The Newtown Bee was founded in 1877 by John T. Pearce as a weekly newspaper serving a good deal of both Fairfield and Litchfield Counties. Much like the Courier that you are presently reading, it was never meant to be a primary source of national or even statewide news. It provided readers with news about local issues, but even more importantly, it offered personal news about the goings-on and the health and well-being of local residents.
It would be most doubtful that the dozens of local reporters supplying neighborhood news would have received any compensation. In fact, none of the local tidbits of information were even published under a byline. They were simply grouped by either town names or even neighborhoods, such as Plattsville, Sport Hill, the Narrows, and Aspetuck in Easton; West Redding, Lonetown, Diamond Hill, Little Boston, and Redding Ridge in Redding. Much like the present-day Courier, the Bee would have been supplied with much of its content by volunteers.
The first page of each edition was loaded with more advertisements than news. The average edition of the paper contained six pages. There were no regular editorials; in fact, perusing several 1892 issues provided no information beyond the name of editor of the paper. The cost of a subscription was $1.50 per year, or it could be purchased individually for four cents a copy. The 1892 circulation was approximately 2,500, not that large a number when one considers how many communities it served.
A good deal of the content of each edition was devoted to religious events, who visited whom during the past week, and who had broken a leg, suffered a heart condition, or contracted pneumonia. Weddings were covered in extreme detail, often listing every guest and what they gave the bride and groom for a wedding gift. If you were frugal in your giving, the entire community would know about it within the week! Train schedules were posted for all the railroads that passed through the two counties. A train ride from Bridgeport to Stepney took only 24 minutes.
Buy a new horse? It was in the Bee. Shoot a fox raiding your henhouse? It was in the Bee. Fill your ice house during the winter? Readers of the Bee knew what week and who cut the ice. Visit your aunt in Hoboken? Newsworthy enough to make it into the Bee on Friday.
This week, we’ll look at a few of the dozens of local tidbits published in the Bee in 1892. If you would like to immerse yourself in a sea of mostly useless, but definitely fascinating local trivia, there are a total of 1402 editions of the Bee published between 1877 and 1909 that are available online. Catalogued and digitized by the Library of Congress, they are available without a subscription under the heading of Chronicling America at: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051487/
News of Easton & Redding 1892 – as reported in the Newtown Bee:
These articles offer insight into what life was like in the late 1800’s as well as provide some humor in the manner which they were written. Each month of the year is represented here with a selected article about either Redding or Easton. Comments in italics are from this author. Enjoy!
January 15th, Redding: Russell Roswell, who has been an inmate of the poor houses in Easton and Redding for many years, died at the house of Eli Osborne last week and was buried by the town in the old cemetery near Samual B. Gorham’s. (Great Pasture Rd).
Mr. Osborne, who has kept the town’s poor for the past three years, turned over his charges to Charles Sanford last week. Mr. Sanford has been hired by the town to board them. There are only two: Blind Joe and Mike Kelly. “Blind Joe” shows up in several Redding Census reports, but never with a surname attached. Even town and state records that show payments to the proprietor of the poor house list him simply as Blind Joe.
February 26th. Easton: – News about the town: Samuel R. Wells expects to resume his peddling route as soon as his meat wagon returns with a fresh coat of paint.
Miss Eleanor Middlebrooks was lately fleeced out of $30 by two professional sneak thieves, pretending to perform an operation on her eyes. “Sneak Thieves?” What did they do, break into her house in the middle of the night and operate on her eyes and then present her with a bill?
Wakeman Bradley and Fred Prevo have returned from Canada and expect from 20 to 30 horses later. They report the snow there to be five and half feet deep on the level.
On Washington’s birthday, C.G. Blakeman killed a snake measuring 26 inches in length. Those mid-winter snow snakes can be pretty scary – especially when encountered in the out-house!
March 25th, Redding: About 7 AM on Tuesday, Edward Walton, a colored man, came to the house of Benjamin Godfrey in Lonetown and informed him that his brother, William Godfrey, was laying dead in the old Calvin Bartram house. Asking Lou Lyon to accompany him, Benjamin repaired to the place and found the body lying on the floor, exhibiting evidence of foul play. There were many bruises about the head and many things to show that there had been a struggle before death. It seems that Godfrey, Walton, and a dissolute woman, who formerly lived with Abraham Davis as his wife, all occupied the same quarters and that the two men had frequently fought over the woman. On the night before Godfrey’s death, Walton claims that they were all engaged in a drunken carousal and that Godrey was taken with a fit about 10 PM and received the bruises while threshing round the floor and that he himself received a black eye while trying to hold him. Dr. Smith was notified and after an examination, will notify the coroner if the facts of the case warrant a further investigation. Godfrey was a hard drinker.
