City History Will Be Taught In Schools

Historic Sites of Norwich From the Beginning by Bill Stanley

Historic Sites of Norwich From the Beginning by Bill Stanley

Once upon a time, starting about 1934, little Billy Stanley started his education at Laurel Hill School. I stayed back in the third grade because I couldn’t read. As it happened, I suffered, and still do, severe dyslexia. I couldn’t read, but they didn’t know that. Margaret Coleman, my most wonderful teacher, thought if I repeated third grade, my reading might improve.

Then it was from Hobart Avenue to Broadway School. Graduating Broadway in 1944, I headed for Norwich Free Academy. What a wonderful chapter of life. NFA, I truly believe, is better than any other high school in the country. I graduated in 1948, having completed the commercial course learning bookkeeping, accounting, typing and sales.

The point of telling you all this is I don’t remember, in any of my classes, learning any local history. They taught me Benedict Arnold was a bad man — evil — which, of course, was not true. Admittedly, he is the most famous traitor in American history, but he also was George Washington’s best field general.

I did learn that Samuel Huntington signed the Declaration of Independence, but other than that, I don’t remember any teacher teaching classes about Norwich history.

Saratoga’s Victor

There is a funny story that occurred during my senior year at NFA when I was given an English assignment, with all my fellow classmates, to write an essay on the most valuable man in American history. In my young mind, I felt whoever won the Battle of Saratoga would be the most valuable, because if we had lost at Saratoga, the country would have been lost, and there would have been no United States of America.

According to my history books at NFA, they said Horatio Gates won the Battle of Saratoga, but digging deeper into the battle, I learned it was Norwich’s own Benedict Arnold, the traitor, who won the Battle of Saratoga, which brought the French into the American Revolution and caused the victory over the British.

I was very excited, because the Arnold homestead was next to NFA, and it is possible at least one or two of the buildings were built on land that once belonged to Benedict Arnold.

Didn’t Get Far

The day I was called on to read my essay, I got no more said but the title. I said, “The most valuable American who ever lived was Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold.”

My teacher interrupted me and said, “William, this is no joke. You will be graded. Shall we start again?”

And so I did … “The most valuable American who ever lived was Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold.” At that she said, “You go to the principal, young man.”

I marched off to the office of George Shattuck. Reaching that good man, who I so respected, he said, “What did you do to make her so angry?” He said, “She’s as hot as a $2 pistol.” I remember that phrase because I never heard it before.

I told him what happened, and he shook his head and said, “William, how could Benedict Arnold be the most valuable American?” Then he said, “I’m going to send you home, and don’t come back until Monday.”

He wasn’t even angry. He was just punishing me to accommodate the teacher. It was May. I was 18 or so. Having three days off was mighty good punishment.

The point is, I never got to read my paper, and on my report card, which I still have, for English, in my senior year, I received a D.

Now, over the years, people, especially learned historians, know much more about Benedict Arnold, but why, I ask myself to this day, don’t they teach the history of Norwich to the children that they might know that a man from Norwich won three battles that saved the nation?

Arnold won the Mohawk Valley and fought the first naval battle in American history at Valcour Island. It was Arnold who won the Battle of Saratoga, but how many local children know that?

Norwich’s Own

So, the next chapter of life found me erecting a plaque at the grave of Samuel Huntington. It was in disgraceful disrepair, so I launched a campaign to rebuild the tomb, and $130,000 in money and in-kind services later, Samuel Huntington has a beautiful tomb.

But studying the life of Samuel Huntington, I learned some things that were never taught in Norwich Schools … that he was one of only 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence … that he was chief justice of Connecticut … that he was governor of Connecticut … and that under the first Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, he was technically the first president of the United States. None of that is taught in local schools.

You may know that I now lead a historical group called The Forgotten Founders. The name was born of man named Stanley Klos who has published books about our Samuel Huntington and who agrees there should be a presidential library for all of the presidents of the Continental Congress — 10 of whom were actually presidents of the United States.

So, I suggested to the board, that to introduce ourselves to the people of Norwich, we memorialize the historic sites around Norwich from the beginning and give to the Board of Education the number of books needed so that every child has a book telling the story of the historic sites around this historic town.

Olive Buddington, herself a retired teacher, counted the public schools, parochial schools, charter schools and NFA. She determined that we would have to publish 5,000 books so that every child would have one, and so, the book, “Historic Sites of Norwich from the Beginning” was put together with the help of Denison Gibbs who worked tirelessly with me.

Books For School

On Nov. 10, the Forgotten Founders presented the Norwich School System with 5,000 books. The book, of course, will stay in school. They will not be allowed to be taken home.

It was then suggested by a board member that we should make the books available in case some parents or grandparents wanted a book at home for their youngster, so we ordered 3,000 more to go on sale during the Christmas season. All of the local banks including Dime, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal Savings Bank, Liberty, Putnam Savings Bank and Savings Trust and Loan and People’s Bank volunteered to sell the book. Of course, The William W. Backus Hospital Gift Shop and Johnson’s Flowers and Gifts have always sold Bill Stanley books.

So there you have it. The board has indicated local history will be incorporated in the social studies courses with grammar school children. I presume parochial school children and NFA will also make use of the book to acquaint the students of Norwich with the history of Norwich.

Generally, when my books go on sale, we sell 3,000 to 5,000 at Christmas. This year, the publisher made an unfortunate error, and instead of 3,000 books, we only have approximately 2,000 to go on sale. I mention this because many who have collected all of my past books — this will be the 10th — will want to complete their collection. It is possible that these books will sell out quickly because of the shortage.

The only place the books will be sold is in Norwich, because it is about Norwich history. The price is $19.95, and all of the proceeds will go The Forgotten Founders with the hope that we may recover the cost of publishing those 5,000 books.

Even the cover says what The Forgotten Founders intend: “A gift to the children of Norwich from The Forgotten Founders on Norwich’s 350th anniversary.”

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