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Robert Young, Danbury Museum Trustee and Revolutionary War enthusiast, shares with us "Why Danbury?" a short presentation on the reasons behind the British raid on the town on April 26, 1777.
Revolutionary War re-enactor Eric Chandler reads his account of the life of General David Wooster, hero of. the Burning of Danbury and the subsequent skirmish at Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Our colonial era re-enactor Frances Hendrickson reads her account of the life of Sybil Ludington, "the female Paul Revere," including her famous ride across the New York countryside to alert militiamen to the British attack on Danbury.
The archives of the Danbury Museum are a wonderful repository of knowledge. Creating access to that knowledge has, historically, been defined by the size of the research spaces within the museum's Huntington Hall.
In an effort to reimagine our research and archival space, the Danbury Museum has embarked on a journey of digitization to best meet the myriad needs of our elementary, middle school, high school, and adult researchers.
To that end, museum staff and volunteers have been busy creating online research files replicating our archival filing system and making our local history accessible, no matter what your age or area of interest--beginning with Danbury's role in the Revolutionary War.
Though we’ve begun the project in earnest this year, we envision it as a labor of love, with yearly updates as our collection continues to expand and our research community helps us decide the directions in which we grow—together!
On Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson sang before tens of thousands of people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
As part of the Danbury Museum's #DigitalDanbury initiative and to commemorate Ms Anderson's famous concert, we've scanned and uploaded the museum's subject file holdings that relate to Marian Anderson's life in Danbury and beyond.
By 1850, more hats were made in Danbury than any other place in the United States. There were about 56 hat factories or shops in Danbury and it became known as "Hat City of the World."
A lot of water is needed to make hats and Danbury built many reservoirs to hold the water needed for the factories. Today, we use those reservoirs for our drinking water. Danbury also had a very good transportation system, such as trains and good road, to take the hats to other cities around the world.
Over the next 100 years, millions of hats were made here. Most people in Danbury worked in businesses that had something to do with the making and selling of hats. The hat boxes, silk linings for hats, and even hat trim was made here. The hatting industry created many jobs and great wealth in Danbury. Workers were well paid and were considered to be artisans.
But by the 1950s, not many people were buying hats. People spent more time in cars and less time outside, so they didn't need a hat to stay warm. The styles changed and men no longer wore felt hats. The hat factories started to close down. The last Danbury hat factory closed in 1981.
The Danbury Fair was held for one week in October every year for 160 years. It started in 1821 as a small agricultural fair. It was a place to show off your crops, cooking, and farm animals. It was small at first and grew to include much more.
Many people came to the Danbury Fair. In the early years, people rode horses or carriages to get to the fair. They entered through a big gate. By 1895, visitors rode the train or a trolley to visit the fairgrounds. After 1900, they arrived by motorcar. They listened to many kinds of music and could even be in a singing contest.
As the fair grew, there were car races, rides, food, sideshows and dancing. There were contests with prizes for the biggest pumpkin, best sewing, or the tastiest cake. People ate foods like hot dogs, pizza, calzones, and hot apple pie. Every October, Danbury school children got a day off of school to go to the fair. They even got a free ticket!
Starting in 1932, there was a car race track on the fairgrounds. Every Saturday night in summer and early fall, you could go to see the stock car races. The main midway of the fair was always crowded. The tall statues around the fair made it easy to look up and figure out where you were. After the fair closed, many different people bought these statues and took them all over the country.
By 1942, John Leahy owned most of the Danbury Fair. He worked hard to make the fair a special place. Each year he wore his magnificent ringmaster's uniform and led the daily Grand Parade down the midway of the fair. After Mr. Leahy died, his family sold the fairgrounds. The very last Danbury Fair was in 1981. It was torn down to build the Danbury Fair Mall. You can see pictures of the old fair at the mall.
Because of the hatting industry, Danbury built many dams and reservoirs to provide the water needed to make hats. The first water system was the Kohanza Reservoir, built in 1860. It provided clean, clear water to Danbury. It held 40 million gallons of water.
The Kohanza Reservoir froze on January 31, 1869. This frozen river of water traveled down to Danbury and caused major damage to many homes and farms. In only a half an hour, eleven people died and homes, bridges, and factories were destroyed. The big blocks of ice uprooted trees and moved big boulders.
People described the noise of the frozen ice as sounding like a rumbling train moving over the tracks. The bridges on Main, North, and White streets were destroyed. Many other bridges were damaged. The Kohanza Disaster caused over $100,000 worth of damage to properties and homes.
In August and October of 1955, Danbury had a lot of rain. So much rain, that the Still River and many small streams flooded. A large part of the downtown area was destroyed by all the water.
Downtown Danbury was declared a disaster area, so the federal government sent money to rebuild the city. The plan called for many changes to Danbury so that the city would not flood again. They built a concrete channel for the Still River to flow through.
Many roads, buildings, and homes were destroyed during the floods of 1955.
Today parts of downtown Danbury look very different than it did before the 1955 flood. The Still River stills flows through downtown Danbury, but much of it is hidden underground.
The population was changing in many ways. Some of those people came from Ireland and Germany. Later, people from Italy, Sweden, Hungary, and Canada came to Danbury. Each of these groups of people had their own clubs and churches. Many came to Danbury because they had family members already here.
By 1910, most of the people living in Danbury came from other countries. Polish and Slovak people moved to Danbury. Families came from Lebanon, Syria, Portugal, and Brazil. Usually these people would live in separate neighborhoods where they could keep their own language, culture, and traditions.
Today over 75,000 people live in Danbury. They include Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, African, Asian, Italian, Irish, Russian and German people. Danbury has the largest population of Brazilian people living outside of Brazil. There are over 42 languages spoken by students in Danbury's schools!
Marian Anderson was a famous singer. She was born in Philadelphia and learned to sing there. Marian traveled and performed her music all over the world. She sang all kinds of music in many languages. She was the first African-American woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House.
In 1939 she was to give a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., but the owners of Constitution Hall would not allow her to sing there because she was African American. Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the U.S., arranged for Marian Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. instead. Over 75,000 people saw her sing there. Many more watched her on TV or listened to her on the radio. Marian Anderson lived with her husband in Danbury for more than fifty years. You can visit her music studio at the Danbury Museum on Main Street.
Then and Now: Museum staff will visit Danbury Public Schools with a multimedia presentation that features vintage photographs of Danbury to introduce our rich history to third grade students.
Field Trip Fun: Danbury Public School students visit the museum to tour the four historic buildings on our Main Street campus. Tours are led by living history experts who bring Danbury's unique story to life. For the afternoon session, groups can experience Danbury's Museum in the Streets program by taking a walk through our Downtown Historic District followed by a visit to the Danbury Railway Museum or the Still River Greenway.
Surviving the 18th Century:
Danbury Public School students spend a day at the Danbury Museum with 18th century re-enactors. Each re-enactor will lead an interactive session about surviving and understanding life in the 1700s. Hands-on activities include weaving, butter making, colonial games, colonial dancing, and Native American life.
Life in the 18th Century
This museum program is available for homeschool groups. Please contact the museum to schedule a visit and to take advantage of this unique, educational opportunity.
All school programs hosted by The Danbury Museum & Historical Society support Connecticut Social Studies Frameworks 2015, Common Core Learning Standards, and both STEM & STEAM guidelines.
Click on a file to download.