State historian helps library and historical society revive the Industrial Revolution

Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society have partnered up to present the seventh series of scholarly lectures with “American Made: The Industrial Revolution in Connecticut.”

This year’s scholarly series will examine Connecticut’s role in the emerging growth of the nation during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

“The series provides an opportunity for those who hunger for no-trivial, in-depth exploration of important topics,” said Louise Herot, chair of the scholarly series planning committee.

“Last year’s series was on the War of 1812 and we saw this new series on the Industrial Revolution as a means to further examine the impact of that war on our society and culture.”

Since 2007, the library and historical society have worked together to present the Sunday series, which have covered periods in history ranging from the birth of the American Constitution to the War of 1812.

“During the Industrial Revolution, Connecticut underwent a huge transformation, unlike anything we had ever had before,” said Ms. Herot.

“There were many cultural and societal changes in Connecticut that resulted from advancements in technology, manufacturing practices, transportation changes, immigration, and agriculture.”

The first hour-and-a-half installment of Industrial Revolution lectures — “Leaving Connecticut, Shaping America” — begins at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9, at Wilton Library. The featured speaker will be Connecticut State Historian Walter Woodward.

Mr. Woodward will talk about the situation in Connecticut just prior to the Industrial Revolution.

“I’ll really be setting the stage for why there was a need for an industrial revolution in our state,” he said.

“At that time, Connecticut needed to find a new way — other than agriculture — to find employment for its expanding population.”

Mr. Woodward said that need for employment was one of the biggest drivers of the Industrial Revolution in Connecticut.

“Connecticut proved to be so good at manufacturing that it really became, in many ways, the model for industrial development in the United States,” said Mr. Woodward.

An example of what scholarly series attendees will learn, said Mr. Woodward, is that in the beginning of the 1800s, Connecticut cities were established wherever there was sufficient waterpower.

Connecticut towns and villages that end with ‘ville’ — like Branchville, Uncasville and Rockville — were originally factory towns or villages, said Mr. Woodward.

“Anytime you see a ‘ville’ in Connecticut, it’s an early 19th-Century town that was established as part of the early Industrial Revolution,” he said.

“They’re scattered around the state, wherever there was falling water to drive mill wheels.”

Ms. Herot said scholarly series lecturers, like Mr. Woodward, are very knowledgeable of their subjects and have the ability to maintain the interest of their audiences.

“Mr. Woodward lectured for us before and he was so well received by everybody,” she said.

“We loved his lecture — it was very interesting and we knew that Wilton residents would like to have him come back this year.”

Each lecture will be followed by a question-and-answer period and reception.

“I’ve always enjoyed the engagement with the audience. The people that come to the lectures are attentive and they ask good questions,” said Mr. Woodward.

“One of the things about Wilton is that the people are just really interested and engaged. It’s always a pleasure to talk to people who really take an active part in the exchange of ideas.”

Ms. Herot said many attendees of past lectures have come back for future series.

“The series has appealed to people of all ages, from school-age to retirees,” she said.

“The largest turnout was about 220 people, with overflow in an auxiliary room with remote TV access.”

Based on past lecture turnouts, Ms. Herot said she expects about 150 people to attend each lecture this year.

“These are university-quality lectures. There’s very much an enrichment experience in these lectures,” she said.

Ms. Herot has hosted scholarly series with Greg Chann, president of the historical society, for the past seven years, with attorney Stephen Hudspeth and Wilton High School classics teacher Max Gabrielson as moderators.

Ms. Herot said learning our nation’s history is important because it shaped the world we live in today and can help shape the future.

“The Industrial Revolution, in particular, was a really important part of our history and by understanding it better, we can see if there are comparisons with situations we face today,” she said.

“The lessons of history can help us to understand the challenges of our own time.”

“Leaving Connecticut, Shaping Connecticut” will be followed by four other lectures, all from 4 to 5:30 p.m.:

• “The Erie Canal, A Mule Named Sal and the Industrialization of America,” with speaker Ann Greene, at the Wilton Historical Society on Feb. 23.

• “The Rise and Fall of the Connecticut Textile Industry,” with speaker Jamie Eves, at the Wilton Historical Society on March 2.

• “Silicon Valley of the 19th Century (CT’s Heritage),” with speaker William Hosley, at the Wilton Library on March 16.

• “The Dawn of Innovation,” with speaker Charles Morris, at the Wilton Historical Society on March 30.

This year’s series is sponsored by Bankwell Wilton.

The lectures are free but donations are welcome, and registration is highly recommended, as space is limited.

Information and registration: ­­ or 203-762-3950, ext. 213.