Society History

In March of 1970, a letter was sent to Chester residents announcing the proposed formation of a Chester Historical Society. The letter was the result of months of discussion among a group of residents brought together by then First Selectman Robert Blair. Blair, Edward Hull, and Robbie Collomore were the leaders of an informal committee made up of Harry and Gwendolen Orton-Jones, Donald Zito, Charles and Eleanor Haywood, Jesse Lanzi, Barbara and Edmund Delaney, Howard Crook, and Betty Killam. The letter stated the mission of the Society: to promote a general interest in the history of the Town of Chester, the early Connecticut Valley, and the state, and to collect and preserve historical artifacts related thereto.

The response was immediate and enthusiastic. The Chester Historical Society was incorporated on April 24, 1970, and officers and a Board of Trustees was put in place with Barbara S. Delaney as president and Charles Hayward as vice president. The historian was the eminent author, Charles McKew Parr. The first Annual Meeting was held at the Old Town Hall (Chester Meeting House) in May with a capacity audience that included 100 charter members.

The new Chester Historical Society immediately got to work, preserving Chester history.

Major Accomplishments

1971: Provided text for marker at former Chester Bank building (now 6 Main restaurant).

1972-73: Restored the 1793-95 Old Town Hall, now known as the Chester Meeting House.

1972-89: Assisted in the listing of the Old Town Hall (Meeting House) in the National Register of Historic Sites. Also assisted in later listings of the Jonathan Warner House (47 King’s Highway), the Dr. Ambrose Pratt House (Pratt Street), and the Villa Bella Vista (7 Old Depot Road). Also prepared listings for the Connecticut Register of Historic Sites of the United Church of Chester, St. Joseph’s Church, and the Pomeroy Watrous House (5 Gorham Road).

1974: Established the Robbie Collomore Concert Series.

1976: Sponsored the Chester Bicentennial Commission, which planned Chester’s participation in the nation’s Bicentennial with a Fourth of July parade; publication of Today’s the Day, an account of Chester’s early Italian families; and provided text for state markers at the Meeting House and the Chester Ferry.

1979: Sponsored, with the Rotary Club of Chester, the building of the Gazebo on the Meeting House Green, designed by Thomas Norton.

1983-85: Organized and sponsored the building of the addition of the Burton Cornwall Wing, designed by Thomas Norton, onto the Chester Meeting House.

1993: Began program with the Chester Elementary School third grade in studying Chester history.

1994-95: Participated in the Meeting House Renovation Committee chaired by Jack Conant to provide handicap access and plan terraces, landscaping, and parking lot. Thomas Norton designed the interior changes.

1995: Sponsored the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the completion of the Meeting House with invited guests from Chester, England, led by the Lord Mayor. The ties established with Chester, England, continued in the Chester International Links Association.

2000-01: Assured preservation of the last factory on the South Pattaconk Brook by buying the 1870s C.L. Griswold Shop and beginning its restoration as a future site for the Society’s offices and museum space for exhibiting the Society’s collections.

2010: Opened the Chester Museum at The Mill in the former C.L. Griswold Shop, with two of the Society’s founders – Barbara Delaney and Robert Blair – on hand to cut the ribbon.

2011:  Received state and national recognition for our opening exhibit, Steams of Change: Life & Industry Along the Pattaconk—Award of Merit for Exhibits (Connecticut League of Historical Organizations) and Leadership in History Award of Merit for Exhibits (American Association of State and Local Histories).