Today Magazine • ​September 2021

Page 1

TODAY Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley

IN THE BLACK Innovative ShopBlackCT Seeks Better Business Equity




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An osprey gives a different meaning to the term flying fish, a baby gator relaxes and a grackle snacks — all at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Florida

Photos by Wendy Rosenberg

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Tale of Two Tragedies COVER STORY

The innovative ShopBlackCT initiative aims to help Black-owned businesses operate in the black while helping consumers stay out of the red BUSINESS BEAT

As the Delta variant makes waves, Valley business owners and reps assess the wake of COVID’s impact VALLEY INTEL

The Avon Free Public Library traces its origins to 1791, translating to a 230th birthday party this very month HISTORY HIGHLIGHTS

Farmington’s history includes the extraordinary case of the Amistad, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“I believe firmly that we all play a role in tackling racism — we cannot simply sit on the sidelines” — ShopBlackCT’s Sarah Thompson BY THE NUMBERS

Businesses on ShopBlackCT —1650

THIS MONTH MARKS the 20th anniversary of a shocking American tragedy — the 9/11 attacks. I considered focusing this edition’s cover story accordingly, but decided to hold off for two reasons. First, media outlets worldwide will cover this story. Today Magazine plans to report on 9/11 when our coverage is less likely to be lost in the anniversary avalanche. The second reason: • Another tragedy horrified citizens worldwide on Memorial Day 2020 — the murder of a black man with hands cuffed behind his back, who died with his neck pinned down on a Minneapolis street by a white policeman. The shocking death of George Floyd compelled an Avon resident to launch ShopBlackCT, which seeks to change economic decisions vis-à-vis a hot-button debate: systemic racism. Can we as a community curtail an ongoing American tragedy? For an answer, see our September cover story on pages 4-7 — BWD Today Magazine • Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley Bruce William Deckert — Publisher + Editor-in-Chief 860-988-1910 • > Digital Editions • Award-Winning Today Magazine Online — Follow Today Magazine CT on social media: Advertising — Contact the Publisher Editorial Associate — Kayla Tyson Contributing Photographer — Wendy Rosenberg Five Towns, One Aim — Exceptional Community Journalism Farmington • Avon • Canton • Simsbury • Granby – CT, USA • Two other Valley magazines: print circulation — less than 19,000 • Today Magazine: print circulation — 42,000+ • Ad Rates — about the same


COVER STORY CONGRATS Today Magazine’s August cover story featured the history, legacy and current reality of Holcomb Farm, a historic Granby landmark that was rooted and established pre-Declaration of Independence — THANK YOU for the beautiful cover story on Holcomb Farm. It’s a pretty special place that’s doing some really exceptional work — and we appreciate your help in telling our story. —Trish Percival • Friends of Holcomb Farm • Granby THANK YOU for the cover story on Holcomb Farm ... really nicely done. We will promote it — and Today Magazine — widely! —Jenny Emery • Holcomb Farm executive director • Granby


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THAT WAS a wonderful article on Holcomb Farm in the most recent issue of Today Magazine. Congratulations! —Put and Nannie Brown • West Granby AWARD KUDOS I AM NOT SURPRISED about Today Magazine getting nine SPJ awards! As for the award for this photographer, wow, who would have thought? So very honored! Not to sound redundant, but I am so honored to be a small part of Today Magazine. Thank you for the amazing opportunity! —Wendy Rosenberg • Canton Rosenberg is a Today contributing photographer, focusing on nature and wildlife ANOTHER great edition — and congratulations on your myriad new awards! Lynne Adame • Simsbury Meadows aka SMPAC THANK YOU for publishing Odalys’ story (From Cuba to Connecticut). We are spreading the news and sharing the magazine far and wide. I have many interesting conversations with Farmington Valley residents and surely will tip you off for possible news and stories. Thanks again. —Joe Bekanich • Avon TODAY MAGAZINE – – SEPTEMBER 2021



ShopBlackCT Boosts Black-Owned Businesses By Bruce Deckert Editor-in-Chief • Today Magazine


“This effort

IN THE BLACK — for those who are unfamiliar with this business-related phrase, here’s the definition from the online Cambridge Dictionary:

is 100% about

• in the black – idiom — earning more money than you spend This year our business is in the black.

up others and

The opposite phrase is as follows:


• in the red – idiom — spending more money than you earn The company has been in the red for the past year. Likewise, in case you are unacquainted with, let’s make the introduction. 4


giving, lifting

nothing in return”

