Legendary Locals of Wallingford is about fabric—the fabric of community that is made up of an amazing variety of threads, yarns, and whole panels of every color, design, and origin. These represent the people of the community. Wallingford’s story goes back over 350 years and encompasses an enormous range of people with every kind of motivation for being part of this town. The people of this community love where they live and give back to the townspeople who have supported their businesses, educated their children, and protected them in so many ways. Wallingford has produced a number of people of celebrity, including Morton Downey, the famous singer and songwriter of the 1920s and 1930s, and also his son Morton Downey Jr., who earned a name for himself in the TV talk show world; Beverly Donofrio authored Riding in Cars With Boys; Maureen Moore acts on Broadway; sculptor Robert Gober recently completed a major show at MOMA in New York; and Maj. Raoul Lufbery was a renowned World War I Flying Ace. These and more are celebrated here.
The story of Bristol is the story of America, played out on the small stage of a lobster claw–shaped peninsula at the heart of Narragansett Bay. From the massacre and displacement of the first Americans to the rise of the merchant class; exploration; slavery; war and peace; the Industrial Revolution; waves of immigration—all these wildly disparate facets of the American experience have been represented and reflected within these 20 square miles. Bristol has been home to patriots and pirates; ministers and murderers; captains who dominated at the helms of whalers, battleships, and 12-meter sailboats; larger-than-life industrialists; Hollywood and Broadway royalty; artists, writers, musicians, and culinary visionaries. But the bulk of the threads in Bristol’s remarkable tapestry are not bold-colored silk, bright metallic, or rich cashmere—most are simple and natural, unremarkably structured and hued, but each one quietly doing its part to form the strong, tightly-woven foundation of this very special place.
The land now called Concord was originally inhabited by the Abenaki people and the Penacook tribe. Concord’s first settlers, such as Ebenezer Eastman, began laying out the Plantation of Penacook, as it was known in 1725, along the fertile fields of the Merrimack River. It was incorporated in 1734 as Rumford and then renamed to Concord by Gov. Benning Wentworth in 1765. Concord experienced a surge in transportation and manufacturing in the 19th century, producing the Concord Coaches, Prescott Pianos, and steam boilers. As Concord celebrates its 250th anniversary, the city flourishes as the state capital and has a thriving community of restaurants, entertainment, and culture for all to enjoy. It retains its town sensibility as it plans for the continued growth of the local economy. Today’s civic leaders, like Byron Champlin and James Carroll, work conjointly with business leaders, such as Tom Arnold of Arnie’s and Juliana Eades of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, to build and enhance Concord’s cultural, social, and economic identity.
Since its settlement in 1769, Bangor’s greatest resource has been its people. Long before 1834, when the town on the Penobscot became a city, future legends were born who transformed it into a world-class community. Hannibal Hamlin served as Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president. Timber tycoon Sam Hersey financed urban development while less affluent folk such as Molly Molasses also made their mark. When philanthropists Stephen and Tabitha King are not writing best-selling novels, they are spreading their wealth throughout the community. Bangor’s melting pot includes the Italian Baldacci family and the Jewish baker Reuben Cohen, who, with his wife Clara, raised their son Bill, a US senator and defense secretary. More infamous but equally legendary is brothel keeper Fanny Jones. Paul Bunyan earned a statue on Main Street. Airport troop greeters Kay Lebowitz and Bill Knight round out the list of notables. They are all jewels in Bangor’s crown, and each in their own way is a bona fide legend.
Established in 1669 as a small farming village on the banks of the Merrimack River, Dracut’s early settlers made their mark during the American Revolution. From French nobleman Louis Ansart, who became an American citizen and settled in the area, to Dracut’s own Joseph Bradley Varnum, the town played a pivotal role in the founding of the nation. More recently, Dracut continues to be the home of modern-day patriots such as Michael Monahan, who left college to serve in the Vietnam War, and Capt. John Ogonowski, who gave his life on September 11, 2001. Dracut has been home to numerous other local legends—Dr. Christos Daoulas was the longest-serving Massachusetts school superintendent, and Dennis Piendak oversaw incredible growth and expansion during his 28 years as town manager. Dracut was also home to the indomitable Polly Urquhart, whose name now graces the corner where her store once stood; Rev. Larry Zimmerman, the pastor of the Old Yellow Meeting House for 33 years; and Edmund Murphy, the dean of Massachusetts high school football coaches. These are a few of the many amazing people who came from a town that was once known as simply “the wildernesse north of the Merrimac.”