Wednesday, the coroner made an investigation and ordered an autopsy, which was conducted by Drs. Smith and May in the afternoon. They found a bad fracture of the skull sufficient to cause death. All the organs of the body were in normal condition. Edward Walton was taken into custody by Officer Sanford at the direction of the coroner and lodged in the Danbury jail to await further developments. No further mention in future issues about how this turned out, but it would seem like Walton may have needed to come up with a more plausible story than Godfrey causing his own fatal injuries by “threshing himself round the floor.”
April 29th, Easton: On Thursday, April 14th, under the skillful mechanical supervision of Samuel W. Bennett, a frame for a sawmill was successfully raised for its owner, Wakeman B. Bradley. The location seems designed by nature for such a business, having been utilized years ago for the same purpose. Through the neglect of Sanford Wheeler, its former owner, it was allowed to decay and disappear. After the raising, the participants were cordially invited to the home of Mr. Bradley, where a generous collation awaited all who wished to partake.
May 20th, Redding: Doctors DeWolfe, Benedict, and May performed a surgical operation on April 29th on the back of Moses Platt’s head. Mister Platt is in a critical condition. Doctor DeWolfe, who was recently located in Danbury, was with Dr. Wilson of Bridgeport. His experience and courteous manner win him a host of friends who wish him success in his new field of labor. “New field of labor???” What was his previous field of endeavor? I think I might want my brain surgeon to be more than just a “courteous” chap. Hopefully, Moses survived!
June 17th, Redding: The gathering of the Sons of the American Revolution at Putnam Park Tuesday proved to be a complete fizzle, with only 30 being present when 300 were expected. Carry-alls and carriages enough to carry a small army were waiting in Bethel to convey the expected guests. Oops!
July 22nd, Easton: The building of the new $100,000 dam for the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company at the Narrows is progressing under the direction of Samuel G. Stoddard, Jr, the company’s chief engineer. A trench 10 feet deep is being worked out of the rock with sledge and wedge, and like the dam at Canoe Brook, the heart of the dam will be largely built of combined stone, sand, and cement. A force of 250 Italians is employed and is housed here. The dam is to be 2,000 feet long, 200 feet wide at the base, and 18 feet at the crest, and is to have two pipe outlets, each pipe 30 inches in diameter and one pipe placed 25 feet below the other. Where do you house 250 laborers in Easton? And why were they using “sledge and wedge” to make that trench instead of dynamite? That’s almost 15,000 cubic yards of material – mostly stone- that was removed using manual tools. Yikes!
August 26th, Redding: Friday night, the house of Mrs. Sarah Sturges was struck by lightning. Seldom has the electric fluid played more fantastic tricks. Entering the house on the northeast corner, it tore off the plaster near the foot of Mrs. Sturges’ bed, scattering the debris all over her; then, descending to the first story, it stripped the casing from the outside door; from thence it followed a wire clothes line all around the yard, finding its way back to the house on he southwest corner to which the line was attached and from thence to a tree to which the end of the wire was fastened, ending its mad pranks by entering the ground (looks like Rube Goldberg was a cub reporter for the Bee when he was young). Fortunately, none of the inmates of the house were injured, though considerably shocked. The building was insured by the Williamsburg City Fire Insurance Company, and Monday, Mr. Driggs, president of the company, paid the loss to the satisfaction of Mrs. Sturges.
September 2nd, Easton: W.H. Gallop returned, Wednesday, to resume his duties as teacher of the academy. We wish him many new scholars.
The academy will open on Tuesday, September 6. Two courses are offered. An excellent opportunity is afforded scholars from Easton and surrounding towns to secure educational facilities near home at small expense. The tuition is only $3 per term. Three bucks??? No wonder the Academy went broke and closed.
October 28th, Redding: The Reverand L. Squires of New Haven addressed the people of Redding on prohibition at the Town Hall. There was a small attendance. Perhaps talking about prohibition during Octoberfest wasn’t such a hot idea after all.
November 25th, Redding: One day last week, two young fellows passed through town ostensibly selling paper and envelopes, their stock in trade consisting of a single box. After trying to make a sale, one of them would take a pair of glasses, apparently mounted in gold frames, from his vest pocket, stating that he had “found them,” offering to sell them for $2, although, according to him, they were really worth $5. After talking for a while, he would fall to a dollar and usually make a sale. “Found” gold-rimmed glasses were offered at each place the men stopped. At different places the story as to where the glasses were found varied. One man who was up to the dodge, tried on a pair and not fitting his eyes, he asked the young fellow to go out and “find” a pair that would, whereupon the young men left. Judging by the quantity of money they exhibited, the dodge must have met with some success. Gives new meaning to the term “bait and switch”.
December 9th, Easton: J.H. Blackman, grange deputy for Fairfield County, has of late had calls from several different towns in regard to the organization of new granges, and the prospect now is that he will be kept busy during the coming winter looking after the interests of the order. In the town of Easton, a sufficient number of people have already signed an application for a charter and an organization there will soon be completed.