Hidden In Plain Sight: Norwalk in the National Register of Historic Places
Hidden In Plain Sight is the fifth annual Living History Tour conducted by the Norwalk Preservation Trust. This year's tour features properties and districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places, spanning Norwalk's development from an 18th-century farming community, to post-Civil War opulence, to industrial prosperity in the early 19th-century, to expansion and forward-thinking community organization after 1945.
Norwalk's 25 National Historic Register Districts and properties trace the dynamic evolution of a community. The tour includes the Silvermine Historic District, SoNo’s Haviland, Elizabeth and Hanford Streets, the newly designated historic district along Lexington Avenue (commonly known as “Whistleville”), Oysterman's Row and the Depot District in Rowayton, the Norwalk Green Historic District including Morgan Avenue, and the mid-20th century planned community of Village Creek.
The tour will view homes and sites in these districts, including an 18th-century home in Silvermine, the Grumman-St. John House, an excellent example of repurposing a historic property to meet the needs of the business owners (the Norwalk Inn), a behind-the-scenes tour of the renovations at the early 20th-century Globe Theater on Wall Street, an inside look at an architect-designed mid century modern home in Village Creek, and a tour of the 1930s splendors of the Gallaher Mansion. Costumed reenactors will bring each historic period to vibrant life at key stops along the route. Narrated by an architectural historian, the tour promises to shed light on Norwalk's growth and the historic gems that are "hidden in plain sight."
Starting at the Gallaher Mansion in Cranbury Park, the tour will use comfortable buses to visit Norwalk’s National Register neighborhoods. Upon returning to the Gallaher Mansion, tour-goers will be greeted by "Mr. and Mrs. Gallaher" as well as a few of their friends and invited to tour the mansion and be their guests at the reception the follows. The Valle Weber Fay Preservation Leadership Award will be presented to the Save Cranbury group and Mike Mocciae, Director of Parks and Recreation to recognize the preservation of this significant Norwalk building.
UPDATE: This event took place on Sunday October 18, 2015.
Through Artists' Eyes: Norwalk People and Places in the WPA Murals
On September 28, 2014, Norwalk Preservation Trust's fourth Living History Tour partnered with the Norwalk Arts Commission to create an insider's tour of Norwalk's collection of WPA murals. The tour began with a docent-led look at the paintings in City Hall, including the rarely seen source photographs used by the artists. This was followed by a bus tour around Norwalk to view the settings as they appear today.
Many of the artists were Norwalk residents themselves, not to mention the people they used as models and painted into the pictures. Actors will join the tour en route to bring to life the people, scenes and events portrayed in the paintings. A reception with refreshments will conclude the tour.
WPA artists created more than 50 works of art for Norwalk's public schools, libraries and post offices from 1935 to 1941. While much of the WPA art nationally has been lost or destroyed, especially paintings, most of Norwalk's collection has been rescued and restored.
The Norwalk municipal collections include 45 WPA murals, 31 of which are on display at City Hall. The image shown here is self-potrait by Alexander Rummler (1867-1959), resident of South Norwalk, showing him in the process of creating one of the Norwalk WPA murals, Mopping for Starfish. Both pictures are in the City Hall collection.
Images courtesy Norwalk Transit District.
Lost Tracks: Norwalk's Trolley Tour
On September 15, 2013, Norwalk Preservation Trust led the third Living History Tour, traveling back in time along Norwalk's trolley routes in existence from the 1860s to the 1930s. The trolley-bus tour explored various historic sites on the routes, including buildings in Sono and Rowayton. Trolleys were the main means of transportation for most people from the end of the 19th century through the rise of the automobile in the 1920s. Norwalkers took the trolley to school, to work, to the beach and to the store.
Lost Tracks was based on a similar tour presented by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1901. That tour is documented in the book Norwalk After 250 Years, which describes the week-long celebration of the city's sesquicentennial. Many of the places visited in 1901 are gone, but photographs of some of that lost history appeared in a booklet provided for all participants. It will soon available for download, in PDF format:
[LOST TRACKS booklet coming soon!]
Former City Historian Ralph Bloom, along with NPT president and architectural historian Tod Bryant, guided the tour, providing commentary on our lost and existing architectural heritage. Actors in period costumes brought the history of Norwalk in the streetcar era to life. Afterward, everyone joined a reception in the old Trolley Barn building at 10 Wall Street.
2nd Annual Living History Tour: Norwalk's 19th Century Rural Communities
On September 30, 2012, NPT's "Hamlet Hop" bus tour visited the 19th-century rural hamlets embedded in our current neighborhoods of Brookside, Broad River, Cranbury, and West Norwalk, stopping at the chapels, schools, and stores that defined these early communities — some remarkably intact and some quite visibly changed.
Brookside, Broad River, Cranbury, and West Norwalk were once much more remote than they are today. The farmers, homesteaders, and mill owners were miles away from the center of Norwalk. Getting to church, schools, or shops required bone-rattling travel in carts over roads that were little more than wagon ruts.
As these communities grew and prospered, the residents began to yearn for a place to worship in their own community — one where they would not be considered "outlivers" as they were in the Norwalk and Darien parishes. Starting in the early 1800s, these communities began to establish themselves as separate "hamlets" within Norwalk. They began to organize as citizens of that community and created community centers that included a chapel that also served as a meeting house, a small school for local children, and a store to provide basic provisions.
The tour took participants to all four hamlets with a stop in each to visit the surviving buildings — the chapel, the schoolhouse, or the store. Architectural historians, current owners, and reenactors provided insight into the history of the buildings and the area and address how the buildings have been changed and modified over the years. We now know these as Norwalk's neighborhoods but the roots of our neighborhoods stretch back to the earliest residents who gathered together to create the buildings that provided a service to the community and served to give the area its unique identity.
A reception at the Cranbury Chapel followed the tour. Awards were presented to the individuals and organizations that have preserved and maintained these important elements of Norwalk's history.
Norwalk's Living History Tour: Historic Homes from 1675 to 1830
On September 18th, 2011, Norwalk house experts gave a behind-the-scenes bus tour of homes built in Norwalk's early days. The tour was a trip through the town's early history, with a rare treat—Norwalk's two oldest houses, both of which date from about 1675, were open for tourgoers. An exceptionally well-restored home from 1784 was also open, along with a beautiful Federal-era house from about 1810. In addition, the tour route led past twenty other historic homes from these early periods. Tour leaders spoke about their architectural styles and their place in local history. Norwalkers in period costumes boarded the bus from time to time to talk about the town as they knew it and what it was like to live there.
The event was organized by NPT board member Georgette Blau, who is also President of On Location Tours, the world's largest TV and movie tour company. "I am a native Norwalker," she said, "and I've always been interested in historic homes and the stories they can tell." The tour also featured an introduction to early Norwalk architecture by NPT president and architectural historian, Tod Bryant.
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