Historical Mystery in Hartford

Thursday, July 16, 2015
Hartford — A new mural in the recently renovated Hartford Town Hall is at the center of a historical mystery, with town officials asking the community for help in identifying the subjects of black and white photos taken in town decades ago.

The wall-length mural, which is located in a first-floor meeting room, was created from photos by former Hartford resident Collamer Abbott in the 1950s, during which time he worked as a photographer for the Valley News and other publications. Abbott died in 2012, at the age of 92.

A collection of his pictures have been maintained by Dana and David O’Neill of Northlight Editions, a digital printing service based in White River Junction; the images have been featured in various area galleries and art shows for years.

Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg visited Northlight to select a series of images for use in the mural, which cost about $2,100, according to Randee Rule, an administrative assistant for the town.

She said many who have come to the Town Hall on business and seen the mural through the glass walls of the meeting room have commented on it favorably.

“The mural shows Hartford’s heritage, and how much the town has changed,” Rule said.

Rieseberg said he chose pictures that represent family life, farming and agriculture in each of Hartford’s five villages of Hartford, Quechee, West Hartford, White River Junction and Wilder.

The pictures include children engaged in wholesome activities, like sledding down a hill, fishing or operating a charmingly misspelled “Lemon-Aid” stand; farmers working their fields; classic automobiles parked downtown; and an idealized picnic, with old-fashioned bicycles in the foreground and a dock in the background.

It’s an effort, Rieseberg said, “to remember our past as we go forward with our future.”

But right now, the community’s memory could use a little prodding, as the names of several of the depicted Hartford residents have been forgotten.

The identity of the picnic-goers is an easy one — the man is Abbott himself, sitting cross-legged on the grass, while the woman pouring him a drink from a glass bottle of milk is his first wife, Winona.

Rule said the town also knows the names of various people featured in the mural, including Earl Dunbar, farmer Albert Schaal, Ernie Pierce, John Stevens and John Woods.

But Rule has asked the public to help identify several other figures — the names of the fishing and lemonade stand-operating children all are unknown, as are three boys warming their hands at a makeshift campfire and two more children climbing on the front end of historic locomotive Engine 494. Also unknown are a man and woman farming together, an elderly farmer using a cane to walk and a man riding a tractor.

Rule said that shortly after asking the public for help, another farmer — Merrill Henderson — was identified by Hartford resident David Briggs, who also owns the Gates-Briggs Building and Hotel Coolidge on South Main Street.

Those with information on the mystery people are asked to contact Rule at 802-295-9353, ext. 217, or rrule@hartford-vt.org.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.


Hartford resident David Briggs identified farmer Merrill Henderson in Hartford’s Town Hall mural. Another farmer depicted in the mural, Albert Schaal, was already known to town officials. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified which man Briggs named.

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