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The ABCs Of Newtown: H Is For (Mary) Hawley, Part Two



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“The ABCs of Newtown” is a series tying each letter of the alphabet to something in Newtown. This week we continue to look at the woman whose foresight for her hometown a century ago changed it in a very positive way, especially within The Borough.

Mary Elizabeth Hawley has been celebrated as The Benefactress of Newtown for just over a century. Her gifts to town began before her death in May 1930, and her generosity continues to help this town’s residents learn, gather, and honor the dead through the creation of a free public library, the town’s first building to house all municipal offices, and an expanded cemetery, among other offerings.

Her example of honoring ancestors through the naming of important locations in their memory is a constant reminder of the honor brought by respecting our ancestors. The many locations in Newtown that feature the name Hawley were done to honor others, not the woman who paid for them.

As covered last week, Mary and her family — parents Sarah and Marcus, and brother William — moved to Newtown when she was 15. Mary was the only child of her parents to live to adulthood.

She had one known romance, in her late 20s. By the age of 30 she was again essentially single (she did not file for divorce until 1900, but her marriage was considered finished when she returned to Newtown from her honeymoon without her husband), still in the family home at 19 Main Street, and living what appears to have been a pretty sequestered life.

There does not seem to be journals or diaries from Mary that offer a look at her likes and dislikes, daily life, activities and social engagements.

Her father died in 1899, when Mary was in her early 40s; her mother died in 1920, when Mary was 63 years old.

There has been speculation over the years that Mary’s life was so private because her mother — again, a woman who had already buried three children — kept her very close and protected.

Following the death of her mother, however, Mary emerged a little from the shell that had protected her. She also began bestowing the gifts that literally changed the landscape of the center of town.

Her first major gift was to finance the construction of a joint elementary-high/consolidated school after Newtown Academy burned down in 1920. Mary financed the construction of The Hawley School — named to honor her parents — paid for the heating coal, and made sure through deed that provisions were in place to have the school buildings and grounds maintained.

The new school building opened in 1922. It was state of the art at the time. It was also fireproof.

One of Mary’s best friends was Arthur T. Nettleton. The president and treasurer of Newtown Savings Bank, Nettleton was also Mary’s financial advisor.

The majority of the Hawley family fortune was invested in The Travelers Bank and Trust Company in Hartford. This, therefore, allowed Nettleton to advise his friend on managing her funds without accusations of conflict of interest.

A Benefactress Emerges

The next decade marked the start of Mary Hawley’s philanthropy that residents today still benefit from.

Having inherited Ram Pasture from her mother’s side of the family, Mary began to focus on that and the neighboring Newtown Village Cemetery.

Following the advice of her trusted friend, Mary in 1924 donated a tract of land to the cemetery, extending the cemetery grounds to the west.

She later funded preservation of the oldest section of the cemetery, financed the front entrance gates off Elm Drive, financed The Hawley Memorial Vault, financed “solid roadways” within the grounds, and saw to the construction of a bridge connecting Main Street to the cemetery.

In 1928, her funding created a small lake, Hawley Pond, to the east of the cemetery.

After her death, her obituary called Newtown Village Cemetery “one of the most beautiful God’s acres in Connecticut” and said “the entire cemetery is like one great park,” in large part due to Mary’s efforts.

Also in 1928, honoring her great-grandfather, Judge William Edmond, Mary funded the construction of Edmond Town Hall at 45 Main Street. She laid the cornerstone of that building on May 1, 1929.

Prior to the construction of Edmond Town Hall, the late Town Historian Dan Cruson told The Newtown Bee 15 years ago, “Newtown’s existing town hall was just that, a hall … a large auditorium. In addition, Newtown had a meeting place, and other facilities, but no continuity.”

“Offices were scattered,” he continued. The town clerk’s office and probate court were at 30 Main Street, the narrow building now referred to as The Scudder Building. Miss Hawley’s foresight put the municipal offices, meeting rooms and court room, and even a US Post Office together, under one roof.

It was Mary who also insisted on the movie theater within the new town hall — one that may have been the first in the area fitted for sound films, Cruson also noted.

The stage within the theater, the full gymnasium, the meeting rooms, and the banquet hall with kitchen were all Mary’s intentions.

(Read more here: Edmond Town Hall Featured In First Of New 'Get To Know' Series)

A Peaceful Death

Mary Hawley died on May 11, 1930, before the town hall was completed. She was 90 years old.

The Newtown Bee reported she “passed peacefully away on Sunday evening around 8.05 o’clock” after suffering for two months from arteriosclerosis.

She had “won the affectionate regard of her home folks, and a state-wide reputation” in her life, the paper reported.

Flags were lowered for the next three days, and all businesses in town closed on Wednesday, May 14, the day of her funeral, which was conducted from her home. The service was conducted by Rev Dr Richmond Gesner, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, and the Rev Paul A. Cullens, pastor of the Congregational church.

According to The Bee, “The house and verandas were crowded while many were accommodated with seats outside. The town officials met at the Brick building and walked in a body to the house.” State police handled traffic duty around the home.

The bell in Edmond Town Hall’s cupola tolled for the first time as the funeral cortege wended its way from the Hawley home to Village Cemetery.

