Annual Meeting

Norwich Historical Society Annual Meeting 2023

Discover the Legacy of James Lindsey Smith

Monday March 27, 2023 5:30pm Castle Church

Please join Shiela Hayes, former Norwich Branch NAACP President, Sandra Soucy, retired Social Studies teacher from the Norwich Free Academy and Norwich Historical Society Board Member, and Adam Bowles, Lead Pastor at Castle Church as they take a deep dive into James Lindsey Smith’s life and explore the multi-faceted nature of his story of slavery, racial issues, education, political history, and religion. Our talk will highlight key points in Smith’s life, explore how modern research helps us attach a sense of place to his story, and how Castle Church is using Smith’s legacy to transform a blighted courtyard into a beautiful community space that celebrates resilience. This feature presentation will be preceded by a brief Norwich Historical Society business meeting.

Born on a Virginia plantation, Smith escaped slavery in 1838 with the help of Norwich’s David Ruggles, a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad in New York City. Smith came to Norwich, bought a house on School Street in 1845 and worked downtown as a shoemaker. Smith is a powerful and inspirational example of how an escaped slave traveled north for his freedom and how settling in Norwich, Connecticut changed his life. His 1881 autobiography remains an important first hand account of the era.

Social time: 5:30pm-6:00pm, light refreshments will be provided. 

Business Meeting and Presentations begin at 6:00pm 

A suggested donation is welcome to support Castle Church and the Norwich Historical Society.

Parking: Main Street Parking Garage

Past Annual Meetings

March 28, 2022 (virtual)- Our featured program was: “James L. Smith, Norwich, and the Underground Railroad in Connecticut: The Ties that Bind.” This presentation was given by Dr. Stacey Close and focuses on the perilous journey of James L. Smith journey from enslavement to freedom in the North. His journey ties him to the national and state freedom struggle that served to transform the lives of people both in the South and North. The saving grace for many fugitives was the “ties that bind.” Link to Video: HERE.

March 21, 2021 (virtual) – The Annual Meeting featured our Executive Director, Regan Miner, giving a presentation of all the past year’s accomplishments and building restoration projects. Link to Video: HERE.

Cancelled: 2020 NHS Annual Meeting & Volunteer Appreciation Reception March 23, 2020 6:30pm Otis Library Community Room. Local author, Tricia Staley, gave her short lecture on the Taftville strike of 1875.

March 25, 2019 (in person) – The 2019 Annual Meeting  featured two speakers discussing themes related to the recently completed Norwich Freedom Trail. Norwich resident, Lottie B. Scott, talked about her new book Deep South Deep North: A Family’s Journey. Additionally, Central Connecticut State University Professor, Dr. Robert Wolff, spoke on exploring the makings of American memory, from “bricks and mortar” sites like museums and historic plantations, to digital spaces like Wikipedia. Dr. Wolff’s research and teaching interests lie primarily in the areas of slavery and abolition in the Americas. Copies of Lottie Scott’s book will be available for sale and signing. There will be light refreshments and this program is free and open to the public. The Annual Meeting was held in the Story Room near the children’s area at Otis Library.

March 26, 2018 (in person) –  Taftville Fire Chief, Tim Jencks, intertwined the history of the area with his own personal experiences growing up in Taftville. Additionally, we premiered the documentary NHS created on the history of Taftville and the Ponemah Mills for our members. Special thanks to former NHS Secretary, Dianne Brown, and the Browning family for their contribution and help on this project. Following the documentary, there was a special guided tour of the immaculately restored Ponemah Mills while hearing plans for Phase 2.

2017 (in person) – Our 2017 Annual Meeting departed from our traditional style of program and featured three speakers discussing the influence of mental health on Norwich’s history. Faith Trumbull was related to some remarkable historical figures: her father, Jonathan Trumbull, was Connecticut’s Revolutionary War Governor, her husband, Jedediah Huntington, was a prominent General in the Revolutionary War and her brother, John Trumbull, depicted famous scenes from the Revolutionary War in his paintings. Faith was an artist and produced a number of exquisite needlework, yet she experienced severe bouts of depression which sadly caused her to take her own life. Dr. Pamela Hall gave a brief history of Faith’s tragic story while deconstructing the stigma of suicide then and now. Further, Dr. Hall broadly explored how people in the eighteenth century experiencing depression and bipolar disorder managed their symptoms. Dr.  Hall is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and has a deep interest in colonial history.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a pronounced feminist, social reformist and author. Her most famous work is her semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis. Madelyn Bell is a Junior at the Norwich Free Academy and she interned at the Norwich Heritage & Regional Visitors’ Center during the summer of 2016. During her internship, Madelyn wrote an article about notable women such as Lydia Huntley Sigourney and Charlotte Perkins Gilman who lived in the Lathrop Manor. Madelyn presented her research on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The Norwich State Hospital opened in 1904 and remained in operation until 1996. The Hospital was a mental health facility initially created for the “mentally ill and the criminally insane”, but also housed geriatric and tuberculosis patients.  Bob Farwell, the Executive Director of Otis Library, gave a brief history of the Norwich State Hospital and provide an overview of Connecticut’s involvement in eugenics at the turn of the 20th century.

2016 (in person) – The 2016 program featured Damien Cregeau, who is an independent historian, public speaker and narrator who earned his bachelor’s in history from Hillsdale College and his master’s in history from Colorado State University. Mr. Cregeau is a native of Connecticut, taught history at prepatory schools for several years, and has spoken on various topics related to colonial America and the Revolutionary War since 2007 throughout the northeast. His most popular talks are about spies in the Revolutionary War as well as the life a common foot soldier in that war. Part of the PowerPoint slideshow presentation included an analysis of patriot leaders from Norwich, including Col. John Durkee, Generals Jabez and Jedediah Huntington, Lt. Colonel Ebenezer Huntington, and the infamous patriot hero turned traitor, Benedict Arnold.

2015 (in person)- This program featured author Mark Allen Baker, a former business executive and entrepreneur. As the author of eighteen books—including the award-nominated Title Town USA: Boxing in Upstate New York, Basketball History in Syracuse: Hoops Roots and Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale—and a historian, his expertise has been referenced in numerous periodicals, including USA TODAY, Sports Illustrated and Money. Mr. Baker’s latest book, Connecticut Families of the Revolution, discusses the role men, women and families played during the Revolution. Mr. Baker explained the vital role of women during the Revolution and highlighted siblings who fought besides each other during the war. Mr. Baker gave the reader insight into what life was like for Connecticut families during the American Revolution.

2014 (in person) – Local author Tricia Staley discussed her book “Norwich in the Gilded Age: The Rose City’s Millionaires’ Triangle.” Stroll down Norwich’s most fashionable mile of millionaires’ mansions and mingle with the extraordinary people who lived and played behind their elegant façades during the glamorous Gilded Age. Wealthy manufacturers and merchants constructed magnificent mansions, many of which survive today, along this trendiest triangle in the glitzy Rose of New England. Tricia Staley has uncovered forgotten scandals like the Blackstone baby kidnapping and the bank cashiers who embezzled thousands of dollars from wealthy residents, as well as the drama of fortunes made and lost. Meet Tiffany’s founding partner John Young, rubber shoe manufacturing king William A. Buckingham, the Slaters, Greenes, Hubbards and more salacious, stylish titans of industry and extravagance.

2019 Annual Meeting

2018 Annual Meeting

2017 Annual Meeting

2016 Annual Meeting