Hawley Family Letters Discovered – Avon History Treasure Trove: 1798-1828

In June 2019, the Avon Free Public Library History Room received a box containing treasures of Avon history. Local Hawley historians were on hand to open the box and marvel at the contents, including Terri Wilson, president of the Avon Historical Society; Nora Howard, town historian; Marjorie Bender, Jeannie Parker, historians of West Avon Congregational Church; Dick Rulon, superintendent of the West Avon Cemetery; Tina Panik, Reference & Adult Services Manager and other staff of the Avon Free Public Library.

How did this come about? A few weeks earlier, Trudy Hawley at the Hawley Society received a phone call from a man in Ohio, asking if she wanted approximately 60 letters about the Hawley family of Avon, CT. She said of course – and he promptly sent them to her. Trudy knew that Avon, CT historians had been researching the Hawley family and the life of Rev. Rufus Hawley, pastor of Northington (original name for Avon prior to 1830) from 1769-1817. She felt the best repository for the collection was the Avon Free Public Library’s History Room.

The well-written letters were from between 1798-1828, all to Timothy Hawley (b. 1771- d. 1828). Timothy, the son of Rev. Hawley, had moved from Northington to Ohio. He received many letters from his brothers in Northington and in New Haven, and from Rev. Hawley.

According to Nora Howard, who wrote the biography of Rev. Rufus Hawley [Catch’d on Fire: the Journals of Rufus Hawley, 2011], the discovery of these letters was an unexpected and wonderful surprise. In the 11 years of research for the book about Rev. Hawley, she never saw even one letter he wrote. Said Mrs. Howard, "This collection is outstanding, and I am so grateful for all the people who preserved these letters for 200 years, and then helped them make their way back to Avon. They will add important details to our understanding of Avon’s early history.

Somehow, Timothy Hawley and his descendants had kept the letters safe. Then, the anonymous donor from Ohio, who had no knowledge of how his family had acquired the letters, took the time to find the Hawley Society and box up the letters.

A key part of this story was that Trudy Hawley wanted the letters to go back to Avon. When the letters arrived at the library, they received an enthusiastic welcome from a team that never thought they would see such a sight!

The letters have been professionally archived in the History Room by volunteer Heddy Panik. Transcribing the letters are Marj Bender of the West Avon Congregational Church (Rev. Hawley’s church) and Nora Howard. The letters describe daily life, slavery, people, courtship, conflicts, schools, religion, financial problems, whether or not to move to Ohio, illness and death, the Farmington Canal, and more.

Of particular interest, said Mrs. Howard, was a short passage that barely stood out in one letter but that was critically important. "The people wanted desperately to replace the old meetinghouse. They voted to build a new meetinghouse in 1808, but the financially devastating effects of the Embargo of 1807 kicked in and completely stalled the plans for ten years. Without the Embargo, an international event that effected Northington, I wonder what would have happened with today’s West Avon Congregational Church (1818) and the Avon Congregational Church (1819).

In another letter to Ohio, Rev. Hawley begged his son to send his children, Rev. Hawley’s grandchildren, to live in Northington. They had just lost their mother, and Rev. Hawley feared for what would become of them in Ohio. Three young boys duly arrived in Northington, and before long Rev. Hawley wrote back to Ohio in 1809 that their play, noise and vexation was trouble. The letters and transcriptions will be available online at the library’s website at a future date.

Immigration: a series of films and discussions

All are welcome. Programs will be held in the Avon Library’s Community Room. Free, no registration required.

Tour a traveling exhibit from the Gilder Lehrman Institute on Immigration that will be at the Avon Library from late September to late October, 2019.

Film Screening and Discussion: Nigeria. Tuesday, 8/27/19, 1:30 pm: Pretty Dirty Things.

