Letter: Making ‘Portrait of New Canaan’ a Town-Wide Reading Project


Bravo, and our thanks, to Jim Bach for once again giving us a most interesting talk at the Historical Society on another chapter in New Canaan’s history.

His recent talk gave me the idea that perhaps someday, with appropriate lead time, the New Canaan Historical Society’s book “Portrait of New Canaan” by Mary Louise King, might become one of the chosen volumes for the library’s One Book New Canaan program. Used on Amazon, the King book sells for around $48 a copy so it might need re-publishing, which could help the Historical Society. It could also generate further knowledge and interest in the town’s history generally which is really much more fascinating than another novel about a small town.

After all who would have guessed that the town did not even start recording its births, marriages, deaths and land transactions until over 50 years after its 1801 incorporation, or that it was, at one time, famous for its wild horses which were rounded up and driven overland to ports as far away as Rhode Island to be shipped to the West Indies, or that striking, protesting New Canaan workers of the Cordwainers’ Protective Union once noisily marched down Church Hill onto Main Street, holding the leather hides and the tools of their trade on-high demanding higher wages, or that the town’s first selectman was once a very left-wing Locofoco Democrat, and because the town could not give a majority to any one candidate for the state legislature, it went unrepresented at all in Hartford for four years, or that, way back in history, people started printing currency for themselves in their own homes until they were reported and then … ?

You really need to read the book.

Maybe some of the schools might like to re-enact some of the events in our history. This is just an idea.

Keith Simpson

5 thoughts on “Letter: Making ‘Portrait of New Canaan’ a Town-Wide Reading Project

  1. Thank you, Keith, for your terrific ideas! Jim Bach’s talks are always wonderful – educational and insightful – and Mary Louise King’s book is fascinating. A series at the library is a great idea! Re-enactors might be able to provide and even more tangible experience of some of the more “dramatic” aspects of our history.

  2. This book is a fabulous look at how the town used to be. It should be handed out to every new family moving to town to give them some perspective on the town they chose to move to. Having high school students read it would be worth while, as well.
    Great book and resource.

  3. This is fascinating Keith. I like your suggestions. I learn from Jim Bach each time he speaks. I was privileged to take Mary Louis King’s course on the History of New Canaan, in which I learned that when the railroad came to shoe-manufacturing New Canaan in 1868, replacing the Norwalk-to-New York packet, the first timetable was one hour and twelve minutes to traverse the 41 miles from New Canaan to Manhattan, and today it takes and hour and twenty minutes. The Shanghai maglev train goes 25 miles from downtown to the airport in twelve minutes.

  4. What a wonderful idea to bring the town together to learn about our root similarity – our beautiful home! I have the book myself, and it would be wonderful if more members of the community were able to share in our interesting history. Maybe it would make one stop and think for a moment as they look at an older home or a plot of undeveloped and therefore sacred preserved land. Something to think about as time moves forward and our communities evolve… the history of our town as made it what it is today – let’s keep preserving that patina.

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