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Hartford’s ‘Memory Book’ Chronicles History, 250th Anniversary Celebrations, Tropical Storm Irene

Hartford — For Upper Valley towns celebrating the 250th anniversary of their charters, last year proved a logical time to take stock of the past and document the present. Several, like Hartford, did so in the form of books.

The Year in Photos 2011: Hartford, Vermont Celebrates 250 Years is a rich collection of images from the town’s past, its 250th activities, and the history-making Tropical Storm Irene. The book’s official launch, part of Hartford’s “First Friday” events, is set for Friday from 4-7 p.m. at Hotel Coolidge.

Susanne Abetti was new to Hartford when planning for the 250th ramped up a few years ago, but the idea of a grand celebration grabbed her imagination right away.

“Wow!” she remembers thinking. “We could do some big thing and then document it.”

And so they did.

She was among a handful of determined organizers who mapped out the 2011 celebration, 12 event-packed months exploring the town’s history. They decided to preserve the happenings in a “memory book” and put out a call for volunteer photographers.

“I had this romantic notion we’d have two official photographers at every event, and they’d hand us a disk afterward,” said Abetti, who co-chaired the 250th committee with Pat Stark, archivist for the Hartford Historical Society. But they were just too busy to nail down those details, she said, and “it ended up being more unofficial photographers.”

Abetti, the historical society’s president, edited the book, which includes text and photographs from dozens of contributors. By the time the celebrations were over, she had amassed a few thousand photos, some by professional photographers, others taken with small digital cameras or cell phones.

“You are taking all these pieces and trying to put it into a whole and cross your fingers and hope that it works,” said Abetti, who spent last summer working on the book.

Luckily, it did.

“We just happened to have photos for all the events,” she said.

About 400 pictures made it into the book, which was designed by Corin Hirsch, who also created the town’s 250th anniversary banners.

Abetti sees the book as a portrait of a wonderful community “where two really big things happened.”

The book opens with a chapter about the town’s history followed by a month-by-month look at the 250th celebrations. Many of those images are lighthearted, children casting their lines in a fishing derby, smiling bakers posing with their candy-studded creations for the cake contest. Then, with a flip of a page, everything changes. The chapter about Irene, with its images of town employees and volunteers responding to the storm, shows a grittier, more urgent version of community spirit.

In the book’s introduction, Abetti says she hoped the book would serve as “a snapshot in time” for Hartford’s current residents and for those who decades from now will plan the 300th celebration. A copy will be tucked away in the town vault, to be taken out again in 50 years.

Jonathan Schechtman, a contributing photographer who also helped with editing, said the book provides a “complete picture” of the celebrations. “I think it’s going to be an amazing artifact that’s in itself a time capsule,” said Schechtman, chairman of the Hartford Historic Preservation Commission.

The book was published by the Hartford Historical Society with support from the town and the Hartford School District. In the age of digital media, Abetti said, such a tangible record is a something of a rarity.

“In the old days you looked through an album and passed it around,” she said, but now, that’s somewhat unusual. “Everyone has their photos on their computer.”

Editor’s note: The Year in Photos 2011: Hartford, Vermont Celebrates 250 Years, is available for $19.95 in the town clerk’s and lister’s offices in the Municipal Building. lt will also be sold at the Christmas bazaar on Saturday at Bugbee Senior Center. Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.