Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Telling the Story of History

Michael Crichton, he of Jurassic Park fame, once offered, "(I)f you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree."

Perhaps it is the advent of Autumn accompanied by the shifting of the seasons or all the events slated across the region this month for Walktober that's helped create the coincidence of timing that resulted in The Norwich Heritage and Visitors' Center in the 1783 Daniel Lathrop Schoolhouse at 69 East Town Street on the Historic Norwichtown Green.

The important word in that sentence is historic because when you're as old as Norwich is, you end up surrounded by so much everyday history it is often too hard to see. I was going to offer a cliche about not seeing the forest the trees but decided to leaf well enough alone.

For at least a decade and a half people in and across the city have talked about historic tourism with fitful progress, at best, made to formulate and implement a plan while also fashioning the tools to develop and deliver the story of us.

With the opening of the Norwich Heritage and Visitors' Center, we may finally be starting on that journey of self-discovery, though cynic that I am, it's not beginnings that get us into trouble around here, it's middles and endings.

The Center opened as an information hub for Walktober happenings last week and will be open all month long, Wednesday through Sunday from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon.

There's a lot more going on inside those brick school house walls than Walktober; it's chockful of brochures, magazines, books, displays, presentations and knowledgeable volunteers on just about everything and anything in Norwich you'd like to know.

And talk about a terrific setting. What I enjoyed when I stopped in last Saturday was yet another opportunity to savor the Norwichtown Green even on a rainy day. The Green, as you probably know, was Norwich's original settlement in 1659 after the land was purchased from the Mohegans.

Many of the houses across the historic district, most especially lining the Green itself, are hundreds of years old and it felt like walking through a page (maybe a chapter is more accurate) of Colonial history, as I stopped in at the Old Burial Grounds up around the corner from the Center.

The Lathrop Schoolhouse, which hosts the Center, itself benefited not that many years ago from the helping hands of neighbors just down the street and around the corner at Nutmeg whose staff donated materials and expertise to help add modern amenities to one of the earliest brick school houses still standing in Connecticut.

As important as The Visitors' Center is, perhaps more importantly is what we intend to do next, both with it and our history and heritage for which it can serve as a gatekeeper. As Winston Churchill once said, "(T)he farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see."
-bill kenny

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