Making history and our heritage relevant for young people is one of the most important contributions we make to the community. The Wilton Historical Society is committed to experiential learning and bringing our local history to life. Working with schools to ensure that curriculum requirements are met, we bring students in direct contact with the buildings, tools and tasks of our colonial ancestors. The 2nd and 4th grade programs are the cornerstone of our educational offerings for young people.
2nd Grade Community and Colonial Life Program
Every fall the Wilton Historical Society arranges a two-part program for second graders in the Wilton schools. Part one, focused on the community, is in October. Part two, which teaches the children about daily life in Colonial times, is in December. The Museum Educator is responsible for developing the program to ensure that curriculum requirements are met.
In October, second grade classes from Miller Driscoll visit the Town Hall complex for about an hour and a half to learn about our town government. The civics lesson brings students in contact with the First Selectman, the Town Clerk’s office, the Vault, the Police Station, and the Fire Station.
In the second part of the program, the Young Nutmeggers spend a December morning at the Society’s Museum Complex learning about childhood, family and community life in Colonial times. They try on period clothing, churn butter, learn about barn building, shave a wooden peg, try embroidery, experience gathering firewood, and take on the sloshy task of carrying buckets of water.
4th Grade Colonial History Program
In May we welcome Cider Mill’s fourth grade students, who spend a day learning about life in colonial Wilton, during which they are immersed in the gamut of tasks and activities that defined colonial life, and learn by doing. Depending on enrollment, about 350 children participate over 7 or 8 days.
A recent program went something like this . . .
The youngsters shuttled between learning stations: the Textile Tent, the Abbot Barn, the Raymond/Fitch House and the Elias Betts House. At each station they were greeted by knowledgeable staff and volunteers, many in colonial dress, who engaged them in hands-on learning.
At the historic Abbott Barn, a colonial tool and building expert was present to explain and guide a series of carpentry tasks which included sawing logs, spoke shaving (barn pegs), preparing holes for framing pegs, and a team effort to raise a child-sized barn frame. Plus, they learned how to punch tin, which can be used to make lanterns.
In the Elias Betts House the Young Yankees learned about sewing, weaving and how a loom works. Volunteers showed them how to sew and embroider and the students had a project to do – sewing pincushions.
Hearth cooking, with tasty samples of corn bread, was demonstrated at the Raymond/Fitch House. It was a popular activity, as was the opportunity to barter for supplies in Captain Samuel Belden’s Store. The children were divided into four Wilton families – Hickox, Sturges, Hurlbutt and Raymond – as they learned how to trade for goods, as was done in colonial times.
At the Textile Tent, they learned about carding and spinning wool, breaking and combing flax, and begin to understand how cloth was made. There was time to visit the nearby Blacksmith Shop as well. While eating lunch, the children listened to an18th century soldier, who talked about his life and times.
High School Student Historians
Area high school students are encouraged to join the Society’s group of budding historians. Students in grades 9-12 with an interest in history are urged to follow their passion and get some real experience! Led by our museum educator and executive director, students initiate and carry through with original research and hands-on projects. The group generally meets monthly. The student historians also help the Society as volunteers at activities, such as Barn, Blacksmith & BBQ, a family history day.
Walter R.T. Smith Student Historian Award
Presented to a senior at Wilton High School for outstanding achievement and interest in history and a record of community service. The prize is given at the Academic Awards Ceremony in May.
Walter R.T. Smith (1922 – 2015), master builder, building historian and preservationist of Wilton’s architectural history for nearly 70 years, became best known for the work he loved the most: melding his expertise as a master builder/preservationist with his untiring commitment to community service. Chief among the organizations benefiting from his leadership was the Wilton Historical Society, which he first joined in 1948, going on to become its three-term Board President and, ultimately, Trustee Emeritus. Over the years he was in large part responsible for the organization’s “rescue” and adaptive reuse of 17 historically significant Wilton buildings. He moved and painstakingly restored many of the antique structures that today comprise the Historical Society’s headquarters on Danbury Road and also at the Lambert Corners site. In 2005, he managed the development of Cannon Corners, moving and renovating a cluster of historic buildings that today stand at the foot of Olmstead Hill Road.
On permanent exhibit in the Society’s Abbott Barn are approximately 600 antique tools donated by Walter, most of them made in or around Wilton. He took great pleasure in demonstrating their use and giving lively talks about local history to visiting groups of schoolchildren who had never before seen a butter-churn or blacksmith’s anvil. The artifacts in the “Tools of the Trades” exhibition were culled from his world-class collection of more than 4,000 tools used by dozens of trades and crafts in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Recent recipients of the Walter R.T. Smith award:
- 2016 Isabel Saltzman
- 2015 Jack Kaelin
- 2014 Chase Smith
Wilton High School Senior Year Internship
Each year, Wilton High School offers seniors a chance to participate in a three- to four-week internship program. From mid-May until the last day of class at Wilton High, seniors are given the opportunity to explore areas of interest outside their usual class schedules. The program encourages students to gain first-hand experience with organizations ranging from local businesses to global companies to nonprofits.
Over the years, the Wilton Historical Society has been pleased to welcome interns, who work with the executive director and rapidly become involved with research projects. Recently, interns have researched the Society’s clock collection; explored the origins and workings of a wooden cotton gin; investigated slavery in Connecticut and a Lambert family slave sale document in the Permanent Collection; and learned about local sculptor Gifford Proctor.