Guessing Game of Historic Proportions
The History Mystery contest launched during the statewide shutdown in April 2020, was a ten-week online guessing game. Videos created by Madison Public School students were posted every Monday on the MHS Facebook and Instagram pages. Participants were asked to identify objects from our collection by commenting on the posts. These videos were viewed thousands of times and allowed the MHS to highlight a few of the artifacts we preserve on behalf of the town.
Back by Popular Demand
The History Mystery contest returns with new videos posted on Facebook and Instagram each week through August. Participants have the chance to show off their knowledge of Madison's rich cultural past. Again, we feature key historical people, places, and events that shaped Madison.
Click HERE to watch the videos and play the game.
History Mystery Week Seven- August 22
CLUE: In the 1700s this land sat dormant with small hills and swamps surrounding it. It even had a pond that, on occasion, might have been used for ice skating. It was a common area, used by citizens for the grazing of such livestock as horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs. The 1800s brought the revitalization of this property for a less agrarian lifestyle in the heart of the village. Citizens drained and filled its marshy places and formed walkways for pedestrians. Militias marched here; soldiers mustered here, and fairs and markets all became part of community life in an iconic New England town.
Visit the MHS Instagram pages to watch the video and post your answers online. Thank you for playing History Mystery!
History Mystery Week Six - August 15
CLUE: This property in Madison has a very storied past. In the 1920s it was commonly called Lone Tree Hill for the solitary pine tree at its summit, which served as a landmark to mariners on Long Island Sound. A plaque on this property gives a nod to one of its early owners and his connection to Prohibition. During World War II, this property served as an air-raid spotting station. The person who purchased the property in 1960 was associated with a children’s plaything that truly stretched the limits of popularity.
Answer - Legend Hill--Home to the Silly Putty House
Legend Hill, known as High Hill in the 1800s and then Lone Tree Hill in the 1920s, has a storied past. The original mansion was built in 1928 for Russell Northam, a wealthy stockbroker from Hartford. The house, made of stone quarried locally, had a commanding view of the countryside as well as Long Island Sound. No wonder, then, that it played a role in bootlegging and liquor smuggling activities during Prohibition, in the era from 1919 to 1933, when federal laws prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol. A very clever signaling system at the mansion allowed smugglers to safely convey illegal goods from ships to Legend Hill. The mansion even had a tunnel and vault to hide the prohibited goods.
During World War II, the mansion served as a spotting station for any potential enemy air raids by the Germans or Japanese. (Luckily, no such raids ever took place.)
The final private resident of the property was Peter Hodgson, who purchased the estate in 1960. An advertising and marketing executive, he was best known for marketing a product that became an international bestseller. Called Silly Putty, the silicone-based material was packaged in a plastic egg for children’s use. It could bounce and stretch, and it could also transfer newspaper print onto another piece of paper.
After Hodgson’s death in 1976, the property was sold to a real estate developer, who constructed a neighborhood of condominiums around the original mansion. Still atop the hill, the home is used as a recreation center for the association.
History Mystery Week Five - August 8
CLUE: One of the shoreline’s most precious and fragile treasures lies within a tiny, secluded woodland lot in Guilford near the East River. In 1760 a group of East Guilford soldiers had been recruited to fight in the French and Indian War, in service to King George of England. Many of the soldiers in Connecticut’s 5th Company of the 2nd Regiment were exposed to an extremely contagious disease when they were in Albany, New York, near the end of the war. Upon their return to Connecticut, they were asked to quarantine in an isolated spot away from the local community. This encampment may, unfortunately, have become their final resting place.
Answer - Smallpox Burying Ground
The Smallpox Burying Ground is a precious and fragile historic treasure situated along the East River in Guilford. In 1760, Captain Ichabod Scranton of East Guilford, along with 74 officers and soldiers, traveled to upstate New York in the service of the British Crown to participate in the campaigns against the French and their Native American allies.
On November 25, 1760, at least one of the men under the command of Captain Scranton died of smallpox. Scranton and the remaining soldiers made their way home to Connecticut. Due to their exposure to smallpox, they were confined to an encampment along the East River in Guilford in a woodland area bordering present-day Clapboard Hill Road. This parcel was then known generically as the “pock lot.”
Captain Scranton died from smallpox on December 1, 1760, and is buried, it is believed, in this area, which became known as the Smallpox Burying Ground. Although the records are not clear, other soldiers who succumbed to the disease may also be buried near him. Today, within the stone fence of the pock lot, a bronze plaque affixed to a native stone commemorates the history of the site.
