In its first 75 years, the Salmon Brook Historical Society has had three amazing curators. I have written about Eva Dewey saving Granby history when she stored most of the files, genealogical files, and artifacts in her house while the SBHS was first renovating its campus. I also have written about how Carol Laun helped transform the society as we know it today and became our town historian and educator. Both Eva and Carol followed in the footsteps of our first curator, Ethel Linnell.
The society takes great pride in its library and collection of historical artifacts. Every item donated to the society is accessioned and recorded in its database. Most of the books donated to the society when Ethel was our curator are still on the shelves at the society. We have papers written by Fred Colton, Theodore Case, Judge Theodore Maltbie, James Lee Loomis, and many other prominent Granby resients during the early twentieth century, all catalogued in our library. All the genealogical files were started by Ethel Linnell.
Ethel Linnell came to Granby in 1937 when she was 50 years old. She and her husband, Ray, and her son moved here looking for a better life during the Great Depression. Ethel was well-educated, having attended Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine, and later, the Farmington Normal School, which today is the University of Maine at Farmington. She taught for a while and then became a genealogist. Her husband was a mechanic. In 1937, Ray opened the Granby Garage on Hartford Avenue, located where Cumberland Farms is today, and Ethel became involved with many organizations in town.
Ethel first joined the Granby Library Association as a board member, then became president, and later the curator of the library. During the Great Depression, it was difficult to find money to buy books for the library, so board members wrote small papers about different topics for the public to read. For example, James Lee Loomis wrote a paper about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., who was both a medical doctor and a poet. Ethel herself wrote three papers: in 1938, 1939, and the last in 1940, about Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott’s father. Others who contributed to the writing project were Judge Maltbie, Theodore Case and Reverend Arthur Teale. Being involved with the Library Association and the Granby Civic Club, Ethel made lots of friends and acquaintances in town.
In early 1945, the Granby Library Association hosted then Chief Justice of Connecticut Maltbie as a speaker on the topic of the history of Granby. It was a terrific night, especially with Ethel’s collection of photos of early Granby to show the audience, and an idea was hatched. By that time, Ethel had become good friends with Case and Ever Green, who had both grown up in Granby and cared deeply about the town history.
Although not a native of Granby, Ethel gained familiarity with Granby’s history in her conversations with Case and Green. In October 1945, the three—Linnell, Case and Green—created the Granby History Committee and elected Ethel Linnell as chairwoman. To avoid a conflict of interest, Linnell resigned as president of the Library Association. However, she was still able to persuade the Library Association to let her use the library basement as the Granby History Room.
The Granby History room first opened to the public on the first weekend of December 1946. From 2 to 9 p.m., Granby residents were invited to the library basement for the first viewing of the Granby History Room. Approximately 50 people attended the exhibit of photos taken in 1886 to learn about Granby life 60 years prior, and more would follow in the weeks to come.
Ethel would also welcome visits on Friday afternoons, encouraging Granby students to visit the exhibits and write essays about the history of Granby. From 1946 to 1958, Ethel, with the help of Ever Green, would stage exhibits to educate Granby residents of the town’s history. In 1955, the Granby History room held its grand opening, welcoming over 300 people to the Granby Room to see a larger collection of items such as Civil War uniforms, weapons and textiles, which took up not only the basement but also the main floor of the library. In attendance were the old names of Granby: Kendall, Beman, Pinney, Maltbie, Godard, Dewey, Hayes, Devnew, Shattuck, Loomis, Edwards and many more.
Ethel Linnell was ecstatic at the success of the Granby History room, especially enthused by the younger residents becoming interested in town history. Her handiwork paid off but also took a toll on her. Two years prior to the grand opening, Ethel’s husband had died at age 66. Her son, Raymond Linnell, Jr. took over Granby Garage and would later also run Granby Oil. In 1955, Ethel’s good friend, Ever Green died, leaving all of the work on Ethel’s shoulders. Maltbie helped when he could, however his law practice and court duties occupied most of his time. In 1958, in her curator’s report, Ethel credited Eva Dewey with helping her in her last year.
In 1959 the Salmon Brook Historical Society was incorporated with the help of Judge Maltbie and Jessie Guay. Ethel was still a member of the society and, as Eva Dewey took over the curator duties, she would occasionally speak to schoolchildren about the importance of Granby history. Slowly, Ethel limited her civic involvement as she no longer served on the Granby Library Association. Her good friend, Judge Maltbie, died in 1961. Three years later, in 1964, Ethel Linnell died at the age of 77 and is buried in the Granby Cemetery.
To learn more about Ethel Linnell, the history of the Salmon Brook Historical Society, or the Granby Library Association, join the Salmon Brook Historical Society. Call 860-653-9713 or visit salmonbrookhistoricalsociety.com