ShopBlackCT is an innovative initiative that seeks to boost Black-owned businesses in Connecticut and support consumers via a convenient website listing that expedites finding these businesses and accessing their quality goods and services. Yes, ShopBlackCT aims to help the state’s Blackowned businesses operate in the black — while helping consumers stay out of the red by identifying the valuable deals and everyday value these companies provide. The volunteer-run initiative lists businesses for free and offers complimentary digital marketing, writing and photography services. As the not-forprofit website states: “This effort is 100% about

COVER PHOTO giving, lifting up others and expecting nothing in return.” Avon resident Sarah Thompson founded ShopBlackCT, launching the website on July 1, 2020 in the wake of two monumental events that rocked the nation and shocked the world — the COVID shutdown of March 2020 that led to countless layoffs and business closures, and the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, on Memorial Day. She started building ShopBlackCT in June 2020 and debuted in July with an online list of 175 businesses that has increased to the current listing of 1,650 from more than 100 towns and cities statewide. Connecticut has 169 municipalities, per the website. Thompson and Yvette Young are the ShopBlackCT co-leads as well as colleagues at The Village for Families & Children in Hartford. Thompson is the senior director for marketing and communications at The Village, and Young is the associate vice president for programs and advocacy. “My personal mission is to make a difference in the lives of children and families,” Young says on The Village website. “To be present and supportive to those in need.” She extends this commitment in her work with ShopBlackCT. In an August 2020 Today Magazine article, Thompson wrote: “Two pandemics have compounded to create enormous challenges for Black-owned businesses in Connecticut: COVID-19 and racism.” She cites some compelling statistics — for example, COVID forced 41% of Blackowned businesses to close compared with 17% of white-owned businesses, according to a 2020 report. Further, for decades Black businesses have been denied business loans disproportionately, and Thompson attributes this primarily to the systemic racism that ShopBlackCT aims to counteract. The initiative’s stated mission is “to challenge structural racism and transform the legacy of economic and social inequity in the U.S. by providing a platform to drive business to and awareness of local Blackowned businesses.” The website notes that “Blackowned businesses face disproportionate challenges due to system racism.” Americans have debated this issue, often along political and ideological divides. Many say that systemic racism is a significant problem, while others question or dismiss it.

Valerie and Robert Legagneur, a husband-wife team, are co-owners of Kerian Home Health Care Agency in Simsbury, which is listed on — with ShopBlackCT founder Sarah Thompson ———————————————— “We appreciate ShopBlackCT’s efforts to highlight Black-owned businesses,” Robert says. “We are not aware of any other platform that is doing this. We welcome the exposure and plan to frequent some of the businesses that are showcased. We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship partnering with ShopBlackCT.” ————————————

PHOTO – PAGE 4 The Kerian staff (left to right) — coordinator Kerry McCarthy, office assistants Tristan Stoneman and Taylor Manning, Chief Operating Officer and co-owner Valerie Legagneur, Chief Executive Officer and co-owner Robert Legagneur

Photos by Connecticut Headshots • 860-593-0850

Those who assert that systemic racism is a major issue cite alarming statistics, the history of U.S. race relations and other evidence. Those who question the reality of systemic racism cite extensive advancements in civil rights since the 1960s, along with laws in place today (that weren’t in place then) prohibiting discrimination in the American socioeconomic realm. “While these laws and civil rights advancements have helped society take steps in a better direction,” Thompson says, “systemic racism is deeply rooted in the very fabric of our country.” She notes that laws alone don’t eradicate systemic racism — “it still has a heavy imprint on education, health care and other societal systems, which directly impacts economic equality.” Thompson recommends a timehonored human approach as a way to move toward resolving the debate. “I would challenge those who dismiss systemic racism to do one thing — listen,” she says. “Listen to people of color to hear their stories. Listen to understand, not to rebut.”

She encourages people to allow room for another’s perspective and “to accept what you’re hearing as a lived experience of that person,” if not necessarily “as a representation of all people of color.” “Listen with genuine compassion, especially if you are not a person of color,” Thompson says. “I can almost guarantee that if you do this, the lens you’ve been looking through will shift.” How can the two sides of this debate find common ground and move toward a better and more equitable American society for all? “ShopBlackCT provides a perfect opportunity for common ground,” Thompson says. “By choosing to support the businesses listed on our site, both sides can work toward the shared goal of helping to stabilize the community by supporting local businesses that have something for everyone and are working hard to drive the economy…” “As long as we’re working together to create an equitable opportunity for all businesses to succeed in Connecticut, we are on the right track.” In an exclusive Q&A with Today Magazine, Thompson illuminates her hopes for the future of ShopBlackCT and much more: Most satisfying accomplishment in ShopBlackCT’s first year-plus? I’m so thankful that ShopBlackCT has grown eightfold in just one year. We’ve now been established as Connecticut’s go-to website for Black-owned businesses, have created a platform where people are connecting, businesses are growing and positive community impact is happening. To think of what has happened in just a year is just amazing. Most fulfilling aspect of your work in general? I believe firmly that we all play a role in tackling racism. We cannot simply sit on the sidelines — especially people who look like me — and do nothing, when we are still living in a time where there is deep racism plaguing our systems. So for me, I feel grateful to be allowed to share about the incredible Black-owned businesses that are all across our state, share the stories of the business owners, get to know many wonderful people, and be trusted to do this work. It’s an honor. Your primary goal and/or hope for ShopBlackCT in the next year? I hope that we can build our volunteer team even more and develop more



