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Propelling Us Forward in the Victorian Era

Welcome to your bi-weekly newsletter from Connecticut Explored with the latest stories, the newest Grating the Nutmeg podcast, programs and exhibitions from our partners to see/watch this month, and more! 

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Fall 2021: We’re not in Puritan Connecticut anymore

Col. Albert A. Pope, president of Pope Manufacturing Co., second from left, on a bicycle tour, Readville, Massachusetts, 1879. National Museum of American History

Albert Pope and the Extraordinary Ordinary

In his column in the Fall 2021 issue, State Historian Walt Woodward brings us the story of Albert Pope and his exploitation of a newfangled contraption—the bicycle. Pope first saw the British-made velocipede at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. What many saw as a faddish novelty, Woodward explains, Pope saw as a business opportunity.

“One of the characteristics that defined the Victorian era,” Woodward writes, “was its many advances in invention and technology. One of the most significant of those advances was brought to the United States and produced in Hartford by Colonel Albert Augustus Pope.”

But this two-wheeled transport had larger ramifications than you might think. Woodward explains that the explosion of the popularity of the bicycle at the turn of the century “generated public demand for better streets and highways, new rules of the road, and vehicular tourism. It also led to the nation’s first transportation lobbies and paved the way for the automobile era that followed, in which Pope played another pioneering role.”

Read Woodward’s column in the Fall 2021 issue.

A “Mystic-Built” Schooner for the Centennial

Albert Pope wasn’t the only Connectican to visit the Centennial Exposition—not by far. The fair was such a popular attraction that, Mystic’s Press quipped, as Rebecca Bayreuther Donohue writes in her Fall 2021 story, “we had better wait, and when it’s over, publish the names of the scattering few who don’t go.”

A group of nearly 60 Connecticans, Donohue tells us, made a historic trip, sailing on the last schooner “built at the famous Geo. Greenman shipyard during an era when the phrase ‘Mystic built,’ as identified by historian William N. Peterson, symbolized remarkable speed and beauty.”

The ship, nicknamed the “Centennial Schooner,” hosted an eclectic group of travelers, according to Donohue, including students and their teachers, “and two little boys both named Willie, according to the passenger manifest. Fully one-third of the passengers were in their teens or early twenties.” There was a large contingent from the Union Baptist Church, too, including a deacon and his wife, and “a young Francisco Sebastian, a sailor of Brazilian and Eastern Pequot descent who, though sailing alone, had just celebrated his third wedding anniversary with Shinnecock tribal member Mary McKinney.”

Against expectations, this was the only trip the “Centennial Schooner” made to the exposition. Upon its return to Mystic a second charter fell through and the ship was retrofitted for the coal trade. But for a brief time, Donohue writes, “Mystic’s proud shipbuilding legacy had been on living exhibit at the most spectacular celebration this young country could invent.”

Read these stories in the Fall 2021 issue with your print subscription, or a CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM subscription.

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The Latest from Grating the Nutmeg

Episode 128: A Connecticut Historian Makes History: Recovering Phyllis Wheatley's Lost Years

UCONN legal historian Cornelia Hughes Dayton was searching through Massachusetts court cases from the 1700s, working on a project involving mental disabilities in early America, when she came upon a find that was itself history-making: a cache of cases that illuminate the formerly “missing years” in the life of America’s first published African American author and the mother of the African-American literary tradition Phyllis Wheatley Peters. Dayton discusses her discovery with state historian Walter Woodward in this episode of Grating the Nutmeg.


Programs and Exhibitions to Enjoy This Month

Sewing & Learning Workshop

Back by popular demand, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center’s Craftivism series presents an online workshop, Sewing & Learning: Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Politics of Pocket Purses, December 11, 2021, and January 15, 2022, 2 – 4:30 pm. Participants will learn the history of the pocket purse and how to make one, step-by-step. Register to receive a kit of materials and instructions for logging into the class and downloading the purse pattern. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, HarrietBeecherStoweCenter.org

Small Cemeteries Face Challenges

Brookfield’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, a Connecticut State Historic Site, has joined CTExplored’s Organizational Partnership program to raise awareness about the plight of small cemetery associations. Last year Laurel Hill began collaborating closely with Central Cemetery of Brookfield, endorsing the idea that cemeteries across the state need to regionalize, professionalize, and modernize their operations. Find out more at Centralcemetery.net.

New Connecticut-Based Memoir

Nothing Special is a disarmingly candid tale of two sisters growing up in the 1970s in rural Connecticut. Older sister Chris, who has Down syndrome, is a charming extrovert, while the author, her younger, typically-developing sister Dianne Bilyak shoulders the burdens of their parents. Published by  Wesleyan University Press in March 2021. Visit hfsbooks.com/books/nothing-special-bilyak/.

Dig Deep into Connecticut History

Membership in the Association for the Study of Connecticut History (ASCH) includes a subscription to the semi-annual Connecticut History Review, the only academic, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the history of Connecticut. Find out about the ASCH fall conference and become a member at asch-cthistory.org.

Hartford’s Library in the Neighborhoods

In October the Hartford History Center at Hartford Public Library will launch an online and limited in-person, multi-site special exhibition about the history of Hartford Public Library’s branches and their impact on the City of Hartford’s neighborhoods in the 20th century. The exhibition will run in conjunction with the library’s NEA Big Read program featuring The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. 

Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library, Hhc.hplct.org

POSTPONED: The Art of John Henry Twachtman

Life and Art: The Greenwich Paintings of John Henry Twachtman is an ambitious exhibition showcasing artwork by the American Impressionist artist John Henry Twachtman, focusing on his time in Greenwich. Due to recent flooding at the society from Hurricane Ida, the exhibition has been postponed. Please visit the society’s website for the new opening date. Life and Art is supported the Henry Luce Foundation for American Art and the Jane Henson Foundation. The Wyeth Foundation for American Art supported the publication of the exhibition’s fully illustrated catalogue.

Greenwich Historical Society, Greenwichhistory.org


Editors’ Picks

Stories we love from back issues to read now. 

“The Horseless Era Arrives,” Spring 2005

Columbia Bicycles: The Vehicle of Healthful Happiness,” Spring 2003

America’s Tallest Ship,” Fall 2011

Read all of our Maritime history stories on our TOPICS page.


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6 for 4 to Your Mailbox

Through 12/31/21, get 6 print issues for the price of 4 (one year) or 10 print issues for the price of 8 (2 years). That’s 2 FREE issues (a $15 value) added to any NEW or GIFT print subscription! Use coupon code HOLIDAY21 at CTExplored.org/Shop.

15% off to your Inbox

OR, Subscribe to CTExplored/Inbox PREMIUM and SAVE! Receive 15% off a one-year Inbox PREMIUM subscription through 12/31/21.

Or try us our with our First One Free offer at CTExplored.org/Shop.