Local Histories

I moved to Connecticut from the Midwest about five years ago.  One of the first things that struck me as odd was that the town line signs here say the year the town was settled.  In the Midwest, the town line signs give the population.  For example, when driving into Milford, the green sign says, “Milford Settled in 1639” whereas the sign to my hometown says, “Byron Population 3,850

I feel like there is a much stronger dedication of the local history in New England, which I love, but perhaps this perceived dedication is due to simply being much older.  My home state, Illinois, hadn’t even been an official state for 10 years when the Young Men’s Institute Library was founded in 1826!  Not only are the towns of New England much older than where I grew up, I think the history is much richer.  I thank Connecticut born John W. Barber known as the first person to start collecting and recording these interesting local histories.

John Warner Barber, 1798 – 1885, is considered the first person to record local history.  In the 1820s Barber began traveling Connecticut to collect local histories and create ink sketches of town greens, hotels, schools, churches, and harbors, which he later turned into engravings.

This etching, which sits above the library’s fireplace, depicts Barber sketching the Connecticut countryside.  His book, Connecticut Historical Collections, published in 1856, sold over 7,000 copies within a year.

The library has this book – it sits on the table next to the card catalog.  The engravings are breathtakingly beautiful – my camera does not do them justice.

This engraving by John W. Barber is framed on the wall next to my desk at the library.  It is of the New Haven Post Office 1825 – 1835.

Barber holds more significance to the Institute Library besides being a great local historian.  He was head librarian of the library from 1864 – 1869.  This treasure’s report is from Barber’s second year as head librarian at the Institute Library.  His salary of $400 is equivalent of about $10,000 with inflation in 2010 – this does not count cost of living.