“Its sweet tones lent a pathos to the occasion,” the paper noted. “As the funeral procession approached the Village cemetery gates, Boy Scouts stood at attention, as the cortege passed by.”

Surprises In The Will

Newtown learned of dozens of gifts and bequests left by the woman known as “Newtown’s Benefactress” when her will was published on the front page — taking up nearly half the page — of The Newtown Bee two weeks later. With no preamble, readers who picked up the May 30, 1930 issue of the local newspaper read exactly what Mary Hawley wanted done with her estate.

They learned that each of her 13 cousins received $25,000 each, “to be theirs absolutely.”

Other family members received gifts of $2,000-$5,000 (all were originally scheduled to receive $5,000, but an addendum filed in October 1929 dropped the gift for two people down to the lower level).

Employees were gifted $1,000 to $5,000 each. Employee Patrick Gannon had been left $10,000 when Mary first filed her will in August 1925, but Gannon died before Hawley, so her update revoked that gift. The update also added gifts of $1,000 each to three additional employees.

The Town of Newtown had already been given $200,000 for the construction of Edmond Town Hall. The will left another $100,000 to establish The William Edmond Fund, for care and upkeep of the grounds and premises.

Mary provided $200,000 for the construction of a public library, to be named after her maternal grandfather, Cyrenius, and to house her “antique furniture, furnishings and family portraits.” Another $250,000 established a permanent fund, The Cyrenius H. Booth Fund, for building maintenance, upkeep, support, etc.

She left $25,000 to the Town for the erection and completion of a Soldiers’ Monument “to perpetuate the memory of soldiers and sailors in the Revolutionary, Civil War and the World’s War.”

Mary’s will left $35,000 in trust to Newtown Village Cemetery Association, to care for the memorial vault and gateways, and “the old part” of the cemetery.

Additional gifts created permanent funds, trusts or endowments that benefited the First Ecclesiastical Society of Newtown, Danbury and Bridgeport hospitals, a trust for Arthur Nettleton, and eight additional organizations dear to her.

“The rest, residue and remainder” of her estate went to Yale University, establishing The Mary E. Hawley Fund, for general uses and purposes of the university.

Mary Hawley’s estate was valued at $5,744,208.46 when it was filed by her executors. She owned millions of dollars in bonds, real estate, stocks (railroad, bank, industrial and miscellaneous), and personal property. She died with $10,000 cash on hand and in banks.

It was, The Newtown Bee reported, “one of the largest estates administered in Probate Courts in Connecticut in many years.”

The estate would be worth over $93 million in 2022.

Did You Know…

*Her family nickname was “Mame.”

*Red gladioli were reportedly her favorite flowers.

It is for this reason that the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers places a bouquet of the perennials in front of her portrait in The Mary Hawley Memorial Room and each year on August 22.

*Mary Hawley was honored posthumously in 2005, when The Labor Day Parade Committee named her that year’s Parade Grand Marshal.

*Edmond Road was named to honor Mary Hawley’s great-grandfather, the same judge for whom Edmond Town Hall was named.

*Hawley Lane was named to honor Mary Hawley.

*Old Hawleyville Road is not named for the town’s benefactress nor her ancestors. That road is instead named for another branch of Hawleys — the descendants of Benjamin Hawley — who populated the northwestern part of Newtown, according to an August 2008 Newtown Bee feature.

*Ditto the area known as Hawleyville. Benjamin Hawley Jr is credited with the name for the northwestern section of town, Dan Cruson told The Newtown Bee for that same feature referenced above. Hawley Jr sold “a substantial amount of land to the railroad as a right of way — with the provision that the stop would be called Hawleyville Station,” Cruson said.


Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

The second of a two-part installment in "The ABCs of Newtown" concludes a look at the life and legacy of Mary Elizabeth Hawley.
Sandra Wakeen created this portrait of Mary Hawley in 2005 as part of a Newtown Tercentennial project. Wakeen was one of 13 members of The Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists who participated in “Faces of Newtown,” creating a series honoring Newtown citizens of distinction.
One of Mary Hawley's early gifts to town was the construction of a bridge connecting Main Street to Newtown Village Cemetery. The bridge and its road were posthumously named to honor Hawley. —Bee file photo
Mary Hawley is buried, as are her parents and brothers, near the top of the hill of Newtown Village Cemetery. The Hawley Memorial, one of her enduring gifts to the town, is near the base of the hill. The memorial is the large building within the stand of pine trees. —Bee Photo, Hicks
A view of the beautiful stained glass art on the western wall of The Hawley Memorial, as viewed recently through the memorial's entry at sunset. —Bee Photo, Hicks
Mary Hawley's final public appearance was on May 1, 1929, when she laid the cornerstone for Edmond Town Hall. —Bee file photo
With the construction of Edmond Town Hall, Newtown for the first time had all of its municipal offices — along with a movie theater, full gymnasium, meeting rooms, a banquet hall, and even the US Post Office — under one roof. —Bee file photo
The Mary Hawley Room within Edmond Town Hall, viewed from its entrance off the building's lobby. The portraits on the far wall depict her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Payne Edmond, and great-grandfather, Judge William Edmond. Between the portraits is a massive plaque by Tiffany & Co. Mary Hawley's portrait, "a token of appreciation from the citizens of Newtown," unveiled one year after her death, is on the right. —Bee file photo
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