Shelton Historical Society offers insight into city’s past

Showing how Shelton developed as a farm town, an industrial hub and now a corporate center is part of the Shelton Historical Society’s (SHS) mission.

The nonprofit SHS operates a one-acre site on Ripton Road, near Huntington center, with six buildings. From a one-room schoolhouse to an outhouse, and a corn crib to 1820s homestead, the structures at the Shelton History Center help tell the story of the city’s beginnings.

Marty Coughlin, SHS president, said it’s important for people to know about the past of their hometown. “It helps you get closer to the community when you find out how it evolved and developed,” Coughlin said.

Regular visits from Shelton school children

Tracey Tate, SHS executive director, said the society passes on that history to students through annual visits from Shelton second graders and eighth graders.

The younger students participate in hands-on activities during the field trips, reflecting what children their age would have done in the early 1900s. This includes making butter, working in the garden, washing clothes, and getting a school lesson.

The SHS also offers programs for adults, such as presentations and a monthly Reading Club. A series of readings involving Shelton government from 1913 will be presented in April, and a presentation on some of the individuals buried in the city’s oldest cemetery will be given in June.

Focus is on the year 1913

The SHS uses 1913 as its interpretation year, highlighting the difference between the industrial downtown and rural, agricultural parts of town. “They depended on each other,” Tate pointed out.

Noting this is the 100th anniversary of the interpretation year, she said 1913 also puts a focus on such issues as immigration, labor unions and women’s suffrage.

The house at the Shelton History Center belonged to the Brownson family, and was relocated from the family farm where the Brownson Country Club property is today. The Brownsons — not the home’s original owners — were a typical middle-class family involved in farming, business, church, and social activities.

The circa 1860s barn is the only building original to the History Center property, and houses a permanent exhibit called “Three Centuries of Shelton: From Farming to Industry and Beyond.”

Volunteers needed

The SHS also is looking for new volunteer museum educators or tour guides, particularly those who can help weekdays toward the end of the school year.

“We want people who would like to learn about Shelton and share that knowledge with visitors, primarily students,” Tate said.

Two-hour training sessions will take place April 7, 14 and 28. No experience is necessary and the training is free; call 203-925-1803 to register.

City’s past

Settlement of Shelton by European descendants began in the late 1600s. It was then a part of the town of Stratford known as Ripton, and English settlers migrated north for more land.

Huntington got its own Congregational church in the early 1770s. There were a lot of saw, grist and cider mills in the area.

Huntington became a town in 1789. In the late 1800s, an industrial hub was formed along the Housatonic River in what would become Shelton center. The city of Shelton was incorporated in 1919.

The city is named for Edward Shelton, a businessman who built a dam across the Housatonic to supply electricity to downtown factories. The dam opened in 1870.

Many artifacts in the collection

The SHS has many historical artifacts, such as clothing, agricultural and household tools, furniture, industrial products and equipment, photos, and paintings.

The society library includes rare books, diaries, scrapbooks, ledgers, and manuscripts.

Outside researchers use the library to gather information for projects.

An unusual artifact in the Brownson House is a 1914 vacuum cleaner, a contraption that required two people to operate (see a photo of the vacuum cleaner in related story, "MORE SHELTON HISTORY CENTER PHOTOS").

All items have been donated, as the SHS does not have a budget to purchase materials. “We get things in interesting ways,” said Tate, recalling a piano that was dropped off, and sorting through many boxes filled with tidbits from Shelton attics and basements.

Society operations

The SHS operates on an annual budget of about $70,000. Funding comes from a city grant, fund raising, outside grants, membership dues, and donations.

The society also sells books, notecards and prints on the city’s history. It has three part-time employees — an executive director, librarian and curator.

It operates a one-week summer program for children. A major fund-raiser is the antique and classic car show on Father’s Day at the History Center.

The society was founded in 1969 as the Huntington Historical Society and now has a few hundred members.

'A glimpse into people’s struggles and priorities'

Tate said it’s vital to have a local organization seeking to preserve the past. “We are so rich in these kind of resources in New England, but if they’re not saved, they are gone forever,” she said. “Whether a house or a diary, they all give a glimpse into people’s struggles and priorities at the time.”

SHS membership is $20 for individuals and $30 for families; learn more at