The year 2020 will be memorable for many reasons. It will likely appear in history textbooks with a negative slant due to the outbreak of Covid-19. The town of Easton, however, was determined not to let anything dampen its spirits this year as it celebrated its 175th anniversary.
The Easton 175 Committee, who organized and planned the anniversary events, was the brainchild of Selectman Robert Lessler.
“I just took it upon myself to reach out to as many people as I could think of who had the skills, the interest, the creativity and the desire to help pull something together,” said Lessler.
Lessler originally invited about 25 people to the initial zoom meeting. Those people in turn reached out to people they knew, who would have the passion, ideas, and know-how to make such an undertaking possible in the midst of a historic pandemic.
“The project took on a life of its own as people wanted to do something to celebrate the town and to make this horrible, no good, terrible year a little better,” Lessler said. “This is what has made being a part of this project so special and has filled me with such pride in the people of this town.”
In June, a contest to create the logo for the 175th pre-empted the events with a design by Brooke Alexander Caprio being chosen as the winner. A logo by Hayden Goldstein won the kids’ submission contest, and Makeda Is Ra El Ali Bey’s logo took first place among young adult submissions.
“I love how the ‘theme’ of Easton depicted by today’s residents is very likely what residents would have felt 175 years ago … trees, water, farming, and community,” said Allison Taylor, who manages the Easton 175 website. “The only standout being the images of a tractor here and there, a modern advance that I’m sure would have been more than welcomed 175 years ago!”
The festivities kicked off in earnest on July 11 with a drive-in screening of ET at Samuel Staples Elementary School. The following month Easton Park and Recreation organized another drive-in event, a family trivia night at the school on Aug 14.
September featured the most ambitious and impressive event yet: a socially distanced town party hosted by the Ashler-Aspetuck Masonic Lodge No. 142, followed by a fireworks show presented by the Easton Volunteer Emergency Medical Service.
Easton First Selectman David Bindelglass called the fireworks show his favorite event. “They were just spectacular, and more importantly, the town pulled it off with everyone doing the right thing, staying in their cars, getting in and out safely, and everyone got to enjoy a great show.”
Health and safety were of course paramount during these events. The town party had rigorously enforced social distancing guidelines and mandatory masking, whereas the fireworks were yet another drive-in event.
The rest of the fall featured a virtual 5K/10K run, Halloween trivia, a historic tour of the Gilbertown Cemetery, and an Easton photography contest.
Easton’s 175th Anniversary featured more than just events, however. Nanette Dewester, a member of the Easton 175 Committee as well as the Easton Cemetery Committee, came up with the idea of doing oral histories of the town. Fellow Easton 175 Committee member Lynn Zaffino and the Easton Public Library organized the Oral History Project.
“I enthusiastically agreed to pursue the Oral History Project, as it was something that I had always had in the back of my mind to initiate,” said Zaffino. “I eventually handed off the day-to-day details to a committee of three staff members: Ryan Tice, Kevin Krug, and Debby Holland.”
The interviews were conducted primarily by local middle school and high school students, including Penny LaMastro, Iris LaMastro, Lincoln LaMastro, Abby Bonoff and Avery Young. Local radio host Dolly Curtis also conducted interviews for the project, which were edited by Sheila Weaver.
“I think it went well,” said Dewester. “I’m hoping we could expand the idea later to working with students who research the lives of those buried in town, like an Easton Our Town project.”
As a difficult year winds down, it is important to look back on the positives. The Easton 175th Anniversary celebration certainly was one of them. Easton is a special place and its residents came together to overcome challenging obstacles.
“The Easton 175 Committee exemplifies what makes this community so special,” Lessler said. “It is the story of people coming together with friends, acquaintances and people they did not know at all to create something bigger than any one person.”
The new year will not spell the end to the festivities. Easton’s 175th Anniversary celebration will continue through June 30, 2021, marking a full year since the logo contest began.
Dewester called Easton’s story one of resilience. “Easton spun out from a bad divorce from Weston— the town didn’t even get the name it wanted. But it grew over time and trial to the thriving, uniquely preserved pocket of natural resources, prosperous farms, and quiet evergreen beauty that’s an oasis in Fairfield County.”
That resilience is the true nature of Easton. That is why despite all the slings and arrows of the past year, Easton’s 175th Anniversary was one that will not be forgotten any time soon.