partnerships to help ShopBlackCT continue to grow and permeate Connecticut.

How closely do you work with other agencies, organizations and nonprofits?

Your wildest and widest dream for ShopBlackCT?

We have worked with many people over the course of the year to help grow ShopBlackCT and support CT Blackowned businesses. The list can be seen on > About > Thank You.

My biggest dream for ShopBlackCT is that it would list every Black-owned business in Connecticut and, in doing so, that it would help dismantle the systemic racism that has caused social and economic inequality in our country. I dream for ShopBlackCT to provide a platform — for years to come — for relationships to be built, conversation around race to stay at the forefront, wealth gaps to be filled, and for all business owners to have equal opportunity to thrive.



this should be only Black-led. There is much work to be done in this space, and it’s messy work. I’m here for the long haul, and with that will always come challenges. How many volunteers does ShopBlackCT have? About 20.

We’re especially excited to have partnered with Planet Fitness (30 locations in CT are Black-owned), Outfront Media (who provided free billboard space for us throughout CT), the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun (who have spread the word to their fan base through video, social media and their website) and Hot 93.7 FM (who have had us on air several times).

Sarah Thompson • ShopBlackCT founder Your biggest challenge pre-launch, and how you overcame it?

Volunteer opportunities: We have several teams — writing, photography, social media, data. Right now, our biggest need is for writers and photographers for our business features that we publish in the blog on our website.

Pre-launch, our biggest challenge was to find the information about Black-owned businesses, since that was one of the reasons the site was launching in the first place. I searched online, reached out to friends and family, made phone calls to verify businesses, and listed businesses I had already frequented. There were many late nights to get the site up and running, but I was committed then and am committed now to this work, so when you are passionate about something, that’s what drives you.

Does ShopBlackCT accept monetary donations? Yes, we have sponsorship opportunities available for various aspects of our initiative.


Relevant stats + numbers: • currently lists over 1,650 businesses from more than 100 cities and towns in every county in CT.

• 83% reported more exposure, increase in sales or new connections to other business owners thanks to ShopBlackCT.

One of our biggest challenges is keeping up with the growth of the site and supporting the businesses in the ways we set out to — our blog business feature articles are in high demand, but we need the people power to be able to provide that support.

Katonya Hughey is a co-owner of Your CBD Store in Simsbury, which is listed on ShopBlackCT

To what extent did the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020 impact your decision to establish ShopBlackCT? For Thompson’s cogent answer to this question, see her accompanying article on the next page + Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert is an award-winning journalist

Courtesy Photo

On the other side of the coin, my intentions have been misunderstood by some who believe that any initiative like

Editor’s Note — ShopBlackCT has also been featured on WFSB-3, FOX61 News, WTNH News 8 and other media outlets

• 95% of business owners surveyed said ShopBlackCT is helpful for CT Blackowned businesses.

Your biggest current challenge, and how you plan to overcome it?

In a different (but perhaps even more important) vein, we still face challenges of people not understanding why this site is necessary, and I’ve been accused, more times than I would like, of being racist and divisive because I am promoting Blackowned businesses.

NBC CT has been a great support as well, providing a significant amount of coverage and highlighting Black-owned businesses that we’ve connected to them throughout the year.


To read Sarah Thompson’s previous ShopBlackCT articles in Today’s August 2020 and February 2021 editions:


Moving From Empathy To Action By Sarah Thompson • ShopBlackCT founder Special to Today Magazine

In Thompson’s exclusive interview for this edition’s coverage of ShopBlackCT, we asked her this question: To what extent did the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020 impact your decision to establish ShopBlackCT? Her answer is in this article ————————————————— GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER was a catalyst to move from empathy to action, which resulted in establishing ShopBlackCT. After attending protests following his death and the death of Breonna Taylor, I felt strongly convicted to do something to create change in my community beyond posting hashtags and sharing memes about racial injustice. After praying about it, I felt God put on my heart to utilize my expertise to do something tangible in this space to keep the conversation around racial inequity alive, foster community and create change. But as a white woman, I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t centering myself in whatever action I was taking. The more I learned about the disproportionate challenges Black-owned businesses face due to systemic racism, and how the COVID pandemic has exacerbated those challenges, I felt compelled to do something to support these businesses. While I always supported Black-owned businesses — my go-to is Dunn’s River Restaurant in Hartford for the best curry shrimp — when I tried to find more Black-owned businesses to support right here in my local community, I came up short. I knew there was an opportunity to help fill this gap.

