Category Archives: Exhibits

Blog posts that expand on topics covered in the exhibits at the Litchfield History Museum.

Litchfield and the Old Connecticut Game of Wicket

Dr. D. E. Bostwick, father of noted librarian and author Arthur E. Bostwick, was crossing the village green in Litchfield, Conn. sometime in 1870. A hot liner from a nearby baseball game struck him in the eye, knocking him to the ground. While Dr. Bostwick recovered from the injury, his son Arthur wrote in 1930 that his father “might have been killed by it.”(1) The accident, he believed, may have resulted in the game of baseball being banned on the Litchfield town green.  By the 1870s, baseball had taken hold in America, with sports journals already touting the game as “America’s pastime.” Luckily for the residents of Litchfield, there was always wicket.

Wicket, or wicket ball, was one of a number of bat-and-ball games played by Americans in the era before baseball. New England was the heart of wicket country, with Western Massachusetts and especially Connecticut serving as strongholds of the game. There is little definitive history on the origin of the game. Most historians agree that wicket began as an early form of cricket imported to New England by English settlers sometime in the late seventeenth century. (2) Some speculate that the cricket “savored so much of the English aristocracy” that the settlers of New England gradually changed the game’s features, shaping a primitive version of England’s national pastime into a uniquely American sport. (3) Wicket utilized a larger and lighter ball than cricket, and was played with low-standing wickets of greater width and as many as 30 players a side. So far, no documented variation of cricket played before the mid-eighteenth century (when English players began codifying and regulating cricket play) has contained these traits, leading wicket scholars to surmise that whatever the form of the game that arrived in America, “wicket most likely evolved markedly once it had set down American roots.” (4)

Reward of Merit engraved by John Cheney, c.1821, depicting an early game of wicket. Courtesy of John Thorn, “The Oldest Wicket Game, Newly Found” on Our Game, http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2013/02/05/the-oldest-wicket-game-newly-found/The earliest recorded games of wicket date from the late-colonial period, although later wicketers recalled the game being a favorite pastime “long prior to the Revolution.” (5) Project Protoball contains numerous entries for the game, the earliest specific mention of wicket being a game played on the Boston Common sometime around 1725. (6) On two occasions in May, 1778, soldiers stationed at Valley Forge recall playing wicket. The latter game involved George Washington himself, who played wicket with his men after dining with General Henry Knox. (7) It is likely that wicket play in the eighteenth century was largely unorganized and played without written rules or officiating. By the 1800s, however, organized wicket clubs and village teams began appearing in New England, though most (if not all) lacked formal club constitutions or officers. While the sport never attained the professional organization of baseball, wicket games were often accompanied by official rules and officiated by up to three umpires or judges. Diaries, memoirs, and newspaper articles also attest to the fact that wicket was a spectator sport: when the wicketers of New Britain, CT, headed to Bristol in 1859 to play for the state championship, the following occurred:

“Interest had also grown in Hartford to such an extent that a special train was made up in that city for the event. The train left Hartford at 7:30 A.M., with one carload of Hartford people and when it reached New Britain, four cars were quickly filled with excited people. Every car was trimmed with flags and bunting and as the train reached the local station about nine o’clock it presented a grand appearance. The visitors had a band with them and the crown that greeted them at the station was a large one. It is estimated that when the game commenced there were fully 4,000 people in and around the grounds.” (8)

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A Family Reunion

Its hard to believe that it is mid-November already. Here at the Litchfield Historical Society that means that the museums will soon be closing for the winter season. With only a couple of weeks left we hope that you will take advantage of stopping by the Tapping Reeve House or the Litchfield History Museum by December 1. Although the museums will be closed to the public during the snowy months that does not mean that things will slow down here for the staff. With the museums closed we will be busy changing exhibits in preparation for the beginning of next years exhibition season. What does that mean for you? It means you only have a handful of days left to stop in and see our Civil War exhibit, The Hour of Conflict before it comes down!

 

The exhibit closing however, does not mean the end of your chance to come into the museum and learn more about Litchfield during the war. Throughout the year we have all kinds of visitors who come to the historical society to research with both our archival and museum collections. Some are serious scholars, while others may have another reason for wanting to view a specific item. Occasionally the reason is very personal. This past year we had a very touching visit from a family regarding a Civil War item that is as important to their familys history as it is to our local story about the Civil War.