From its start as a farming community, Pelham has been a place for dreamers and visionaries. It has been home to NASA astronaut Richard Linnehan and current NASCAR host Meghan Lamontagne, who made her television debut winning America’s Funniest Home Videos. Pelham has many other residents who may not have reached for the stars but instead focused on making a great community. Harry Atwood ran Atwood’s Store, which housed the post office until 1965. Aunt Molly served as librarian at the Pelham Public Library for more than 55 years. The Harris family’s Pelham Inn has always welcomed visitors from all over the region. Originally a parade group, the Starlighters Drum & Bugle Corps was soon participating in world open competitions. Twins John and Charles Steck buzzed above the town from their plane but also performed search and rescue missions. Longtime resident Eleanor Burton remembers all her students, served on every committee, and still actively volunteers. These legendary locals are people who, in their own comical or poignant way, have shared their vision to create our community.
New Britain began in 1754 as an ecclesiastical society and farming village, and with few natural resources, was transformed into a modern industrial city by the time of its incorporation in 1871. Attracting waves of immigrant workers and entrepreneurs, this became a diverse but unified community in which people of all ethnicities worked together, served together in times of war, and even played together on the baseball fields. Legendary Locals of New Britain includes remarkable residents among the early inhabitants and settlers; the people and institutions that brought New Britain to cityhood; artists and entertainers; famous or leading immigrants; sports legends; and men and women who have otherwise made their mark on New Britain, the nation, or the world.
Newton has more than enough legendary locals to fill volumes of books. Endless are the stories about men, women, and young people who dedicated, or still dedicate, countless hours of their lives in order to make Newton and the world a better place. Newton has been a launching ground for award-winning authors, Nobel Prize winners, Olympic medalists, and Hollywood stars. Some of Boston’s best athletes have chosen to make “the Garden City” their home. In the pages of this book, readers will learn about Newton’s first mayor, James Hyde, who never lost an election in more than 50 times on the ballot; Rev. Edmond Kelley, the first pastor at Myrtle Baptist Church and a former slave; Leonard Zakim, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League who dedicated his life to fighting prejudice and civil rights violations; Louise Bruyn, who walked from Newton to Washington, DC, to protest the Vietnam War; Shirley Lewis, known as the “regal queen of the blues”; and Ted Williams, regarded as baseball’s greatest hitter, who lived in Newton Upper Falls.
Although the town benefits from a position on a major navigable waterway, Middletown’s success is primarily due to the energy, creativity, and diversity of its people. These include James Riley, whose autobiography detailing his trials as a white slave in Northern Africa showed millions of Americans the evils of slavery; Max Corvo, who helped the World War II Italian underground defeat the fascist regime; and Christie Ellen McLeod, longtime chief pathologist at Middlesex Memorial Hospital. Middletown can boast of athletes such as Helen “Babe” Carlson, a tremendously strong competitor who participated on men’s baseball teams; Willie Pep, who, while going for the world featherweight title, had a record of 134 wins and only one loss; and Corny Thompson, who sparked the University of Connecticut basketball program’s rise to national prominence. More notables include Allie Wrubel, a prolific songwriter and Academy Award winner for his song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah;” Vivian McRae Wesley, a teacher, reading director, and leader of Middletown’s African American community; and Francesco Lentini, who was born with three legs and appeared in every major circus and carnival.
When Caleb Carr, one of the 101 men who purchased Conanicut and Dutch Islands in 1657, petitioned the General Assembly to incorporate Jamestown in 1678, the town had 150 inhabitants. The community thrived until the American Revolution, when the British occupation drove away many people. Nicholas Carr and John Eldred both remained, rebelling in their own ways. The town recovered slowly, and its character changed with modernized modes of transportation. Steam ferries, introduced in 1873, ushered in an era of resort hotels, affluent summer visitors, and a service economy. The West Passage bridge in 1940 brought permanent residents with off-island occupations and interests. The East Passage bridge (1969) and the replacement West Passage bridge (1992) created a suburban atmosphere enlivened by a continuing influx of summer vacationers. Most newcomers revel in the island’s beauty and are intent on keeping Jamestown the peaceful haven that attracted them.