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Avon's Town Historian

 

 

 

Nora Howard - Town Historian
   

Nora Oakes Howard grew up in Avon and attended Renbrook & Westledge Schools. She earned a B.A. in American Studies from Hampshire College. She later earned an M.A. from George Washington University, worked at the  Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History as a Research Fellow and has written extensively on local history topics. She also worked as Executive Director of Wethersfield Historical Society and Avon Historical Society. Her research and writings have earned her awards from the American Association for State and Local History and the Connecticut League of Historical Societies.

In 2000 Avon named Nora Oakes Howard as Town Historian.  As Historian, Nora's job is to help answer questions about Avon history from the public.  She works closely with the Avon Historical Society president to obtain donations to the archival and artifact collections of Avon. Nora can be reached at oakeshoward@gmail.com or at 860-678-1043.

Her publications on Avon history include: Avon, a photo history and Catch'd on Fire: The Journals of Rufus Hawley 1763-1812.  Nora currently serves as historian for Avon Congregational Church 

The following is a sampling of published articles by Nora Howard

"JULY FOURTH EXCITEMENTS" Originally published in Avon Life, June 2000

"The gardens in Avon are all planted and in many cases the stuff is out of the ground and growing good. Mr. Distor returned from New York State the last part of the week and brought back pigs to supply all who had joined the pig club."

The Farmington Valley Herald, May 30, 1918

On July 4 in years past, Avon let - relatively - loose. The opportunity to come together as a town and a family, to party, and to have patriotic celebrations was irresistible. This was a farming community, as is clear from the excerpt above from the Farmington Valley Herald. The Fourth of July was a day the townspeople looked forward to each year.

In 1908, variety store owner Frank Hadsell wrote in his journal that “I was having considerable trade in my store and made good profits, especially on fireworks in July...” The Farmington Valley Herald carried news of July 4th that year. The day began with young men of West Avon playing “a game of ball against the married men at the farm of Frank S. Hart. There were between twenty or thirty spectators. The shower broke up the game before it was finished. The young people had a picnic at the home of Richard and Frieda Sailing.”

The “shower” that broke up the baseball game was actually a bit more than that. Heavy rain poured down, and lightning struck the Crass house on Lovely Street. The strike destroyed their range, and knocked Mrs. Crass unconscious. The lightning also knocked down two horses who were there delivering a load of cement from Sanford & Hawley.

The Herald carried a long list of West Avon’s out-of-town visitors that day. “Mr. and Mrs. H.C. Thompson of Plainville at J.C. Thompson’s,” and so on. The smallest comings and goings were newsworthy. “Mr. and Mrs. Newell Wilson and daughter attended the family picnic at the home of Mrs. John Gabb in Bloomfield the 4th, remaining over Sunday and their house was closed up for the first time in fifteen years or more.”

Ten years later, on July 4, 1918, the Herald reported that one hundred Fresh Air Fund children from New York City had a picnic at Joseph and Corinne Alsop’s Wood Ford Farm on Nod Road. Taking a drive was also perfect July 4th entertainment. Oliver Hart, drove his parents and family to Elizabeth Park in Hartford, and “saw one of the aeroplanes that passed over the city in the afternoon.” The Woodruff family of Manchester, “out in their new Ford touring car,” visited Avon.

That same year, 1918, Frank Hadsell stopped selling fireworks. His shop was the present Barber Shop on East Main Street, and his home was adjacent on the east side. “This year I did not sell fireworks anymore, nor ever again,” he wrote in his journal. “The sale of them was frowned up on as not being patriotic at this time, and this gave me the excuse I had been seeking, to stop handling them. More and more each year, Mother had been annoyed by the noisy crowd of boys who gathered in front of the store on the night of July 3rd so I took advantage of the psychological moment and quit.”

July 4, 1926 was, according again to the Herald, “the noisiest one that [Avon] has experienced in several years and the general appearance of the centre of town would carry the proof.” The Avon Congregational Church bell rang “practically all night.” Ceasar Tarchini’s daughter was badly burned when her clothing caught fire from firecrackers, and Dr. C. North Woodford dressed a bad wound on a “little Spanish boy.”

In 1949, the Avon Volunteer Fire Department had their annual four day carnival, climaxed with a parade of nineteen fire departments, twenty trucks, and marching bands from Newington, Simsbury, Tariffville, Warehouse Point, Farmington, Tunxis, Suffield and Avon. The July 4th committee included names still familiar to long-time residents: chairman Dominick Bogino, Peter Bonesio, Lester Clark, Lucian Baranoski, John Kulilowski, Raymond Boranoski, Al Bonesio, Aldo Morelli, Fred Bayliss, John DeSimoni, Howard Rodgers, Charles Engelke, Robert LaRock, and Manek Kulilowski.

That same year, the Herald reported, there was a $2,000 fireworks display at Cherry Park. Proceeds benefited Avon’s Gildo T. Consolini VFW Post, Times Farm, and Camp Courant. Spectators were promised “no duds, even if it rains.” Exploding over Avon was a simulated battle scene, a flaming Niagara Falls in aluminum fire, a galaxy of comic displays, floral and patriotic scenes, and a “finale of explosions from a huge string of cannot salutes set of amidst a sky-lightning background of colored fire.”

We will close with July 4, 1940, and a story by Avon writer Bill Goralski. Mr. Goralski expertly captures the flavor of Avon life in the 1930s and 1940s in his books, available at the Avon Free Public Library. On that summer day sixty years ago, he wrote in Growing Up in Old Avon Center, “...when it was just getting dark, we would go to Sperry Park and wait for people from all over town to arrive with their own fireworks which they wanted to shoot off in one big display. It was a community fireworks show where individuals wanted to share their fireworks with others.

The main attraction for the kids was the arrival of Bill Gordon from the drugstore. He would arrive about nine o’clock with the left over fireworks from his sale. He couldn’t return the unsold fireworks, he couldn’t sell them the following week, that was the law, and he couldn’t store them in a warehouse for the next year. He either sold them all or used them in a public display. This served as a good will promotion for the people in Avon. ...So, another Fourth of July celebration came and went. We couldn’t wait for another one to roll around the following year.”

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Please see our AHS Gift Shop Page for more of Nora's published works.

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