours in the museum reviewing all of the material there and he was right, for I filled 16 pages of notes on the history of Torrington in about two hours.
While there I was fortunate enough to visit with Gail Kruppa, the curator for the museum. I had previously written about the 1937 Freedman photo (see last post entitled Snapshot) and I wanted to ensure I had the information correct. Gail enlightened me on some aspects of the photo and shared a well written article by the Republican American newspaper that gave information on its history and meaning. Later I visited next door to say hello to Carol Clapp, the archivist, an author herself who had penned a wonderful story about the ’55 flood in the newspaper. I signed up and became a member of the Torrington Historical society before I left.
Reflecting back on the entire afternoon visiting the historical society, of the myriad of artifacts and showpieces at the museum that caught my eye, two items in particular stood out that day, a crayon drawing created in 1858 by Levi Hodges and, within another exhibit, a trolley car schedule. One of my cartoon projects which I create with a colleague is Nutmeg Junction about a trolley and it started in Torrington. The other Torrington project is The Crayon Diary. My work seemed entirely appropriate for where I live.
Throughout my journey through time I recognized that different sections of the city were given names. There was “Wolcottville” in the Five Points center right where I had spent my morning, named because Frederick Wolcott put a mill at the river in 1813 and by 1830 the location had become the principal village in town. There was Daytonville which was a location where musical instruments were manufactured, Drakeville, where lumber company was located, and Burrville. Now the terms “Wolcottville” and “Daytonville” have lost their meaning and use over time but Burrville and Drakeville are names still in use in Torrington today.
In naming something, we demonstrate what is important and signify meaning. In politics, the one who names the terms best, frames the argument and wins the debate. In commerce, some companies even purchase naming rights of entertainment venues and other hubs of activity. The term Wolcottville lost its meaning because the Wolcott woolen mill is no longer a functioning integral part of our environment. We no longer make musical instruments in Daytonville, but there are certainly a lot of trees still ready for lumber activity in Drakeville.
Today, we are living in an exciting time. There is something greater than just a simple “revitalization” of the town. We are living in an artistic and cultural phenomenon. In the past two weeks there was a grand opening at Artwell for the “Show for a Show” event, a fantastic display of art in a wide ranging variety of mediums, a Torrington Historical Society Hat party, a Singer Songwriter Network concert entitled “Ladies and Lyrics”, a play put on at Desultory Theatre at the Morrison Hardware building, a Q and A session with artist Janet Slom at the Five Points Gallery and two Thursday night “Main Street Marketplace” events. We have the opportunity, the right and I say the obligation to have a name for this downtown section that reflects the vibrancy of our city just as our forebears named it in their day.
Torrington is our home with a treasured past but an exciting future. What we do today becomes the history tomorrow. I believe the Torrington Historical society was right when they named their Torrington History exhibit: There’s No Place Like Home.