Shocking murder of George Floyd key motivator for ShopBlackCT I knew it was a risk. I knew I’d get some strong opinions about it, but I also knew this is something that is needed. I have received backlash from “both ends” of the spectrum — those who feel that is racist in and of itself, and those who feel that a white person should not be leading this type of effort, even though it is co-led by a Black woman and our volunteer team is diverse. But for every difficult encounter I’ve faced, I know that it’s nothing compared to what people of color have faced in our country, so I will continue this work so long as business owners and community members are saying it’s doing what it’s set out to do. And they are. I receive feedback on a very regular basis that this platform is not only a site but a movement, and one that is helping even more that we thought it would when it launched. While George Floyd was the tipping point for me to do something to create change, his death came after many other deaths that were rooted in racism and inequity — and before others who have since died — so ShopBlackCT will continue providing a platform to elevate and amplify Black voices and Black-owned businesses even when the trending hashtags fade from our social media timelines. + An Avon resident, Sarah Thompson is the senior director for marketing and communications at The Village in Hartford




COVID shutdown: what worked, what didn’t By Katherine Napier Special to Today Magazine

IT IS NO SECRET that small businesses across the nation have been struggling to survive after the COVID shutdown that began in March 2020. One-third of small businesses were forced to close during those first few months, per The Wall Street Journal. Since then, many have been trying to get back to a sense of normalcy. After the recent surge in COVID cases, another lockdown is the last thing business owners want. Businesses all over the Farmington Valley have felt the impact of the pandemic to varying degrees. Here is a brief timeline of the Connecticut government’s statewide shutdown of businesses due to the COVID pandemic, according to multiple media outlets: • March 16, 2020 Gov. Ned Lamont announces that certain businesses — including gyms, restaurants, bars and movie theaters — are ordered to close. • March 18, 2020 Lamont expands the list of business closures — adding indoor shopping malls, amusement parks and bowling alleys. • March 19, 2020 All salons and barbershops are added to the shutdown list and ordered to close. • March 21, 2020 Businesses considered “nonessential” as defined by the state are told to close. • March 23, 2020 The state’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” policy takes effect. In exclusive interviews with Today Magazine, small business owners and business leaders in the Farmington Valley have commented on two key issues: What they think worked well regarding the state’s COVID business shutdown, and what they wish had been done differently. Morgan Hilyard, executive director of the Simsbury Chamber of Commerce, says that while the initial shutdown was beneficial in ensuring people distanced themselves and took precautions, the length of the lockdown hurt businesses. “The shutdown over months was incredibly detrimental to so many businesses,” Hilyard says. “It is hard to say what should have been done differently, but I do wonder if the stay inside and business shutdown mandate was more strict but for a far shorter amount of time, we may have been able to extinguish the transmission process and reopen faster.” 8

Business reps assess impact, state’s response Such a large-scale government decision will be “polarizing and difficult,” she notes, “and we were dealing with something previously unknown, but the length of the shutdown in my opinion caused the most damage.” Hilyard agrees with the state’s approach of encouraging employees to work from home, saying this has been “a necessary action.” A representative of the Christopher Bryant Co., a septic and sewer company with operations in Simsbury and Bloomfield, says unforeseen consequences occurred when so many people stayed home during the shutdown because demands placed on septic systems drastically increased. “Backups and overflows resulted in panic calls from homeowners who were finding sewage in their yard, basements and toilets,” says Sherri Litchfield. “The last thing people wanted to deal with was a septic problem on top of all the other fears related to the COVID pandemic.” Litchfield attributes the increased sewer and water usage to more frequent hand washing, cleaning and toilet flushing while people were home almost 24/7. Further, with the pandemic-related shortage of toilet paper, the so-called “flushable wipes” many people resorted to caused major issues for owners with septic systems. Regarding the way the state handled the shutdown, Litchfield says, “I am not sure that anything could have made a difference with this pandemic — I only wish that as a nation we had been more


