’50s town history

WILTON – There have been a lot of changes in town in the past 50 years, but many things have remained the same.

In 1956, resident Fred Wilkinson was a student at Boston University’s School of Education, working on his master’s degree in education. As part of that program, he wrote a history of Wilton intended for fourth-graders. His reason for writing it, he says in the introduction, is that the last official history of the town was written in 1888 and is almost impossible for a child to read and understand.

In writing the book, he interviewed many older residents, read town reports and consulted that earlier history. He noted that a “new official history” was being prepared, but it was never completed.

Whether Wilkinson’s book was ever used in the school, or for how long, is not known.

Last summer, resident Neil Faiman came across a copy in the archives of the Wilton Public-Gregg Free Library. He described the copy he worked from as a carbon copy, probably the third or fourth copy, on onionskin, and it is quite fragile.

Faiman scanned the 100 pages as well as the 59 pictures, using a Macintosh computer and several software programs. After minimal editing, the book is now on compact disk and will soon be available at the library for a small fee.

It will also be available free on the library’s Web site, www.wiltonlibrarynh.org.

Wilkinson’s book is designed for and uses the vocabulary of fourth-grade textbooks. He chose fourth-graders because they had then, and still have, an intensive unit on the local community. It covers the history of the town from the first settlers in 1738 through 1956.

It is an interesting book, giving a snapshot of life in Wilton in 1956, when there were still gas stations and several grocery stores along Main Street, first-class postage was 3 cents and buses had regular runs through town.

He outlines the evolution of the mail service from occasional delivery by horseback through the modern Rural Free Delivery, and of the railroad, beginning with wood-burning engines and later coal; days when Wilton was the end of the line, a “terminal town,” where they trains spent the night before turning around, and was later just a stop on the way to Greenfield.

He depicts the fire department, first as bucket brigades, through the hand pumpers, to a ladder truck. The one-room schools scattered around town were gradually consolidated. The present Odd Fellows Hall was the first high school.

The pictures provide another glimpse, of snow rollers pulled by oxen, the toboggan chute on Carnival Hill, the town livery stable on Main Street. One picture shows a “snowmobile,” which looks like a Model T, maybe, with four wheels in back and skis on the front. Wilkinson writes it was used by mail carriers in the 1920s.

There are many pictures of businesses from the early 1900s, most of them now gone.

Fred Wilkinson graduated from Wilton High School and then from Keene Teachers College in 1952. He married Beverley Burke of Wilton and they had five children.

He worked in Jordan, helping establish the school system there, and then returned to New Hampshire to teach in Milford, and was the principal in Greenfield. He later moved to Silver Spring, Md., to work in the Department of Education.

For more information, call the library at 654-2581.