November 18, 2018

Essex Historical Society Celebrates 60th Anniversary in 2016

The Pratt House in Essex is the town’s only historic house museum.

The Pratt House is home to the Essex Historical Society.

ESSEX — The Essex Historical Society (EHS), a private, non-profit organization boasting 250 members and dedicated volunteer corps, is celebrating its 60th anniversary year throughout 2015 and early 2016 with a variety of special events and programs.  Of special note is the Dickinson Initiative aimed at increasing awareness of the impact of the E. E. Dickinson Witch Hazel business on Essex.

The E. E. Dickinson Witch Hazel Company was an important part of Essex for much of the 20th century.  The EHS and the Valley Railroad Company have partnered to refurbish the original Birch Mill /Yellow Label building that sits on the southern end of the railroad depot property.  As part of the project, EHS will refurbish the Yellow Label signs and install Dickinson exhibit panels in the newly repaired space.

A pre-construction kick-off took place on May 15, 2015.  The dedication and unveiling of the refurbished building is targeted for one year later on May 15, 2016.

Upcoming Events 

Yellow Label Building Dedication 

Sunday, May 15, 2016. Dedication of the refurbished Yellow Label Building and tour of the Dickinson Witch Hazel Plant.  Co-sponsored with the Valley Railroad Company.  Details to be announced at a later date.

Essex Historical Society: Three Villages, Two Rivers, One History 

The EHS strives to be the center of excellence for collecting and sharing historic resources for Essex and the surrounding area, and to be the facilitator among other organizations focused on the history of the area, so that we may inspire future generations.  Our mission statement reflects this vision: Engaging and Inspiring the Community. Essex.  Ivoryton.  Centerbrook.

History of the Essex Historical Society

The Essex Historical Society was formed and incorporated in 1955. According to news reports at the time, the Town of Essex was about to announce its intention to sell Hills Academy located on Prospect Street. It was no longer useful to the Town for classroom space and had been rented to various tenants for many years.

A concerned group sprung into action and the first unofficial meeting of the Board of Directors was held at Essex Town Hall on Friday, Dec. 10, 1954. The newly formed Essex Historical Society purchased the Hills Academy building from the Town for one dollar.

From 1955 to 1985, Hills Academy served as the Society’s meeting house, as home to its growing collection of Essex memorabilia, and as exhibit space depicting the story of Essex history. Then in 1985, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (known then as S.P.N.E.A. and now renamed Historic New England) deeded the Pratt House Museum on West Avenue to the Society and the focus of activity shifted to the Pratt family narrative.

Today, Pratt House continues to interpret 18th century farm life in Essex and the nine generations of Pratt Smithies, many of whom lived in the house. The barn houses a set of panels depicting a time line of Essex history and an early loom that is worked on by an award-winning group of weavers.

The beautiful meadow to the rear of the property is the site of the Community Garden and often the scene of antique car shows and old fashioned summer fairs. Hills Academy provides additional meeting and exhibit space on the first floor and storage and office space on the second floor for the collection and archival files.

The EHS serves the three villages of Essex — Centerbrook, Essex and Ivoryton.

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