The parcel of land was deeded to the Madison Historical Society in 1949. It continues to be protected and preserved by the society--and was recently awarded grant funds from the State of Connecticut to further conserve its features.
History Mystery Week Four - August 1
CLUE: This person was born in 1825 in Madison, earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale by 1856, and went on to a career in education. While he served as co-principal and owner of a private school he established with his wife, Harriet North, the nation began its westward expansion. With the introduction of the railroad, people began to travel outside of their normal routes. Eventually, trains traveled farther and faster across the country. With the advent of long-distance transcontinental travel, the railroads were challenged to come up with a precise system to time arrivals and departures. Until 1883, the noon hour was set locally when the sun was at its apex, directly overhead. As travel moved back and forth across the country, high noon also changed. This individual came up with a system that revolutionized train travel and the ways we imagine and experience time.
Answer - Charles Dowd and the Invention of Standard Time
Born in Madison in 1825, Charles Ferdinand Dowd earned two advanced degrees from Yale College by 1856. He chose a career in education and eventually moved to Saratoga Springs, New York. There, in 1868, he and Harriet founded the Temple Grove Seminary, which they ran as co-principals for thirty-five years.
At this time, all cities and towns across America set their clocks to noon when the sun was directly overhead. This meant that, while railroads began to speed across the country, time varied from city to city. People began to realize the extremely important need for precise arrival and departure times that were consistent from one part of the country to the next. In 1869 Charles Dowd appeared before a convention of railroad owners to suggest a uniform time system. He spent the next year developing a system that divided the United States into four time zones. After many computations, he published the plan in a pamphlet called “A System of National Times for Railroads.” Although the railroads grudgingly recognized the importance of standardizing time, a good deal of public sentiment against the plan remained. By 1884, 85 percent of U. S. towns with populations greater than 10,000 citizens had accepted standard time. This time system, solely invented by Charles Dowd, was officially adopted by Congress in 1918.
History Mystery Week Three - July 25
CLUE: Sometimes known as “Mosquito Hill,” this area of Madison was mostly unoccupied by English colonizers until the 1800s. Before that time, the Hammonasset people lived here. The land and its waterways played an important role in providing such food sources as shad and the now-extinct marsh hens. During the eighteenth century, it served as a hub for porpoise fisheries, which replaced the earlier fisheries of the Indigenous peoples. At least three companies operated in the area in the 1790s, rendering blubber to produce fish oil. In 1898 the Winchester Repeating Arms Company bought this property to use as a testing site for its ammunition and firearms.
Answer - Hammonasset Beach State Park
In 1639 English colonizers arrived in this area by ship, with plans to establish a new community on the shore of Long Island Sound. Their efforts ultimately displaced at least five local Indigenous communities, including the Hammonassets. Led by the Reverend Henry Whitfield and George Fenwick of Old Saybrook, the English negotiated the purchase of large tracts of land along the coast. They established settlements here as well as industries. In addition to harvesting shad and marsh hens, they harvested salt hay for use as feed and bedding for livestock and as insulation for ice. They also collected kelp, seaweed, and other fish for use as agricultural fertilizer.
The Connecticut State Park and Forest Commission, established in 1913, sought to preserve parts of the Connecticut shoreline for public use. By the end of 1919, the Commission had purchased 565 acres that would comprise the park. Hammonasset Beach State Park officially opened to the public on July 18, 1920. It was closed briefly during World War II and loaned to the federal government as an army reservation. Meigs Point served as an aircraft range during that same time period. Now 102 years old, it is the state’s largest and most popular public beach.
History Mystery Week Two - July 18
CLUE: This manufacturing business began in 1877and helped to put Madison’s East River District on the map. Located on Wildwood Avenue, its primary product was, at first, school furniture. With a talent for mixing colors and a “secret formula” in hand, the owners soon focused production on one particular item of use for schoolchildren. Madison’s only early industry that became nationally known for its products still exists today under a different name.
Answer - George Munger's Crayon Factory
George Munger established his business in the 1870s on Madison’s Wildwood Avenue. At first, it was a manufacturing plant for school desks, blackboards, erasers, and other products related to schoolrooms. In the 1880s the Mungers became famed for developing the first dustless crayon, which was actually more of a “chalk crayon.” In 1907 the company was sold to George Weld, who sold the company to Weber Costello in 1934. This company still exists--and still makes the “Alpha Dustless Crayon.” The only Madison industry at the time that sold its products across the nation, Munger crayons were once recognized widely. Unfortunately, the building where they were created no longer stands.