informed and better prepared for a pandemic such as this.” Septic and sewer companies are on Connecticut’s extensive list of essential businesses. Anderson Turf Irrigation of Avon is also considered an essential business, so the company was fortunate to not have to close when the COVID shutdown occurred. “Because of all the individuals who stayed home, they realized that they weren’t going on vacation, so they improved everything at home,” says owner Curtis Anderson. “The end result was that it increased gross sales dramatically.” Anderson hopes there won’t be another shutdown, but says it depends on how the COVID variants affect the state. The insurance industry is also considered an essential business, yet Christensen Insurance of Simsbury shut its door in the early stages of the pandemic and employees worked from home. “The pandemic was a catalyst for change,” says owner Noris Christensen. “By June we moved to a larger office space providing better options to be in the office with social distancing. We increased use of online tools to minimize the number of inoffice meetings. I feel blessed sales remain strong.” In terms of what worked well regarding the state’s COVID policy, he says: “Many people in Connecticut got the message that we are all in this together — with so many people following safety guidelines, lives were saved.”

As far as what could have been done differently? “Owners of businesses which were forced to close should have received more financial help,” Christensen affirms. A co-owner of Hulme & Sweeney Piano Service in West Simsbury says the state handled the pandemic well related to his business, which received many calls with offers of financial assistance from the government. The company decided to not accept the funds, says Tony Hulme, because of various stipulations that would have been difficult to comply with. “Because of the pandemic, organized sports took a big hit, so the next big thing was musical education,” he notes. “That really helped us and the whole industry. … We didn’t lose any income in 2020.” Meanwhile, hair and nail salons have been considered nonessential businesses, per state guidelines. Janina Cummings, owner of Shear Wellness Salon & Spa in Simsbury, says that “nobody knew how to handle things quickly [during this] traumatic and difficult time.” The state initially planned a reopening date for salons in May 2020, per various reports, but pushed the date back to June at the 11th hour — so all the salons that had purchased state-required personal protective equipment and reconfigured client space were forced to wait another month to generate revenue to pay for these state-mandated changes. Even after Shear Wellness reopened, Cummings says many people didn’t feel confident coming in due to the fluctuation of the coronavirus positivity rate. “People who are not vaccinated should get the vaccination so they feel comfortable getting services,” she observes. “It makes you feel good.” After the state’s March 2020 shutdown, the reopening of nonessential businesses took place as follows, per various media outlets: • Phase 1 — May 20, 2020 Restaurants (outdoor only), retail stores, offices, outdoor museums and zoos • Phase 2 — June 20, 2020 Restaurants (indoor but no bars), accommodations (no bar areas), barbershops, bowling alleys, fitness clubs and gyms, hair and nail salons, movie theaters, personal services, outdoor amusement parks, outdoor events (up to 50 people), pools, museums, zoos and aquariums • Phase 3 — Late July 2020 Bars, indoor amusement parks and arcades, indoor event spaces and venues, outdoor events (up to 100 people)

“The state did a great job with the outdoor dining regulations, allowing towns the flexibility to temporarily permit many locations,” says Sarah Nielsen, executive director of Simsbury Main Street Partnership Inc. In partnership with the town Board of Selectmen and the Zoning Commission, Simsbury Main Street helped convene an Outdoor Dining Committee that was able to approve requests from restaurants within 48 hours to temporarily extend outdoor dining areas. The typical permit fees were waived. Simsbury Main Street also advocated for the governor’s executive order that streamlined state approval to serve alcohol in temporary restaurant spaces, Nielsen says — with help from state Sen. Kevin Witkos and state Rep. John Hampton. Because of Simsbury’s success, she notes, Gov. Lamont chose to sign the extension of the alcohol bill in town, at Millwright’s Restaurant, where owner and chef Tyler Anderson has been “at the forefront of creating unique, safe outdoor dining spaces like his greenhouses.” Asked what she wishes the state had done differently regarding COVID policy, Nielsen replies: “I don’t second-guess what could have been done differently — we all did the best to keep people safe given what we knew at the time.” What about the possibility of another state shutdown of nonessential businesses before the end of 2021 — will this be necessary? “I don’t like to speculate given many things [that] could happen before the end of the year,” Nielsen says. “Instead, I will remind people that the three vaccines and the temporary mask mandate by executive order of the town of Simsbury are meant to prevent this type of shutdown.” When the lockdown first occurred, the owner of Avon-based Raimie Weber Jewelry took advantage of the internet and increased her online presence via platforms such as eBay, Pinterest and other social media sites. “I have no complaints about how the state managed the shutdown,” says Raimie Weber. “I am in a business that was minimally impacted.” Yet COVID has redefined how she conducts business. “I am in a unique position, I think, as my business model lends itself to appointments,” she observes. “Usually there is an email exchange, many times followed by a Zoom call, and then often a package from the customer with the

