Vernon Volunteers’ Collaborative: Promoting Vernon
While the 13 members of the Vernon Volunteers’ Collaborative (VVC) look for opportunities to increase awareness of themselves and their activities, they are also promoting Vernon. Two events in 2017 stand out as instances where we reached an audience beyond Vernon’s borders.
The 8th Greater Vernon Holistic Healthfest produced by the Vernon Youth Services Bureau was held in March and, although its purpose was to introduce area people to healthy living choices, it has included a number of Vernon nonprofit organizations for the past 3 years; particularly those with a green or environmental focus.
Healthfest draws 1700 people over two days with at least half from outside Vernon. VVC participants this year included Strong Family Farm, Northern CT Land Trust, The Tankerhoosen, and Vernon Greenways Volunteers plus the Vernon Conservation Commission and Vernon Park & Rec Department. Visitors from out-of-town are interested to learn about our connected green space and miles of trails which were featured in our displays. Visitors likely left with a positive image of Vernon and many have returned for our hikes and outdoor events.
The second event we worked together on was our first entry into Connecticut Open House Day in June. The CT Office of Tourism sponsors this annual event to showcase the state’s cultural and tourism attractions. We used it to showcase Vernon’s attractions. Four VVC organizations – Strong Family Farm, the Vernon Historical Society, the Friends of Valley Falls and the New England Civil War Museum – opened their doors providing special exhibits or tours attracting people from Vernon and beyond. Again this type of event leaves people with a positive feeling about our town.
VVC is more than happy to share our town with our neighbors. Healthfest will be held in April this year and Open House Day again in June. Join us to learn more of what Vernon has to offer.
Friends of the Hockanum River Linear Park: Connecting Communities
The Hockanum River is born in Shenipsit Lake and runs through the four towns of Ellington, Vernon, Manchester and East Hartford on its way to the Connecticut River. In 1969, the Conservation Commissions from the four towns began to talk about a river park along the entire length of the river as part of the movement to clean up the country’s polluted rivers.
In 1988 the State provided funding to the four towns to initiate development of the river park. Vernon used a portion of its funding to develop a plan for our park. The ‘Hockanum River Linear Park Master Plan’ was presented to the Town Council in 1991. It was a detailed maze of trails and bikeways, displayed on four large 6-ft high panels. Impressive – but it spelled dollars. The question was, “Who’s going to pay for this park”? Out of that question the non-profit organization Friends of the Hockanum River Linear Park of Vernon, Inc. was born. Its purpose was to provide the resources needed to develop and maintain the river trails, and to engage the community in the building of the park.
In the early 2000s, the Friends began to seek grant funding to develop the river park master plan. Since that time, they have been awarded 7 grants totaling $235,330 for trail construction. By the mid-2000s trail sections along the Hockanum were being completed, and needed maintenance. The Vernon Greenway Volunteers took on that role.
The most recent – and largest – grant award provides funding to connect the Vernon river trail to the Ellington and Manchester trails. Two structures were needed to complete the connections: a suspended footbridge over the river on the old rail bed off Windsorville Road, and a boardwalk to get through the marsh area on Pleasantview Drive.
Both the suspended bridge and the boardwalk are a first in Vernon and will enhance the experience of trail users. Most importantly, their completion marks a major milestone of the Friends: connection of our Hockanum River trail to the Ellington and Manchester trails.
New England Civil War Museum: One Man’s Sacrifice
Oliver Dart (author Frank Niederwerfer’s great-great uncle) was, like many young men in the Vernon area in the 19th century, of patriotic, hardworking, rural stock. Born in 1839, Oliver was the youngest of six children on his father’s farm on modern-day Dart Hill Road.
As the Civil War approached Oliver’s life drastically changed. His wife Emily passed away in early 1860 and a year later he married Maria Symonds. In 1862 President Lincoln called for more volunteers and, like many local boys, Oliver exchanged his farm plow for a rifle and enlisted in Company D, 14th Connecticut Regiment. By September they found themselves in the middle of the bloodiest day in American history at the Battle of Antietam. There, nearly 23,000 Americans fell.
The following December the 14th Connecticut participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg. As they charged Marye’s Heights a Confederate artillery shell burst into the ranks of Company D wounding several men. John Symonds (Oliver’s brother-in-law) was blinded by the burst. Oliver had a fragment of the shell tear into his face losing part of his upper jaw and most of his teeth. A witness recalled, “[it looked like] a meat cleaver had cut [Dart’s] face to pieces.” He was carried off the battlefield by Sergeant Benjamin Hirst to a hospital in town. His action likely saved Dart’s life.
Oliver spent three months in army hospitals before returning home. After two operations on his face he was committed to an institution in Hartford. He returned to Vernon to find his wife had deserted him, But after obtaining a divorce he married a third time in 1869.
Though Dart ‘was a peculiar man’ he had an offbeat sense of humor. However his wounds, both physical and mental, remained with him. A family historian stated, “[Oliver] was somewhat affected, undoubtedly due to the shock and suffering that ensued from the injury.” He died on August 11, 1879. He was only 40.
Learn more about Civil War soldiers like Oliver at the New England Civil War Museum in Rockville.
Vernon Center Historical Tour
In September a three part tour of Vernon Center, organized by the Vernon Historical Society, took walkers from the 1700’s to the present day.
Meetinghouse Hill: The field across Route 30 from VCMS was farmed for a hundred years by the Strong family; but long before that it spread out below Vernon’s first meeting house, built in 1763. Along the north side of the field is the path parishioners traveled up the hill to worship.
Recently saved from development JON ROE and KARL HASEL led hikers up the ancient path. For the first time in 190 years the public could enjoy the same view of the Tankerhoosen and Connecticut River Valleys as seen by Indians, Rev. Thomas Hooker and our founders.
Elmwood Cemetery: Our second stop was across Cemetery Road where JEAN LUDDY guided us through Elmwood Cemetery, which opened in 1835 after the new church had been built at Vernon Center. Jean pointed out different stone materials, the symbolism on grave stones and told stories of prominent families buried there – Kellogg, Talcott, Strong and many more.
Vernon Congregational Church: Our third visit was to the ‘new’ church built in 1826 which also has a long and interesting history. Telling the church’s story was church historian LYNN SWEET. Stories included moving the whole building back from the street, problems with the steeple from age and hurricanes, and the unexpected appearance of a generous donor from the west. Through the years membership grew and declined reflecting the times and the fortunes of Vernon. And, of course, there was the devastating fire that destroyed the church in 1965 and the community’s effort to restore it.
In spite of the late September July heat walkers learned much about this town they call home. A video of the tour will be shown on CVC for those who would like to experience the walk from home.