History Mystery Week One - July 11
CLUE: At the turn of the 20th century, it was considered improper for a single woman to own a restaurant or hotel on her own. This particular type of business was considered to be acceptable in the 1920s. This kind of gathering place could offer its patrons a beverage or a meal and could perhaps offer antiques, textiles, or domestic handicrafts. Madison had at least three of these establishments, one was in the Allis-Bushnell Homestead. At the Allis-Bushnell House, both local women and summer visitors from the cities might gather to discuss the topics of the day such as the woman’s right to vote.
Answer - Susan Hart’s Tea Room at the Allis-Bushnell House
Afternoon tea came into fashion in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Hotel tea rooms were primarily managed by men, but small, independent tea rooms began to take hold as an acceptable business for a woman to own. Run, staffed, and patronized by women in the early days, these gathering places also provided a lovely backdrop for sales of antiques, textiles, and handicrafts. Susan Hart’s tea room would probably have been popular with many of Madison’s summer visitors from the cities. Miss Hart’s tea room advertised afternoon tea, meals, and boxed lunches.
History Mystery Week One - July 5
CLUE: This historic site is an important part of Madison’s industrial and agricultural history. It was built around 1865, just off present-day Green Hill Road near the Killingworth town line. In the mid-nineteenth century, local farmers sold their straw here to be made into another important product. The industrial components of this site changed the geography and hydrology of this area and created Lake Hammonasset to the northeast of this site.
Answer - The Papermill Trail
The Paper Mill Trail is on the National Register of Historic Places. It runs along the Hammonasset River and is accessed from Fawn Brook Circle, just off Green Hill Road. Around 1865 a stone dam was built here, creating a huge lake in the uppermost part of the Hammonasset River. The water was directed through a narrow gate that created energy to run the turbines at the mill. Farmers sold their straw to the mill to be made into strawboard, which was used to make boxes. The Paper Mill was one of Madison’s early industries. Click HERE to visit our historic trails page to learn more about the Green Hill Road Papermill.
History Mystery Week Two - July 12
CLUE: This individual was born in 1801 in Madison, then known as East Guilford. He attended Madison’s Woods District School. His birthplace, originally owned by his grandfather, still stands today on Horse Pond Road. At age 17, this individual headed to Augusta, Georgia to work as a grocery clerk at the store owned by his mother’s brother, Daniel Meigs. Over time, this person became a very successful businessman and philanthropist.
Answer - Daniel Hand
Daniel Hand was the son of Daniel Hand, Jr., and Artemisia Meigs. The family homestead is on Horse Pond Road near Green Hill Road. After his mother died, Daniel headed south to Georgia, just before the start of the Civil War. Daniel and his business partner, George Williams, were quite successful in business. By the time of the Civil War, the annual sales from their partnership amounted to $2 million.
Due to his anti-slavery beliefs, Daniel decided to head back north during the Civil War era. George Williams kept their business going, though, and eventually sent Daniel his share of the earnings--an astonishing amount valued at $1.5 to $2 million. Daniel had a strong belief that education for Southern blacks was necessary to strengthen the nation. For the dedicated purpose of educating black Americans in the South, he established a fund of more than $1 million dollars, which was, at the time, the largest charitable donation ever made in the United States. The fund was established with the American Missionary Association, and it still exists today. Daniel Hand also funded the construction of Madison’s Hand Academy, later rebuilt and renamed as Academy School. It too still stands, just off the Boston Post Road, in the heart of the Madison Green National Historic District.
Click HERE to visit our Key Figures page to learn more about Daniel Hand.
History Mystery Week Three - July 19
CLUE: This porcelain object would once have been considered a common household item. They were very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. This particular piece dates, most likely, from the years 1870 to 1890. If you traveled in this time period, you would probably bring one of these objects along with you.
Answer - Porcelain Ink Stand
This item from our collection is a porcelain inkstand. It has a small container to hold the ink and a “shaker” containing sand to help the ink dry rapidly. The stand or tray would be a place to set down your writing instrument. Travelers commonly packed this household item in their luggage because letter writing was the primary means of correspondence in this time period. With the invention of ink cartridges for fountain pens--and, later, ballpoint pens--inkstands became obsolete.
