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Historical Society Planning November Open House, 'American Brass' Program



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The Matthew Curtiss House, home of Newtown Historical Society, is one of the oldest buildings on Main Street. Located at 44 Main Street, it was constructed about 1750, and purchased by Matthew Curtiss in 1781; Curtiss continued to live there until his death in 1824.

He is sometimes called Junior, in deference to his father, the first of the family to live in Newtown, though the elder apparently lived in the Berkshire section of town.

But the Curtiss House is not just an old building. Maintained by the historical society as a house museum, the society's collections on display are intended to represent the house throughout its life, not just the period of Curtiss ownership. Thus, the artifacts range from a tall case clock made in Newtown in the 1780s by Ebenezer Smith, to a 19th Century weathervane that swung round the barn of Scrabble developer James Brunot in the 20th Century, to 20th Century graphics and needlework.

All the items in the house reflect either a direct Newtown connection or are examples of things that might well have been used in the town, whether for work, play, or to celebrate an occasion.

The historical society will offer a chance to view these treasures in their context within The Matthew Curtiss House on Sunday, November 13, conducting an open house at the historic building from noon until 4 pm. Costumed docents will be available to lead tours, or guests will be free to walk through the house on their own.

A demonstration of reed wreath ornament weaving, in which all visitors will be invited to participate, will also be taking place on Sunday. The demonstration will be led by Melissa Houston and Mairin Hayes. A donation of $2 is requested to cover materials.

Newtown Historical Society is an entirely volunteer organization, and volunteer staffing limits the society to one open house per month during the spring and fall. The tree lighting holiday tour in December (date TBA) will be the final open house event of the year.

November 14: American Brass History

Meanwhile, the historical society will continue to present its monthly programs at C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street.

The next one, "The Rise and Fall of the American Brass Industry," will be offered Monday, November 17. It will begin at 7:30 pm and will be in the library's meeting room.

The program will be presented by Emery Roth II, author of Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry.

Mr Roth's program will begin in 1802, when two metal working families combined their efforts to produce brass. Demand for brass buttons for the uniforms of the War of 1812 ensured the success of the nascent industry. As the age of steam, and later electricity, arrived in America brass parts became more and more in demand.

Wooden works clockmakers were happy to convert to brass gears, and the great tradition of American clockmaking was established.

The rise of factory employment created a middle class willing and anxious to purchase such marks of status as a new Waterbury clock for their parlors.

Along with the wealth of the brass industry came culture. The brass barons were happy to create libraries, opera houses, and other cultural institutions for their communities, and the rising middle class was just as happy to make use of the cultural opportunities.

While Victorian America gave rise to a feeling of optimism thanks to art and architecture to books and performances, few people cared (or understood) much about belching smoke stacks and rivers that changed colors and were flammable.

Emery "Ted" Roth has been a photographer since childhood, and his evocative images capture the bygone era. After studying design and literature at Carnegie Mellon, he became a teacher in Connecticut's "Northwest Hills," retiring after 40 years.

Mr Roth became fascinated with the old mill towns of the Naugatuck Valley and their history, and followed their tracks through the old ruins, with camera and pencil in hand. His book will be available for purchase and signing at the program.

Newtown Historical Society programs are free and open to the public. Refreshments are served following the presentations.

For further information about either of these programs, or the historical society itself, call 203-426-5937 or visit newtownhistory.org.

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