Musing On Our Historian’s Musings
The April-June 2019 edition of The Rooster’s Crow, the official newsletter of the Newtown Historical Society, contains an essay by Town Historian Dan Cruson, “Losing Newtown’s Past: Musings of an Aging Town Historian.” In it, Mr Cruson, who is one of this community’s foremost authorities on the history of our five boroughs, laments the loss of history as progress razes once familiar vistas.
He notes the loss of wooded areas along well-traveled roads, the buildings that have been obliterated in the rush for development, and thoughtlessly handled renovations that sanitize the exteriors and interiors of structures hundreds of years old. Development that is zoned as keeping in character with Newtown leaves Mr Cruson — and others — wondering what character, exactly, is being preserved?
We like to think of Newtown as a quaint, Colonial town. Main Street has managed to maintain that quality in residences and businesses (such as Dere Street Restaurant, purposely renovated to reflect its origins, and The Dana-Holcombe House) along the street from Currituck Road to the junction of Route 302. (Even the shuttered Inn at Newtown, once the elegant dwelling of town benefactress Mary Hawley and until recently a popular dining destination overlooking the bustling thoroughfare, is a vintage building. It has looked out on the street, though, through empty eyes since closing in 2016.)
While new buildings have a rural influence in facades, oversized structures and a few peaked rooflines are not a robust reflection of the architecture on which we pride ourselves.
Mr Cruson recognizes that there are unsalvageable structures; but acknowledging a property’s past and granting history buffs an opportunity to record even shabby remains safeguards our communal history. Preserving properties in a respectful manner adds value to the town and enlightens future generations. That Asylum Brewing has opted to take on the monumental task of refurbishing one of Fairfield Hills’ deteriorated buildings is commendable, and future developers might look to it when considering upgrading buildings of historical consequence.
Each year, groups of schoolchildren traipse through the office of The Newtown Bee on tours. Our business is one of several in the historic district visited by youngsters; their sudden connection to the past is palpable. Will future scholars have only photographs — no low doorways to duck beneath or hand-hewn beams to admire?
There is great history found within the walls of homes, barns, and businesses from Newtown’s earliest days. To live in a historic town in one of our country’s oldest regions is a privilege. The gradual disappearance of all that makes us quintessentially New England is not a proper vision for the future.
We are guardians of our town’s history. Opportunities abound for addressing changes before what we took for granted has been bid farewell.
As Mr Cruson writes in his essay, “You may not save your favorite building or landscape, but if developers are aware that their actions will bring resistance, they will pause before forcing their will on those of us who cherish the unique historical qualities of our town.”