Click HERE to visit our highlights from the collection page to learn more about this and other unique artifacts.
History Mystery Week Four - July 26
CLUE: This person was born in Madison in 1837. At the age of 13, he went to Washington, D.C. to begin an apprenticeship as an engraver at the Smithsonian Institute. Largely self-taught as a landscape painter, he took inspiration from the work of the painters of the Hudson River Art School. He painted a great number of landscapes in the western United States before he moved to Europe, where he became renowned for his peaceful scenes of French forests.
Answer - Gilbert Munger
Gilbert Munger was a prolific landscape painter, especially in Europe. He was born in Madison, but, due to his artistic talent, his family sent him to apprentice with an engraver at the Smithsonian Institute. During the Civil War, Munger served in the Union Army as a military engineer, helping to build fortifications around Washington, D.C. After the war, Munger headed into the American West to paint landscapes there.
In 1877, with his popularity as an artist rising, he went to Europe and settled for some time in France. There he was influenced by the famed artists of the Barbizon School of Art. He painted prolifically in this period, which was the height of his award-winning career. The Madison Historical Society is fortunate to own two Gilbert Munger paintings. One is believed to be a scene from the forest of Fontainebleau; the other is a farm scene from Cazenovia, New York. The Society also owns a cast-iron bust of the artist, made from the original sculpture created by Italian sculptor Max Contini.
Click HERE to visit our Key Figures page to learn more about Gilbert Munger.
History Mystery Week Five - August 2
CLUE: This troupe was one of the first of its kind in New England. The fledgling group had its beginnings in a woodland garden located near the historic Madison Green. The vision for this “happening” was a shared dream created by two young Madison women--Constance Wilcox and Alice Keating Cheney. Their troupe of players traveled north to Canada and as far south as Mexico during its eleven-year history.
Answer - Jitney Players
The Jitney Players, Madison’s best-known summer theater troupe, began their dramatic performances as the Woodland Garden Players. The Woodland Garden plays were performed on Island Avenue in a sun-filled garden behind “Oakledge,” the home of Constance Wilcox, later known as Constance Wilcox Pignatelli. The plays were written by Constance herself, and the proceeds from ticket sales were donated to various charities. The second home for the troupe was at the Curtis Wilcox Homestead on the Boston Post Road, in an eighteenth-century barn later known as the Madison Playbarn.
The next evolution of the theater troupe was the Jitney Players. Working with a man who made circus wagons, the group retrofitted a Ford truck to carry scenery, props, costumes, and a portable stage that they designed themselves. The fledgling company struggled at first, but its lucky break came when a New York Times reporter came to Madison to learn more about them. The Jitney Players traveled the country from 1923-1934, becoming nationally known as a summer theater troupe. Madison can proudly claim that the Jitney Players contributed to the early development of the summer theater movement in the United States.
Click HERE to visit our blog posts to learn more about the Jitney Players.
History Mystery Week Six - August 9
CLUE: Tools like this one are believed to have been used as far back as the fifteenth century when Europeans entered into the Age of Exploration. Its popularity as a navigational tool was at its height in the mid-eighteenth century. Sailors used it to determine the position of ships at sea. John Wilcox of Madison used this particular one on his voyages at sea in the early 1800s. Do you know what it is?
Answer - Ship Quadrant or Sextant
This ship’s quadrant was used by John Wilcox on his voyages from Madison to New York and to Connecticut River ports in the 1800s. The quadrant was the ancestor of the more contemporary navigational instrument, the sextant. It was used to measure the angle of the sun over the horizon at noon. That measurement was used to determine a ship’s location at a particular latitude. Madison’s history as an important Connecticut shipbuilding port goes back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
At the height of its shipbuilding industry, Madison craftsmen were building sloops and schooners at West Wharf, East Wharf, and along the Hammonasset River. Upon completion, the ships transported products from Madison farms and fisheries to markets between Boston and New York City and in the West Indies.
Click HERE to visit our Highlights from our Collection page to learn more about the quadrant and other unique artifacts.
History Mystery Week Seven - August 16
CLUE: This individual was born in 1915 in Madison. Her family home was once on the Boston Post Road, where the Scranton Memorial Library Annex now stands. Highly educated, she earned many honors and certifications during her career. She served as the State of Connecticut’s first state epidemiologist. Do you know who this is?
