Bus tour: The New Deal in Action Farmington Valley in the 1930s

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Historic Sites of Connecticut’s Farmington Valley is pleased to present a new bus tour exploring the Valley’s rich history, The New Deal in Action: Farmington Valley in the 1930s, on Saturday, April 27, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Join us on a comfortable bus ride visiting historic sites in Barkhamsted, Unionville and Farmington. At each site and in commentary along the way, you’ll hear about a series of federal programs instituted by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of the Great Depression, and their impact on the Valley’s industry, culture, business, agriculture and more. Between tour stops, enjoy lunch at Union School, Unionville. Admission is $45 per person and includes the bus tour, lunch and informative talks at each location as well as a pre-tour talk on Thursday, April 25 with historian Robert Rodney. Tour seats are limited so reservations are required. Reserve your seat by April 22 with an email to  Nancy.anstey@comcast.net or by calling 860-680-5298.

To set the stage for the journey, historian Robert Rodney will present a pre-tour lecture on The Depression and the New Deal, on Thursday, April 25, at 7 p.m. at the Ellsworth Center, Simsbury Historical Society, 800 Hopmeadow Street. Dr. Rodney will give a brief overview of the Great Depression of 1929–1939, the New Deal programs created beginning in 1933 to provide economic relief, and the effects nationally as well as locally. The lecture is open to the public; admission is $5 per person for those not registered for the April 27 bus tour.

Tour-goers will meet on Saturday, April 27, at 9:15 a.m. at the Union School parking lot at 173 School Street, Unionville. The bus will depart promptly at 9:30 a.m. At the first stop, Paul Hart of the Barkhamsted Historical Society will introduce participants to two important New Deal programs in the town: first at the former site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, then at Squire’s Tavern (home of the Barkhamsted Historical Society) with a presentation on the Federal Art Project and a prolific local artist who participated. The Civilian Conservation Corps was a work relief program established in 1933 to employ hundreds of thousands in environmental projects, such as planting trees, clearing and maintaining access roads, and other improvements to the country’s natural resources. The Federal Art Project, created in 1935, provided funding for the arts, including painters, sculptors, playwrights and musicians.

From Barkhamsted, the bus will head back to the Union School, where participants can relax and enjoy their box lunches before soaking in more history with Matthew Ross, Director of Technology for the Farmington Schools, as well as a Union School alumnus. Union School was constructed as part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) program, which was established in 1935 and employed millions in public works projects including construction of roads and public buildings. Union School opened its doors in the fall of 1939; while the interior has been modified many times over the last 80 years, the external structure remains unchanged.

Lastly, tour-goers will arrive at Farmington’s Riverside Cemetery, established in the early 1830s, for a talk by Joanne Lawson of the Farmington Historical Society on the Hale Cemetery Project, also part of the WPA program. One of the projects undertaken in Farmington under the auspices of the WPA, directed by State Military Necrologist, Charles R. Hale, and with additional sponsorship by the Connecticut State Library, was a list of headstone inscriptions for the cemeteries in town. Participants will receive a map of the Riverside Cemetery showing the locations of headstones for such notable locals as Winchell Smith, Sarah Porter, William Gillette and Theodate Pope Riddle.

With heads full of the fascinating history of the Farmington Valley, tour-goers will be returned to their cars by 3:30 p.m.

Proceeds from the tour benefit Historic Sites of Connecticut’s Farmington Valley, whose mission is to enhance appreciation of the Farmington Valley’s rich history by promoting communication among heritage groups and offering unique programs.