Rated R, 1h 37m. Okwe is an illegal Nigerian immigrant struggling to survive in London’s underground. He works as a hotel receptionist in the nighttime and since he has a medical degree, he also practices medicine on the side. When he is offered a lot of money to perform illegal surgeries, he faces a moral dilemma. Bob Kagan, discussion leader, is a Professor of Communication at Central Connecticut State University and the University of Hartford.

Nothing to Envy: North Korea. Tuesday, 9/3/19, 7:00 pm.  Join librarian Cyndi Larsen for a discussion of Nothing to Envy, a book that follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years, a chaotic period that saw the rise of power to Kim Jong II and the devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population, illustrating what it means to live under the most repressive totalitarian regime today.

Poles in their homeland and Connecticut: History and Culture. Tuesday, 9/10/19, 6:30 pm.      Presented by Renata Vickrey, University Archivist and Outreach Librarian at CCSU. A lecture on the history and culture of Poles who emigrated from Poland to the US, from mid-19th century until the   present. In addition to the reasons why this population immigrated, we will discuss the building of community, family traditions and customs, especially by the Poles who live in CT! Food from Little Poland (New Britain) will be served.

The Story of American Immigration as told through maps Saturday, 9/14/19, 2:00 pm.

Dr. Francis Coan, History Professor at Tunxis, and part of the Civic Engagement Institute on campus, will present the story of American immigration through maps. This is a very visual way to understand how the populations, cultures, and time periods have evolved throughout the geography of America.

How Does the Immigration Process Work? Wednesday, 9/18/19, 1:30 pm.  Erika Taylor, of the Hartford Field Office, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, will speak on how the current process of immigration works.

The Irish in Connecticut. Thursday, October 3, 2019, 6:30 pm. Bruce Clouette, Senior Historian,  Archaeological and Historical Services, Inc., will speak on the cultural conflicts, economic experiences (or lack thereof), and political roles that Irish immigrants assumed as they entered Connecticut.

Completed programs:

Indian-Americans at the Workplace. (Panel discussion #1) Saturday, 7/20/19, 4:30-6:00 pm.

This program is designed by Meghana Annamaneni.  Meghana lives in Avon, CT. She is a rising Junior at  The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT.  At Hotchkiss she is one of the editors-in-chief of Spectrum, a diversity and inclusion magazine.  Additionally, She is co-heads of the Council on Diversity and Inclusion.  The      Council works with the administration to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion within the school community. Light refreshments will be served. Panel members will be selected from our  Indian community.

Film Screening and Discussion: Mexico. Tuesday, 8/13/19, 1:30 pm: Frontera. Rated PG-13, 1h 43m.

A former Arizona sheriffs wife is killed while riding on their ranch property. It would appear a Mexican man illegally crossing the border is at fault. As the former, and current, sheriff searches for answers lives are changed forever.  Bob Kagan, discussion leader, is a Professor of Communication at Central Connecticut State University and the University of Hartford.

Italian-Americans in CT in the 1920s. Wednesday, 8/14/19, 2:00 pm.

Presented by Dr. Rafaele Fierro, History and Political Science Professor at Tunxis, and part of the Civic      Engagement Institute on campus. Dr. Fierro will use the 1920 Census to share the stories of criminal activity (non-Mob related) within Connecticut. At one point, 32% of the prisoners in the Wethersfield prison were   Italian! Why was this?? Refreshments provided by the Prince Thomas of Savoy Italian Club.

Indian-Americans in Politics. (Panel discussion #2) Saturday, 8/17/19, 4:30-6:00 pm.

This program is designed by Meghana Annamaneni.  Meghana lives in Avon, CT. She is a rising Junior at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT.  At Hotchkiss she is one of the editors-in-chief of Spectrum, a diversity and inclusion magazine. Additionally, She is co-heads the Council on Diversity and Inclusion.  The Council works with the administration to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion within the school community. Light refreshments  will be served. Panel members will be selected from our  Indian community.

