Windsor is synonymous with colonial history. It's referenced on the town seal ("First in Connecticut, First for its Citizens"), and it infuses the town's residents with a sense of pride that, as Connecticut's colonial settlement, is felt nowhere else in the Nutmeg State.
For that very reason, there are few local non-profit organizations that are as explicitly tied to Windsor's identity as the Windsor Historical Society.
The Palisado Avenue organization has worked for decades to ensure the town's rich history continues to be preserved and celebrated; however, the Historical Society has also made significant steps in preserving and contributing to current history.
Windsor Patch recently sat down with Christine Ermenc about the Historical Society's work, and how, as she says, the organization has fostered a sense of civic responsibility:
Windsor Patch: Each year you run numerous events and programs focused on Windsor's history and run programs to engage the local community. But for those who may not be familiar with your day-to-day work, what's your mission here at the Society?
CE: Well, the mission is really to connect people with Windsor History: people, place, events. The reason that we do that is that we really feel that people feeling connected with the past makes them feel a little more grounded in the present, like they belong. And that then leads to a sense of responsibility. That's the philosophical underpinning for what we do.
WP: This year the Historical Society joined the Shad Fest Bureau. Can you tell me what motivated that?
CE: We were asked to. I think John Jary and the leadership at the Shad Bureau are really trying to be inclusive and draw everybody in, because it is a town-wide event... We all met, and it seemed like it would kind of be a marriage made in heaven… One of the things we try to do is collaborate whenever we can, and when an organization in town asks us to join, we're going to figure out a way to do it. So we'll come up with an event that will really be geared towards the Shad Derby next year and have an exhibition. Next year we'll have something big. I know what it is, but I can't quite reveal it yet.
WP: Being involved in current the current Shad Derby may surprise many who wouldn't necessarily think of the Historical Society doing something so immediate. Why is it important for the Society to be involved in things that have an impact on the community now?
CE: I think a lot of people look at the words "Historical Society" and what comes to mind is ancient history. What comes to mind is how people were taught history in high school: names, dates, and just kind of mind-numbing… just having to have a lot of information at your disposal. One of the things we're trying to do here is show people that yesterday is history.
We have wonderful resources for seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth-century history, but when we did [Windsor's 375th anniversary] celebration, we made a conscious decision to make a big focus on photographs... We collected photographs because we were trying to make people realize that, you know, their history is part of our town's history… This is your historical society. We want your faces here because you're a part of it all. So, that's probably why we have focused on twentieth-century history.
WP: What's you're favorite part of Windsor's history?
CE: That's a very hard question... I think what I really like about history is that you can look at a document, for instance — I'm thinking of a sheath of drawings that a woman made in the early nineteenth century — and they are beautiful, just exquisite floral drawings. The only reason this woman was able to do this is that she wasn't able to have children. And that was such a rarity/. You're married, you didn't have children, what were you going to do? Well, she documented these amazing flowers. You open this and it's the flowers that she was looking at in the early nineteenth century.
So, I think what I like is that sense of the personal that you get from reading these letters. And that can be any century… A document with somebody's actual signature on it, or maybe it was a seventeenth-century deed, or Native American marks. Look at those marks, and their hands made them. That's the fascinating thing of all of it to me. I can't really give you an era, but that's the sort of thing that makes my hair stand right up. It's just nice.
WP: In addition to your adult-focused programs, the Society is heavily involved with local schools. I'm sure there's a difference between educating adults and educating children as far as making something interesting, so how do you make things interesting for elementary school students, and why is it important they know about Windsor's history?
CE: Well, it's often said that children are the future… Connecting children with the place that they live, maybe they'll stay, but when they move on they'll hopefully want to be connected with the place that they move to and then become involved with the community. Some of the ways we do it here are activities and reproduction materials that they can handle.