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Historical Society presents ‘Old Houses of Berlin’

Historical Society presents ‘Old Houses of Berlin’

If you grew up in Berlin, a newsreel plays in your mind as you travel about town.

A walk down Worthington Ridge, for example, summons memories of the barn-like Community Grounds building and the Victorian era Wilcox mansion, both long gone.

We picture Frank Brandegee living in a converted chicken coop and Dr. Foster making house calls.

People feel nostalgia for their neighborhoods, and when speaking of old houses, they are inclined to reference the name of a prior owner or function. The “Dr. Foster” house would have been the “Trolley House” to our great grandparents and “Mrs. Wilson’s” house would have been the “Fuller Tavern” to 18th century residents.

Sometimes the lineage of a house is uncertain. In the days before house numbers, maps identified houses by name, and that can either help or confuse researchers. We have some mystery houses to identify and are looking for help at the historical society’s upcoming Story Share.

The public is invited to the Berlin Senior Center, 33 Colonial Drive, Wednesday, July 17, from 1 to 3 p.m., for another slide show and conversation about Berlin history. This time we’ll share what we know about Berlin’ s oldest homes and ask audience members to tell us what they remember.

The idea for this topic arose from retired librarian Cathy Nelson’s most recent project, an update of three previous old house surveys. Although she frequently will say “Ber-LIN” rather than “BER-lin,” she has a passion for town history equal to any native. She’s written books about the history of Berlin Peck Library, the Kensington Civil War Monument, and is working on an anthology of Berlin’s history. Her old house survey project consolidated three major surveys from the 1930s and 1980s. With assistance from Berlin Historical Society members, the team tried to determine what houses no longer exist. A  detective’s eye and a good memory are often needed to match the older image of an old house with how it appears now.

With so many old homes in the town’s inventory, it is impossible to cover them all in one session, so we will begin with the Historic District area. In pre-Berlin Turnpike days, Worthington Ridge was, in effect, the turnpike. This means a Greek Revival style home from the 1830-39’s (repurposed as the batting cages and Subway store) once had a Worthington Ridge address, as did the Worthington Lodge, now the front of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford’s mosque.

One of our mystery houses was on what was long ago the far northern end of Worthington Ridge. We often refer to it as the “Blue Lobster House” due to its location behind that eatery. Although it was recently torn down, we hope to learn more about who lived in this early house over time. Old house history is the most frequent request made at the library’s History Room and at the Historical Museum. 

Depending upon the audience’s response, this could turn into a series of Story Shares on old houses. If you have memories to share, the give and take of these gatherings is what makes them so much fun, even for newcomers. The event is free and light refreshments will be served. Phone the Senior Center at 860-828-7006 to register. If you have pictures to share, we can scan them at the event. 

-- Submitted by Lorraine Stub, Berlin Historical Society secretary