Film Screening and Discussion: Ireland. Tuesday, 8/20/19, 1:30 pm: Brooklyn. Rated PG-13, 1h 59m

An Irish immigrant arrives in 1950’s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with an Italian- American plumber. When her past catches up with her, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. Bob Kagan, discussion leader, is a Professor of Communication at Central Connecticut State University and the University of Hartford



Freedom of the Press Lecture Series: full line up!

The Bill of Rights for High School Students Wednesday, September 12, 2018, 3:00 pm

What can students say and do to exercise the First Amendment right of free speech and freedom of religion in schools?  How has the Supreme Court ruled on these issues, and what avenues of redress are open to students if they think that their rights have been violated?  These and other questions will be explored in this session. Geared for teens, adults are welcome too! This program will be led by Stephen McGrath, CCSU History Department.

The Popularity of Alexander Hamilton Thursday, September 13, 2018, 3:00 pm

Discover the inspiring story of the Alexander Hamilton, who stood for American ideals. Bev York, Education    Director for the Windham Textile and History Museum, will share an illustrated talk about his contributions, struggles, and tragic death.  After years of being perceived as having only a supporting role, Hamilton’s star has risen, confirming his belief that “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

Social Media, the Press, and Us        Monday, September 17, 2018, 6:30 pm

The everyday reality of media use around the globe is changing rapidly due to the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and multiple screens that allow access to, and immediate dissemination of, the news. The US President prefers to communicate via twitter feed while labeling mainstream journalism as “fake news”; Facebook data has been hacked to access personal information about users’ likes and dislikes. Many teenagers communicate via text messages rather than in person, let alone speak on the phone. This talk will focus on the way social   media is not only shaping our human relationships in a digital age but also our understanding of the world around us. How does user-generated content allow for new participatory energies to develop while also deeply affecting cultural identities and generating new types of intimacies. Lecture and discussion led by Dr. Karen Ritzenhoff, CCSU Communication Department.

A PDF of additional reading materials for this series is available on the library’s website. Find it by visiting www.avonctlibrary.info, and typing Freedom of the Press Reading into the search box. The first result contains the PDF.

Completed lectures:

Inside the Inaugural Address: Lessons in the Great American Experiment    

Parties, the Press, and Political Politeness: Well, Not Really! 

The Alien and Sedition Acts

The Enigma of Benjamin Franklin

Discovering Katherine Graham 

“We Hold These Truths”: The Declaration of Independence;  A Single Page that Changed the World 

“Four Freedoms” Lecture series this winter!

Co-sponsored by the Avon Library and Avon Senior Center, this series of five programs explores the themes of Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings.  Join us we welcome the Norman Rockwell Museum to kick off the series, and then invite our favorite professors to lecture and discuss each of the freedoms individually.  Attend one, or all of these events. Look for a bus trip to the Norman Rockwell Museum in late winter to conclude this series!

All ages welcome. Sponsored by the Avon Taxpayer’s Association and the Mitnick Trust.

There are no upcoming events at this time.

The Avon Newsletter, a World War II collection, is now available online!

The Avon Newsletter- WWII newsletter headlineExplore 14 pieces of WWII history.

Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Avon Library, Katie Kukiolczynski, CCSU MA History graduate, was hired to process, scan, and summarize the World War II newsletter collection with the Marion Hunter History Room of the Avon Library.

This collection consists of 14 resident-created newsletters spanning the years 1943-1946. The newsletters were intended for Avon soldiers, and were sent to them wherever they were stationed, either at home or abroad, as well as to their families in Avon.

In addition to uploading the actual newsletters, Katie detailed military commendations and created highlights of each issue. Some of these highlights include personal accounts from soldiers experiences in battle, their military training, details of what it was like where they were stationed, and even their experiences to how drastically things changed after the war ended in places like Germany.

The newsletters also included some local town gossip and news for soldiers to stay up to date on current happenings around town, so Avon was always a part of them wherever they were.

View the collection here!