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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Norwich to celebrate city’s role in America’s 250th anniversary

    From left, Architect Evelyn Cole Smith and Regan Miner, director of the Norwich Historical Society, meet with project manager Brett Marsh, of Frank Zaino and Associates, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, to get an update on the major renovations of the circa 1760 David Greenleaf House. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    A crew from Frank Zaino and Associates remove siding from the circa 1760 David Greenleaf House, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, as the house undergoes major renovations. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich ― It will take more than a year to plan for and celebrate the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026 and Norwich’s role in historic events that created the nation.

    Celebrations will ramp up in 2025 and continue for the next eight years, covering the entire Revolutionary War and finally the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

    The Norwich Historical Society, Leffingwell House Museum, Slater Memorial Museum and the Norwich branch of the NAACP are getting the ball rolling to organize celebrations of multiple milestones in national and local history. The groups are inviting others to join the American 250 Norwich CT Committee or run their own events and be part of the overall celebration.

    It starts next August, marking the 200th anniversary of the Marquis de Lafayette’s 1824 tour of the United States. He revisited many of the sites he first saw while serving as Gen. George Washington’s military protege during the Revolutionary War.

    Dayne Rugh, executive director of Slater Museum and president of the board of the Society of the Founders, which owns and operates the Leffingwell House Museum, said Lafayette visited Norwich on Aug. 22, 1824.

    Rugh said Norwich will work with other Connecticut towns Lafayette visited in the region to coordinate that celebration.

    “That’s the first big event, the precursor to kick off the whole 250th celebration,” Rugh said.

    In 2025, the Leffingwell House Museum will mark its 350th anniversary. The original portion of the house was built by Stephen Backus in 1675. The house became a centerpiece in Norwich’s Revolutionary War.

    When the shots were fired on April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concord, Mass., the next day, a courier was dispatched to Connecticut to deliver copies of a letter announcing the start of the war. One copy was delivered to Christopher Leffingwell at his house, Rugh said.

    The Leffingwell Museum has a facsimile of the letter, Rugh said. In 2019, the museum displayed the original on loan from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum in Lexington, which owns the original.

    Norwich heard that “shot heard around the world,” and local men marched to Boston to join the fight. Regan Miner, executive director of the Norwich Historical Society, said their stories will be part of the celebration. John Durkee survived combat, but died in 1782. He is buried in the historic Norwichtown burying ground, Miner said.

    Samuel Ashbow, a Mohegan Indian, marched to Boston as part of the Norwich Militia and was killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first Native American killed in the Revolution, Miner said. Col. Jedediah Huntington of the Connecticut Militia, whose stately home stands on East Town Street, joined the war.

    No specific events are scheduled yet for the celebrations. The committee will spend the next few months expanding its membership, reaching out to local organizations and applying for public and private foundation grants, Miner said. The Leffingwell House Museum will launch the Leffingwell 350 fundraising campaign next year.

    But some work is underway now that will tie into the celebration. The Society of the Founders owns the circa 1760 David Greenleaf House next door to the Leffingwell museum. The house has been rundown for decades, but the Society of the Founders and the Norwich Historical Society recently obtained more than $900,000 in grants to restore the home, add parking and landscaping and create a modern exhibit and gathering space that will be open in time for the big celebrations.

    Miner said the lower level, with access from the Leffingwell property, will be handicapped accessible. The 250th celebration committee hopes that space will become a central focal point for all the upcoming celebrations.

    Construction also is underway to create the $2.8 million Uncas Leap Heritage Park along the Yantic River. The park is expected to be finished by next summer and be part of the event space. The park includes a story circle with amphitheater-style seating overlooking the Yantic River gorge, site of the 1643 battle between the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes 16 years before English settled in Norwich.

    Miner said the committee hopes to do more than celebrate the key local and national anniversaries. It hopes to create some kind of lasting, physical tribute to the city and promote the core historical areas that form a triangle, from the Norwichtown Green original settlement area to Uncas Leap and to the Slater Memorial Museum at Norwich Free Academy.

    “We want to start to fulfill Norwich’s goal of marketing Norwich as a heritage tourism destination,” Miner said.

    Local groups or individuals interested in joining the America 250 Norwich CT Committee or seeking more information about plans for the upcoming celebrations should send an email to info@norwichhistoricalsociety.org.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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