items to be either redesigned, repaired or consigned.” Weber says she is grateful for the clients who take the time to see her, even if only through a computer screen. Juno Beauty Studio opened during the pandemic — in July 2020 — and has also increased its social media presence during the COVID shutdown. “[The shutdown] forced me to think outside the box in terms of where my business could thrive,” says owner Brooke Gengras. “I never imagined opening a beauty studio in a hundred-year-old factory would play such a huge part in Juno’s success. It turns out the shutdown of personal services gave me the time I needed to build up our social media to make business come to Juno, rather than feeling like Juno needed to be in a strip mall where the rents are cost-prohibitive.” Juno has two locations in the Collinsville section of Canton: Juno Beauty Studio, in the historic Collins Axe Factory building, and Juno Studio & Supply, on Main Street next to LaSalle Market. “Being in the Axe Factory is seen as a unique experience by our clients, not just a place to get a facial,” Gengras says. She notes there isn’t much that she wishes had been different in terms of how the shutdown was handled. “We needed the shutdown of personal services to learn how to best protect ourselves and our communities,” she says. “There’s no way to socially distance when waxing someone’s brows, but there are other ways to mitigate the risk of transmission, and we now implement all of them.” Gengras adds that she hopes the governor will enact another indoor mask mandate until more people get vaccinated: “If we can keep COVID numbers from going up, everybody wins.” + Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert contributed to this story

• Today Magazine couldn’t reach several other Farmington Valley business owners after multiple requests for comment. • The Avon-Canton Chamber of Commerce and the Granby Chamber of Commerce couldn’t be reached for comment — there is no longer a distinct Farmington COC. • Canton Main Street Inc. declined to comment — besides the Main Street networks in Canton and Simsbury, Today Magazine has found no evidence of such networks in the Valley towns of Avon, Farmington and Granby.





Library marks 230th anniversary Special to Today Magazine

THE AVON FREE Public Library is celebrating its 230th birthday this month. The library traces its roots to September 1791, when the town’s minister signed up subscribers for a library. Rev. Rufus Hawley wrote in his journal about riding to New Haven to buy “books for the public Library.” By 1798, Samuel Bishop had a collection of 111 books in his


home on Bishop Lane, and the library was open six times a year for borrowing. When the next librarian, Josiah Ansel Wilcox, was elected in 1842, the library moved to his home on Cider Brook Road. After that library closed 10 years later, books were shared informally for many years before moving into Phinenas Gabriel’s shoe store on West Main Street in the 1890s. In 1909, a board of directors was elected to reorganize the library and


These books and this book cabinet were part of Avon’s first library in 1791 Courtesy Photos

draw up by-laws and rules. With a budget of $175, the board hired a trained librarian to classify the collection. Fred Neville became Avon’s first paid librarian, compensated for his librarian duties and also for housing the library in his home on Simsbury Road. The library in Neville’s home was open each Friday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. Each borrower was limited to two books at a time, to be returned within two weeks. Records show that 1,767 books circulated in 1909 among 62 registered families. Fundraising began in 1929 to buy land for a library building. On Aug. 30, 1932, a one-room brick building was completed at 17 West Main Street. In the next 50 years, this building was enlarged three times. Volunteers manned a bookmobile that delivered library books to West Avon, Huckleberry Hill and Secret Lake. In 1950, the Friends of Avon Library group was formed to provide funds for books and equipment and to establish exhibits and programs. Long-range planning for a new building began in 1971, and the site of the current library on Country Club Road was purchased in 1973. After a 1978 agreement with the town of Avon, the library board donated the land to the town, which built a 13,500-square-foot facility and assumed responsibility for most operational funding. The Country Club Road building was expanded in 1997 and again in 2012, tripling in size to 40,000 square feet and becoming the library of today. Back in 1969, the Wilcox family donated to the library over 90 books of the original 1791 collection of 111 books, plus the original book cabinet, and they now reside in the library’s Marian Hunter Local History Room. +

CANTON TODAY Food Bank accepting clients Special to Today Magazine

THE CANTON FOOD BANK is here for you! Begun in 1983, the food bank helps supplement the nourishment needs of Canton residents — whether for a few weeks, months or years. The Canton Food Bank is located in Trinity Episcopal Church at 55 River Road in Collinsville. The food bank is open Tuesdays from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. If inclement weather occurs, the food bank closes on Tuesday only if the Canton public schools are closed. Each food bank client must be a Canton resident.

