A Sign of the Times

The Historical Society of Easton’s expanded House Plaque Program.

When the Historical Society of Easton was formed during the summer of 1968, the initial mission was to find a parcel of land and then move the 1850’s Adams School House onto it. The schoolhouse had originally been rescued by the late Samuel Senior during the 1930’s and moved to his Tersana Farms estate on Sport Hill Road as a gift to his wife. Following his 1962 death, the farm was sold, and the schoolhouse went with it. When the property was sold a second time a few years later, the new owners decided to offer the aging schoolhouse to the town of Easton. When the town declined the offer, a group of concerned citizens got together and formed the Historical Society of Easton in a last-ditch effort to save the historical school and restore it.

The early enthusiasm shown by the residents of Easton quickly grew the Society towards 300 active members. There were still many descendants residing in town of the original English emigrants who had settled the Parish of North Fairfield over 200 years earlier. Both sharing and learning more about their family history fueled the early growth and success of the Society.

Beginning on November 10, 1971, a 12-person committee was formed to identify and record the historically significant buildings in Easton. Tracing structures back to their builders was no easy task. The hard evidence of buildings being present in most land records comes when parcels change hands and descriptions such as “dwelling house” or “barn” first appear. Since some Easton dwellings date back into the early 1700’s, that meant that teams of researchers needed to visit as many as three town halls – Easton, Weston, and Fairfield – in order to trace buildings back to their original builders.

It took approximately 2 years for the committee to identify and record their first 100 buildings of historical significance. In addition to the remaining surviving structures, they discovered that nearly 100 more were then nonextant. A great deal of the work was done by Society members Francis A. Mellen and Marshall Nye. Using both the 1856 Clark Map and the 1867 Beers Map, the duo was able to pinpoint the location of many of the town’s older buildings along with the names of the then current owners. Then using the decennial US Census reports, they were able to better identify the families and their lineage. Marshall Nye’s extensive mapping of Easton’s older cemeteries was also significant in the confirmation of birth and death dates as well as familial relationships. All of this was painstakingly slow and arduous work, as it all was done by hand without the aid of a computer and the internet.

Mr. Mellen kept a small notebook that included all of those original structures along with a complete list of past owners. Owners who were buried in Easton also have their birth and death dates included with the name of the cemetery where they are interred. Some buildings also have a short description regarding their history or that of some of their past owners or occupants.

The first official historic house plaques in Easton were introduced by the Historical Society of Easton back in 1973. They cost the homeowner $25 and were crafted by local students in their wood working shop as part of the industrial arts curriculum. Made from white pine, the signs bore the home’s original construction date and sometimes the name of its original occupant. They were rather Spartan in appearance but added a nice touch to many of the older homes in the community.

The original qualifying factor was simply the age of the structure – it generally needed to have been built prior to 1900 or located within the town’s Aspetuck Historic District.

As the Bicentennial was nearing in 1976, the Society had identified and recorded nearly 100 additional historical structures. Interest in historical house plaques was also growing as the 200th anniversary of the country’s founding was approaching. A decision was made to improve the quality of the Society’s house plaques by switching the material from pine to a longer lasting redwood. The 6-inch by 17-inch plaques were then cut and beveled by Cyril Dennis and painted and lettered by Sanford Burroughs. The plaques contained the name of the building’s original owner and the assumed build date, but usually little more.

With some of those original house plaques nearing 50-years in age, most are now worn, faded, or cracked. With that in mind, the Historical Society of Easton decided late last year to offer a new historic marker, not simply a replacement plaque, but one that won’t fade with age, and one that would allow the homeowner more freedom and variety with its descriptive options. Now offering up to 4-lines of text – including the date – the new plaque allows the homeowner to include the name of the property – such as Arcan Ridge- as well as the occupation of the home’s original, or in some cases, the most historically significant occupants. An added option is background artwork in a lighter shade of gray that can identify the original occupant’s occupation.

As we entered the year 2020, the Historical Society of Easton also decided to expand the number of qualifying houses to include a greater number of structures that were built after 1900. In 1995, the Society commissioned a historic and architectural resource survey of Easton that identified some 220 structures of historical significance. Any building on that list automatically qualifies for the issuance of an historical house plaque. But the Society also recognizes the fact that there are other, more modern, structures of historical significance within our borders. Houses that were home to cultural icons such as author Edna Ferber, stage and screen actors Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky, and many other people of various talents, also now qualify to receive a plaque bearing an official Historical Society of Easton seal.

Houses such as Treasure Hill built in 1939 by Author & Playwright Edna Ferber and also once the home of world renowned sculpture and artist Frederick Shrady are now eligible to receive house plaques authorized by the Historical Society of Easton

Bob Leonard of Ould Colony Artisans is now the supplier of the house plaques bearing the Society’s seal. Bob has been supplying many of New England’s historical societies, including nearby Ridgefield, with hand painted signs since 1987. His style is reflective of the work that 18th and 19th century craftsmen would have produced. The new plaques are 12×16 inches in size, made of MDO weatherproof signboard, finished with three coats of special sign painter’s oil-based primer and enamel topcoat. Holes are pre-drilled with screws provided.

Standard 3-Line historical house plaque available from the Historical Society of Easton

Space allows for up to 4 lines of text on white background with black letters – all hand painted. The minimum required donation to the Historical Society is $100 for 3 lines and $125 for 4. Hand painted artwork is available upon request. Bob is more than happy to supply homeowners with hand-drawn mockups for their approval before producing the plaque.

As plaque inquiries are received, the Society now reviews the history of the home and occasionally makes corrections to the information in our files. Newer homes not presently in the Society’s registry will be researched before they are approved for an officially endorsed plaque.

Hand-painted historic house plaque with artwork recently approved by the Historical Society of Easton for the stone house built in 1933 and owned by Easton benefactor and resident Judge John F. MacLane.

In our present Covid-19 world, the entire process of ordering, tendering donations, reviewing and approving artwork, and then receiving your plaque delivered via the USPS is completely touchless and safe.

Orders can be placed online, and donations tendered at the Society’s website: https://historicalsocietyofeastonct.org. Inquiries regarding house qualifications can be directed to: hsectresearch@gmail.com.

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