For almost one hundred years the Litchfield Historical Society has cared for the Civil War overcoat of Sergeant Edgar A. Alvord. In March of 1915 the seventy-five year old veteran, and member of the Litchfield GAR, personally came to the historical society looking for a safe place to deposit the overcoat that he wore during the war. It was his hope that it would be well taken care of and respected even after he was gone. Ninety-eight years later Mr. Alvord’s great-grandson, Don Alvord, came through the same front door of the Noyes Memorial Building and brought with him his wife, cousins, and grandchildren to view the coat that his great-grandfather cared so much for.

Srgt. Alvords Overcoat, 1918-34-0, Litchfield Historical Society

Born in Morris, CT in 1840, Edgar A. Alvord was twenty-one years old when he enlisted as a Private in the 5th CT Infantry. After a year of performing guard duty along the Potomac River Alvord was wounded and captured at the battle of Cedar Mountain, VA during a charge on the Confederate Army. He was imprisoned for one month at Libby Prison (notorious for the overcrowded and harsh conditions) in Richmond, VA before being moved to the prison at Belle Isle for another two months. He was then paroled and moved to Annapolis, MD and again to Alexandria, VA before being exchanged back to the Union Army.

Photograph of Srgt. Edgar A. Alvord, ca. 1863, Private Collection

In December of 1863 Alvord re-enlisted in the Union Army as a veteran and was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. In 1864 when he traveled home to Connecticut on furlough Sergeant Alvord brought his overcoat with him and left it in the care of his family in Morris for the remainder of his service in the Union Army. On July 19, 1865 after four years of active service where he served in several battles and was with General Sherman’s March to the Sea, Sergeant Edgar Alvord was mustered out from the Army and returned home to Morris.

Don Alvord’s trip to the Historical Society this year was a real family affair. Not only did Don and his wife make the trip from Missouri, but they brought cousins and grandchildren along with them to the museum to see Sergeant Alvord’s coat. Being a veteran and son of a veteran himself, viewing an item used in wartime by his great-grandfather solidified for him the importance of service to your country and family tradition. One of the highlights of the visit came when the family and Historical Society staff were able to share information with each other about the coat and the Alvord family. Working together the group was able to uncover many bits of family and local history. As the family placed a treasured photograph of Sergeant Alvord next to the coat for a photo op it became obvious that both the family and the Litchfield Historical Society are working to preserve the history and memory of one of Litchfield County’s Civil War hero’s for future generations.

Srgt. Alvord and His Overcoat Reunited After 98 Years

-Jessica Jenkins, Curator of Collections

The museum’s “off” season

As many of our readers know, the Historical Society closes from the end of November through mid-April to the public.  The research library remains open during this time but the Tapping Reeve House & the Litchfield Law School and the exhibits at the Litchfield History Museum close for the winter.

This may give the perception that the staff is resting their feet on their desks and lazily checking email but in fact winter is a very busy time of year for the Historical Society.  Closing the exhibit galleries allows the staff the staff to break down and install the main changing exhibition.

Each year the Society opens a new temporary exhibition.  The show runs the duration of the time the museum is open to the public for the year, focuses on a local topic and uses objects and archives from the Society’s collection to illustrate the themes and ideas of the exhibit.

Each December the previous exhibit is taken apart and the room prepared for the new exhibit to be installed.

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In November 2009, the Historical Society closed the highly acclaimed exhibition To Please Any Taste: Litchfield County Furniture & Furniture Makers, 1780-1830.

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Slowly the furniture was moved out of the room and the stands and decorations piled into one corner.

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The Historical Society relies on the help of Guy Livolsi and Tom Rinkus to assist the staff in moving platforms and cases in and out of the exhibit spaces.  Here they are taking a load of platforms over to the Tapping Reeve House where they are stored until needed for the next exhibition

Hallway of stuff

As different rooms are worked on, materials are piled in unused spaces until they can be placed in the appropriate gallery or taken to storage.

After all of the objects and archives are removed from the exhibit, the room is given a fresh coat of paint.  The needed cases and platforms are brought in and arranged.   Below you see the History Gallery where the 2010 exhibition Goods for Sale! Cash, Credit & Trade in Litchfield, 1790-1850 will be installed over the next six weeks.   The walls have been painted a vibrant red color and the platforms are ready to be placed in the room.

Red walls

Red walls and platforms

The museum hires John Kilbourn, a local professional painter, to paint the galleries each season.

The Historical Society hosts an annual Preview Party for members.  This year the event will be held on Friday, April 16th at 6:30pm.  If you would like to attend this sneak preview of the exhibit please become a member of the Society today to receive your invitation.   The exhibit will be open to the public on Saturday, April 17, 2010 and remain on view through the end of November.