In addition to Canton residency, clients must complete an application in the Canton Senior & Social Services Department. Call 860-693-5811 to apply or for further information. Donations of nonperishable food items and money are welcome. Cash donations can be mailed to: P.O. Box 374, Collinsville, CT 06022. To donate perishable items, arrangements must be made in advance. The Senior & Social Services office is located in the lower level of the Canton Community Center at 40 Dyer Avenue in Collinsville. +


Friends give $20,000 to strengthen library Special to Today Magazine

DESPITE THE CANCELLATION of the 2020 and 2021 book sales, the Friends of the Canton Public Library have donated $20,000 to the library due to a strong membership campaign. The Canton community stepped up during a year when the Friends were unable to hold the usual fundraisers. In the past year, the community’s donations have helped the Canton Library in a variety of ways, such as helping meet the demand for more e-books and audiobooks. Funds have provided for new shelving in the children’s room and for materials for takeand-make craft kits. Further, the generous donations have helped purchase archival and digitization materials for the Local History Room, among many other enhancements. The 2021 Membership Drive is ongoing, and the Friends are asking for the community’s support as they explore new ways of assisting the library with all of its essential services. Meanwhile, the book sale kiosk has reopened at the library. If you’re looking for a great adult or children’s book at a bargain price, you can add to your collection and support the Friends. Established as a nonprofit in 1964, the Friends of the Canton Public Library incorporated in 1979. The Friends’ goals are to build a membership of citizens who support the library, to encourage the use of library services, to spotlight the value of the library in the life of our community, and to expand the resources of the library through fundraising. +

Canton Food Bank Serving Eligible Canton Residents Canton Food Bank at Trinity Episcopal Church 55 River Road Collinsville Open Tuesdays

30-11 30 a.m.

Apply with Canton Senior Social Services Call 60-6 3-5 11

Owned & Operated by the Carmon Family

…the Carmon Family believes that each funeral should be personal and meaningful. Our services reflect the Carmon family values and our ongoing commitment to serve families with care and compassion.

Avon Location

Granby Location



301 Country Club Road

364 Salmon Brook Street



Amistad’s amazing story rooted in local history By Nishant Gopalachar Special to Today Magazine

THE FARMINGTON Historical Society features the remarkable case of the Amistad. From March to November 1841, Farmington was the temporary home for the African captives — mostly Mendi from current-day Sierra Leone — who commandeered the slave ship Amistad. While they were in Farmington, “abolitionists provided housing, schooling and the fundraising necessary for the Mendis’ passage back to their homeland,” per the FHS website. In February 1839, Portuguese slave hunters kidnapped free Africans in eastern Africa and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a major hub for the slave trade — “this abduction violated all of the treaties then in existence,” according to the U.S. National Archives website. In Havana, “the Africans were classified as native Cuban slaves and purchased at auction by two Spaniards, Don Jose Ruiz and Don Pedro Montez,” per the website. The two plantation owners originally planned to move the African men to

a different part of Cuba, so they were chained and placed on the cargo schooner Amistad — Spanish for “Friendship” — for the coastal voyage. Three days into this journey, Sengbe Pieh — a 25-year-old known as “Cinque” to his captors — broke out of his chains and released the other captives. The African men took the ship and killed most of the Amistad’s crew, including the captain. Ruiz and Montez survived. Using the sun to navigate by day, the Africans steered the ship east for a return trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa. But at night the two Spaniards changed course unbeknownst and tried to return to Cuba, per the site. The zig-zag journey continued for multiple months, and Ruiz and Montez ultimately steered the ship north. On Aug. 24, 1839, the Amistad was captured by the U.S. brig Washington near the coast of Long Island, NY. The African men were imprisoned and charged with murder. The U.S. government seized the ship, and on Aug. 29 the Amistad was brought to New London, CT. Local abolitionists hired three lawyers — Roger S. Baldwin continued on page 15

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Steven Spielberg directed the Amistad movie

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FIRE TEAM MARKS 85th LAFD celebrates dual anniversary

Editor’s Note • Established in 1936, the Lost Acres Fire Department (LAFD) has defended the town of Granby for more than eight decades and is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. • 2021 is also the exceptional 100th anniversary of the LAFD’s first fire truck, known as LA-1. Purchased from the Simsbury-based Ensign Bickford fire department, this truck served the Valley into the 1950s. • LAFD fire chief John Horr Jr. has been a member of the department for 41 years. Part 1 of his exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Today Magazine appeared in our September edition — here is Part 2 of his Q&A:

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Reported by Pranav Anandavel Special to Today Magazine

This REO Speedwagon fire truck, known as LA-1, is the first truck of the Lost Acres Fire Department — and is 100 years old this year

Mission — Provide fire and emergency services to the residents of the town of Granby Goals for the next 1-5 years? As a fire department, we must constantly assess the ever-changing exposure and risks within the town and adjust our operations accordingly. We have restarted our radio system replacement project, as our existing radios are over 30 years old, and we can no longer buy replacement