Answer - Dr. Mila Rindge
In the 1940s, only about 5% of women were physicians. Dr. Mila Rindge was one of them. She worked in a number of hospitals before returning to Madison to go into private practice with her well-loved father, Dr. Milo Rindge. Mila also worked at the CT State Department of Health and was the state’s first state epidemiologist. Dr. Rindge also served as president of the Madison Historical Society.
Click HERE to visit our Key People page to learn more about Mila Rindge.
History Mystery Week Eight - August 23
CLUE: This area is a link to Madison’s early industrial history. The early settlers in this area harvested the land for wood to make charcoal. In the 1800s and 1900s, charcoal production was the lifeblood of Connecticut’s iron industry. The remains of these charcoal pits appear as circular, open areas, often 30 feet in diameter. Early in the 1900s, wagons of charcoal from North Madison were brought to the Winchester Company and other large factories near Harford and New Haven on a daily basis.
Answer - Rockland Preserve
North Madison’s Rockland Preserve contains the remnants of a bygone industry. The charcoal pits appear as circular open areas. Wood charcoal was used to produce gunpowder and glass as well fuel. The wood would be stacked very systematically in a dome shape. The pile of wood might be stacked 10-14 feet high and 20-50 feet wide. Each mound would have a central chimney and a way of controlling the amount of air flowing into the fire.
The making of charcoal was a very slow process and could be quite dangerous for the Collier. The Collier controlled the fire and it had to be watched continuously during a burn. Today there are still the remains of some of the collier’s stone fireplaces that they used for cooking and warmth.
Click HERE to visit our Historic Trails page to learn more about the Rockland Preserve.
History Mystery Week Nine - August 30
CLUE: In 1921 the Visiting Nurses of Madison used this unique location to teach First Aid to students. It is located in a historic building in the Madison Green National Historic District. In 1929, the use of this place was expanded to allow underweight and malnourished children to rest during the day, which was the medical protocol of that era. Students who needed medical or dental check-ups were also sometimes treated here. During World War II, air wardens worked here in two-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, to watch Madison’s skies and landscapes.
Answer - Academy School Rooftop
This mystery location is the rooftop office at the top of Academy School. On this site, in 1884, Hand Academy opened. Madison’s first public high school, it was constructed with funds donated by philanthropist Daniel Hand. In 1921, a second school replaced the first one. Built on the exact same site, it was named Hand Consolidated School and served children from ages 4 to 24! It later became Madison Middle School and, eventually, the Academy Elementary School that still stands today.
The original use of the building’s rooftop room was the school nurse’s office. During World War II, the use of the room shifted for wartime purposes. Equipped with a phone and a pair of binoculars for each warden, the room served as a station for air wardens responsible for watching the skies for enemy planes, looking for signs of explosions, and detecting homes out of compliance with the required nightly blackouts. In the years before Academy School closed in 2004, a weather station was set up in this space. Sources--MHS, CLEMA, oral interview with George Noewatne
Click HERE to visit our Historic District Tour page to learn more about the Academy Rooftop.
History Mystery Week Ten - September 6
CLUE: This woman was born in 1916 and was a lifelong resident of Madison. A remarkable person, she held many volunteer positions throughout town. To name a few of her invaluable jobs, she was secretary of the Deacon John Graves House, a member of the Board of Education, and a member of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. In collaboration with the Madison Historical Society, she helped organize two books for the society, Madison’s Heritage and Madison: Three Hundred Hundred Years by the Sea.
The people of Madison were also fortunate to have her service as the town’s first official historian. To this day, we rely on her research and stories. Do you know who she is?
Answer - Charlotte Evarts
Charlotte Evarts, for whom the Charlotte L. Evarts Memorial Archives is named, had a great passion for history. Immersed in her work on many local organizations and boards, she also collected documents, photos, writings, books, and artifacts that have helped preserve Madison’s history. Charlotte’s greatest hope was that Madison would establish a history room for the town, but until her dream came true, Charlotte’s home on Copse Road was the “archive.”
Named the town’s first town historian in 1988, Charlotte loved teaching others about the town she loved. In 1995, in fulfillment of her dream, the Charlotte L. Evarts Memorial Archives was created. Unfortunately, Charlotte had died before its opening, but it still serves as her legacy to the town. As a nonprofit organization, the Archives collects and preserves archival materials related to the past, present, and future of the Town of Madison.
Click HERE to visit our Key People page to learn more about Charlotte Evarts.