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Benedict Arnold biographer gives talk in traitor’s hometown

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And when it comes to tackling the subject of Benedict Arnold, the notorious son of Norwich whose name is synonymous with treason, there’s much to forgive.

On Sunday — Arnold’s 277th birthday — an upper room of the Otis Library was filled with visitors hoping to learn a little more about the Revolutionary War general who betrayed a fledgling nation — and more importantly to Lehman — his friends and neighbors.

Lehman, who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Bridgeport, spoke about the questions that led to his book, “Homegrown Terror: Benedict Arnold and the Burning of New London,” which chronicles the events leading to Arnold leading a force of British troops against Connecticut soldiers at Fort Griswold in Groton and the subsequent burning and destruction of New London.

“I tried to understand Arnold as both a hero and a traitor,” Lehman said. “One of the problems is the word traitor has been somewhat devalued as it’s used more and more in a political context. For me, Arnold’s greatest betrayal wasn’t to the army or the country — which was still an abstract concept then — but rather to his friends.”

Lehman, a Pennsylvania native who moved to Connecticut 20 years ago, said there can be a tendency in Norwich and surrounding areas to downplay the worst of Arnold’s acts.

“They wanted no part of that in the 1800s,” Lehman said. “In fact, when asked, people would say he was from Rhode Island.”

Many of the crowd members that gathered for the forum, collaboration between the library, the Norwich Historical Society and the Leffingwell House Museum, came with their own copies of Lehman’s 2015 book.

Mary-Ellen Gonci, of Hebron, said she began reading the biography as part of her own efforts to write a history of Hebron.

“It was wonderful and filled in a lot of blanks for me regarding the American Revolution,” she said. “I was struck when learning (Arnold) had an alcoholic father and wondered how much that had to do with how he turned out.”

Regan Miner, consultant for the Norwich Historical Society, said the fascination with Arnold is likely linked to his dual nature.

“He was a dynamic historical figure without just one side,” she said. “He was hero and traitor, husband and son.”

Lehman said many biographers finish their work with a more sympathetic leaning towards their subjects.

“I ended up not liking the guy very much,” he said. “This is a man who, while talking to the British about turning over West Point to them, was at the same time writing letters to those he was planning to betray, asking them to help him out.”

 

The Bulletin: NPU, Norwich Historical Society team up to restore Schoolhouse

By Ryan Blessing, rblessing@norwichbulletin.com, (860) 425-4205

At a glance : The Historical Society received $38,951 to perform stabilization work at the 1789 East District Schoolhouse. Work should be completed by October. The society plans to eventually use the space as an educational resource for students and the public.

NORWICH – A historic one-room schoolhouse in Norwichtown will get a new lease on life thanks to efforts by the Norwich Historical Society and funding from Norwich Public Utilities.

Representatives from both organizations met Thursday at the East District Schoolhouse on Washington Street to announce a $38,951 donation from NPU for help in restoring the brick and stone schoolhouse, which was built in 1789 but has been unused for 40 years. The Historical Society plans to eventually fully restore the building and recreate an authentic late 18th century schoolhouse interior and exhibit space. The goal, Historical Society President Bill Champagne said, is to use it as an educational resource for students and the public. Work will include stabilizing the exterior, removing mold, improving ventilation and restoring window frames and sashes. The work is set to start in March and be completed by October.

“Obviously there’s mold in here, the windows and frames are rotting, there’s structural issues,” Champagne said. The society will work with a historic architect to perform the work.

“Everything we do we want to do carefully and historically accurately,” he said.

The NPU funding comes from the state’s Neighborhood Assistance Act, a tax credit program that allows organizations to make contributions to eligible nonprofit agencies in lieu of paying a portion of their state tax bill. NPU’s 2016 state tax bill totaled $2.35 million.

“We applied and were approved, and are delighted to work with the Historical Society to bring this treasure back to life,” NPU spokesman Chris Riley said. “This is a terrific building with a really interesting history.”

The building will need work beyond what the funding covers, but there’s enough money from NPU to stabilize it, Champagne said.

“The Neighborhood Assistance Program is a tax credit program, so it’s not costing NPU anything, it’s not costing ratepayers anything. It is putting money toward a project such as this in lieu of taxes they would have been paying anyway,” he said.

The schoolhouse was used to teach spelling, geography and math to boys and girls, a progressive approach for the time. Its most notable student was Lydia Huntley Sigourney, a renowned poet and popular writer in the 19th century.

“She was a great writer in the 19th century,” Champagne said. “Sigourney Street in Hartford is named after the family.”

The last major work done on the schoolhouse was in 1970 when a historical museum was planned but didn’t materialize, according to Champagne. When he lived down the street about 25 years ago, Champagne, his wife Patrice and neighbors Art and Ann Lathrop did some repairs to the windows, he said.

The Historical Society has benefited from the Neighborhood Tax Assistance Credit Program in the past. In 2016, the society and Leffingwell House Museum each received $8,852 from Jewett City Savings Bank. The society used the funds to restore the windows of the Dr. Daniel Lathrop Schoolhouse and to install a heating, cooling and ventilation system. Leffingwell Museum used the funds for interior storm windows and other energy upgrades.

NPU and the society partnered in 2015 to upgrade lighting at the Lathrop Schoolhouse for the Norwich Heritage and Regional Visitors Center. NPU also did an energy audit for the Leffingwell House in 2014.

Historical Society consultant Regan Miner will be the project manager for the East District Schoolhouse work. Miner also managed the work on the Lathrop Schoolhouse.

 

Brendan Cox: Norwich walks help make history a draw

Years ago, when The Bulletin had a staff of lowly copy editors and I was one of them, my car died a swift, lemony death and I took to walking from my apartment on the far end of Greeneville to our Franklin Street office. It made me feel for all those workers for whom walking is not a fallback but a daily norm. I recall almost being run down by erratic drivers, accosted by tenuously restrained dogs and heavily rained on, sans umbrella.

There is a (much) better way to walk Norwich, though, and its creators and supporters marked the season opening last week — and noted plans for future expansion.

The Walk Norwich launch celebration, along with the season opening of the Norwich Heritage & Regional Visitors’ Center, attracted a who’s who of greater Norwich personalities and playmakers to celebrate the Norwich Historical Society and how it “ensures the highlights of Norwich’s historical assets are accessible,” Mayor Deb Hinchey said.

Norwich opens walking trails to tout city’s history

NORWICH — A visit by Benedict Arnold and performances by the Unity of Nations Mohegan Tribe Drummers on Wednesday helped the Norwich Historical Society launch two walking trails that will highlight the city’s historic past.

The society celebrated the opening of the Uncas Leap Trail and the Benedict Arnold Trail, both part of a larger trail system called Walk Norwich.

The Uncas Leap Trail features the Mohegan Tribe’s history in southeastern Connecticut and showcases sacred sites. The Benedict Arnold Trail explores Norwich during colonial times and the Revolutionary War.

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