Volunteer opportunities: Running a fire department takes many hands — healthy men and women willing to learn the trade. We do school visits and other fire prevention and public education continued on page 15

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2 – Considered to be Connecticut’s largest tree by some elusive measure, the massive sycamore is named for Gifford Pinchot, who was born in 1865 in what today is known as the Simsbury 1820 House 1 – The Pinchot Sycamore’s home is hard by the gently flowing Farmington River, which sings a Valley lullaby a stone’s throw from the Simsbury bridge that brings Route 185 to meet Hopmeadow Street

3 – In 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt named Pinchot the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, and later he served as a two-term governor of Pennsylvania

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AMISTAD — continued from page 12 of New Haven and Seth Staples and Theodore Sedgwick of New York — to defend the African men. According to court documents as reported by the National Archives, their defense was based on the fact that the Africans were “born free, and ever since have been and still of right are and ought to be free and not slaves.” While enduring “great cruelty and oppression” aboard the Amistad, they were “incited by the love of liberty natural to all men” to forcibly take of ship and seek asylum. The African men faced trials in Hartford and Washington, D.C., that lasted 18 months, per the Farmington Historical Society. In February 1841, lawyer and former President John Quincy Adams began to argue the Amistad case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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FIRE — continued from page 13 activities. We also do fun stuff like the Bunny Run and Santa Ride! Motto that provides a window into your ethos: We carry this in our department emblem: Protection, Always Ready! Besides donations, how is your nonprofit funded? We are paid a portion of the taxes that are collected by the town of Granby. This is our key source of funding for all our operations and capital. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, listed by the IRS. Unless told otherwise by those donating, we put all donations toward supporting our membership: dinners, social events, T-shirts and family picnics. Interesting stats + numbers: • 35 active volunteer members • 3 fire stations • 8 trucks • We respond to about 200 calls a year

On March 9, 1841, the high court rendered its decision, declaring the Africans to be free people who had been kidnapped illegally and granting them permission to return to their homeland. Nine days later, they arrived in Farmington. Senior Justice Joseph Story wrote the court’s decision, affirming the Africans’ right to resist unlawful slavery and noting that it is “the ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases to resist oppression, and to apply force against ruinous injustice.” + Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert contributed to this story

• Amistad Event — From Sept. 9 to Oct. 1, a replica of the historic Amistad schooner will be docked at Hartford’s Riverfront Recapture for a series of community events, ecumenical services and educational programs — the free kickoff event is Thursday 9/9 at 4 p.m. The ship will be open for tours all month.

• Our membership invests over 2500 combined hours a year in drills and calls The calls include alarms, motor vehicle accidents, water rescues, high angle rescues and fires. We train or have meetings on Tuesday nights throughout the year, with some training on Saturday and Sunday, depending on the time needed. We work closely with our surrounding towns, providing and receiving mutual aid when larger emergencies occur. How closely do you work with other agencies/nonprofits? As we have seen a reduction in our volunteers, we have relied more and more on mutual aid — in other words, help from other towns. The volunteer fire departments from our adjoining towns will come help if we need it, and we will respond to their town as needed. The LAFD is also unique for this reason: We belong to two different task forces in the state of Connecticut. These are collections of towns, trucks and manpower that have organized to provide services

for large-scale emergencies, such as when Brookfield was hit by a tornado or Superstorm Sandy struck the coast. We provide a tanker to Task Force 52, and we provide an engine or brush truck for Task Force 54. We also work very closely with Granby Police, Granby Ambulance and Granby DPW as large-scale events like storms require all of our services. What do you appreciate about the Farmington Valley? This is where we live. The help and support from our families, neighbors, town and surrounding towns are simply incredible. Everyone is always willing to pitch in to help those in need. We all work well together. You truly feel part of the first responder family. What constructive change would you like to see? With the dwindling volunteer numbers, we will have to move to more of a paid structure. First, we will institute a per-call based system where members are paid for responding to calls. Eventually, we will have to add part-time staff to help with critical maintenance and business functions. Further comment: This year, the Lost Acres Fire Department is celebrating its 85th year of operation. See our website and social media for more information about our yearlong celebration. This is also the 100th birthday for our original and oldest piece of apparatus. When our department started in 1936, we purchased a used engine — a 1921 REO Speedwagon fire truck — from the Ensign Bickford fire department that provided fire protection for the town of Simsbury in those days. We have continued to maintain this truck since it was pulled from active service in 1950. It has since become our pride and joy and can be seen at most parades in Granby and at many fire carnivals/parades in the area. Named LA-1, this fire truck is Simsbury’s and Granby’s first engine! +



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