The Salmon Brook Historical Society held its annual meeting on April 24 at the First Congregational Church on North Granby Road. After a social hour and delicious meal, President Rich Zlotnick called the meeting to order, suspended reading of the 2017 annual meeting minutes and recognized members who have passed away. Treasurer Roger Hayes presented the Annual Treasurer’s Report, highlighting various items of income and expense as well as the activity in the reserve accounts and endowment. Ginny Wutka, education director for the society, reported that 2017 was a banner year for visitors. Between Sunday summer tours, school groups, bus tours, family reunions and the December open house, Salmon Brook Historical Society welcomed more than 500 visitors! The slate of officers for 2018-2019 was then presented and elected.
Each year the society presents the Linnell Award to an extraordinary volunteer in honor of Ethel Linnell who was the first curator of the Salmon Brook Historical Society. Carol Laun presented the award and here are her words.
“The person we honor this year is truly deserving of this award. He is reliable, competent, thoughtful and always willing to help—our treasurer, Roger Hayes. You will also see Roger helping to set up the parking lot for events, bringing change to the Flea Market and other activities, working in the food booth, taping the newsletters for mailing and guiding in the Tobacco Barn. We also want to honor the memory of Freda Hayes, a former board member, tour guide and an accurate human adding machine at the flea market sales. Roger also provides a link to Granby history, because the Hayes family has been farming in town since the late 1600s. The first Hayes, George, lived a little north of the historical society, and George’s son Daniel, lived south of the Fire House. Daniel was the one kidnapped by Indians and survived to return to Granby several years later. Fortunately, the Hayes’s were savers and through the years we received many family treasures—from the horse-drawn, glass-sided hearse to the hand-written journal of James Hayes—and much more in-between. Salmon Brook Historical Society is very fortunate to have Roger Hayes. “
The meeting concluded with a presentation by Dr. Mark Williams on a preservation project he is directing on behalf of the society. Williams teaches at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor and has lived with his wife Myck for 47 years in West Granby where they have raised six children. He is author of a history of Granby, A Tempest in a Small Town, which won the Homer Babbidge Award in 1996 for outstanding research and writing on Connecticut history. His more recent book, The Brittle Thread of Life: Backcountry People Make a Place for Themselves in Early America (Yale University Press, 2009) relates the way plain, yet truculently, independent people such as those of 18th-century Granby helped put America on a democratic course well before the American Revolution. He has also been a consultant and author for numerous historical and curriculum projects.
In his presentation, Williams discussed the interesting history of West Granby from its centuries of Native American occupation through the European settlement in the early 18th century, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and the shade tobacco era of the early 20th century. His premise is that West Granby is remarkable in that all of this history is there to see, with a little guidance, in the form of landscape and surviving historical artifacts and structures. The quality of the historical resources there is very high, which was the primary reason that West Granby was named a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Its stone walls, mill foundations, historic dwellings and outbuildings from all phases of the town’s history, and even remains of Native American habitation yet to be discovered through archeological investigations, together tell the story, not only of this village, but of New England in general from the 1700s to the present. The two town-owned properties, the West Granby Cemetery and the Holcomb Farm, are particularly good viewing platforms.
Williams was able to obtain a grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to begin making this history accessible to the public. In pursuit of that goal, he has created a number of historical markers that contain historic photos and text about West Granby’s history. These will be installed at the farm and the cemetery this spring. He has also overseen the clearing of brush from the cemetery (which revealed a number of hidden grave stones), the repair and painting of its picket fence, and the restoration of some of its most important monuments.
At the Holcomb Farm the last of Tudor and Laura’s tobacco sheds still with its original siding and hardware is being repaired and stabilized as an illustration of that phase of the community’s history. The Holcomb Farm, or Broad Hill Farm, was placed on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places in 1991 because of the five-generation tenure of the Holcomb Family dating to 1757, the quality of the historic structures on the property, and the importance of Tudor and Laura Holcomb to the town and the state. The development of their shade-tobacco and dairy businesses in West Granby saved their farm, as well as the village of West Granby, from the lengthy decline that afflicted so many rural areas in the Northeast in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The condition of the one remaining tobacco shed on the property has deteriorated in recent years after support braces were removed, and it would have fallen over this past winter had action not been taken. In order to preserve the shed for historical illustration, braces were placed on the east side and the old roofing was removed in anticipation of righting the structure and stabilizing it with new interior braces this spring. Future plans include repairing the sills, restoring the roof, and repairing and preserving the siding. New funding will be required for all of those projects, and donations to the Save the Barn fund are much appreciated, particularly because preservation grants require matching funds. Send donations marked “Save the Barn” to the Salmon Brook Historical Society, Box 840, Granby, CT 06035.