Memorial Dedicated For Late Dan Cruson Who Helped Others Get ‘Inspired By Newtown’s History’
A red oak tree and a plaque are now situated near The Little Red Schoolhouse on Middle Gate Elementary School’s grounds to honor late Town Historian Dan Cruson.
“Dan did a lot with the historical society, so as a board this was a great way to honor his memory,” said Newtown Historical Society President Melissa Houston during a September 25 ceremony.
Houston welcomed all in attendance at an event to honor Cruson. A tent was set up near The Little Red Schoolhouse to view the tree and plaque, and both Houston and Cruson’s son Ben Cruson spoke to the gathered group of friends, family, and others Cruson’s life and work touched.
After the dedication event, The Little Red Schoolhouse was open for people to tour, and inside some of Cruson’s published books were available.
Cruson, Houston observed, was “a prolific writer of Newtown history as well as a teacher.”
So she found dedicating a newly planted tree near the historical schoolhouse fitting. The building is owned and maintained by Newtown Historical Society and was built in 1850, according to the society.
Cruson passed away in February of 2021.
As previously reported in The Newtown Bee, Cruson was a member of Newtown Historical Society for nearly 50 years, and served as a president and board member. Cruson authored numerous books about Newtown and Connecticut history, and conducted several archaeological digs at Putnam Park in Bethel.
He was active with the Heritage Preservation Trust of Newtown, Society of American Archaeology, and the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, for which he also served as president. In 2005, he was chair of the Newtown Tercentennial Commission.
When he spoke, Newtown Historical Society member Ben Cruson — who along with his brothers Thomas Cruson and Dan Cruson attended the event — said the dedication reminded him of a quote: “That a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never rest.”
His father was not an old man when he started his career though. Ben Cruson said his father started teaching history right after college. He later moved to Newtown in the 1970s, and was involved in town and local history work in Newtown, Redding, and Easton, where he grew up.
History was “a huge passion of his,” Ben Cruson reflected.
“He loved history, and just his energy made everyone around him get interested in it,” Ben Cruson said.
Planting a tree in honor of his father seems fitting to Ben Cruson.
“Because he passed on that love,” Ben Cruson continued. “He had many students that went into historical careers because of him. Others who didn’t choose those types of careers would choose to study history as a hobby. And obviously in town ... he was good at uncovering the little tiny stories that people had completely forgotten about. And he always wrote them down so that record would be there.”
Cruson kept records and notes, and he shared his knowledge of history with others. And it spread.
“I think it is appropriate that we are planting a tree because he planted trees for us that we get to enjoy the shade of,” Ben Cruson said, standing in front of the tree, plaque, and a portrait of his father on display for the event.
Houston said many people helped make the tree and plaque dedication possible. The plaque placed at the base of the tree reads, “This Red Oak is planted in memory of Daniel John Cruson III, Newtown’s First Official Historian. To honor his extraordinary contributions to our community as historian, author, and teacher for over 50 years. Dedicated September 2022.”
To Houston, history is made up of large and small things, such as the impact of the Revolutionary War on Newtown, annual local events like the Newtown Labor Day Parade, and all the individuals who live in a town.
“One of the things I think Dan was great at doing was uncovering all those little bits and pieces of Newtown’s history that make us what we are,” said Houston.
Cruson appreciated all stories, whether they were about buildings, people or businesses, Houston observed.
“He was really a great public historian,” said Houston.
Professionally, Houston said Cruson’s 40 years of teaching history was a gift.
“A good history teacher brings that passion to the classroom and inspires the next generation,” said Houston.
Not only did he inspire students, but Cruson was also willing and able to engage with everyone who would visit Newtown Historical Society events, Houston said, adding he helped others be “inspired by Newtown’s history.”
“Seeing him in action was always fun,” said Houston.
Middle Gate students attend history lessons at The Little Red Schoolhouse every year, Houston shared. Newtown Historical Society also hosts open house events at The Little Red Schoolhouse.
“And so Dan’s legacy continues,” said Houston, “with all the different history teachers who are here and all of us who act as public historians.”
Education Editor Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.