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Historic Buildings Commission

About Southbury's Historic Buildings


Southbury Historic Buildings Commission

The citizens of the Town of Southbury, Connecticut are fortunate to have access to a rich history as reflected in the Town’s three public historic buildings. The 1762 Bullet Hill School, the 1873 Old Town Hall Museum, and the 1904 South Britain Library all provide a tangible resource for enriching the heritage of our community. These treasured buildings of the past three centuries exemplify the historical significance of the respective periods in which they were built and utilized by Southbury citizens. The Town of Southbury officials illustrate the pride of the community in their choice to revere these mementos of the past by ensuring their safekeeping by the Historic Buildings Commission for the use and appreciation of present and future Southburians.

In 1980, the Town of Southbury Board of Selectmen appointed a group of citizens to oversee the preservation, management and security of the Town’s historic public buildings. The group was initially named the Historic Buildings Committee. The committee was officially named the Historic Buildings Commission in the December 1992 Town of Southbury Charter, having met the necessary criteria under the State of Connecticut General Statutes for that designation.

In addition to the charge of preservation, maintenance, and security of these buildings, the Historic Buildings Commission became responsible for the research and implementa-tion of the ADA Access Transition Plan to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The research began in 1993 and Volume I of the Programmatic Access Component of “The Town of Southbury’s Historic Buildings Commission- Americans with Disabilities Access Transition Plan for ADA Compliance” was published in September of 1993, with a revision in November of 1994, and an addendum in May of 1995. This plan was a vital part of Southbury’s overall ADA Accessibility Plan and was included in an ADA Award given to Southbury for that effort. Volume II presented an update of the ADA Accessibility Plan published to celebrate the 100th Birthday of the South Britain Library in 2004. Volume II includes pictures of the exterior and interior of each building and the changes that have occurred since the publication of Volume I. Both volumes are available in the Southbury Public Library and in local school libraries.

Bullet Hill School - 1762

Bullet Hill School in Southbury

Bullet Hill School is one of New England’s oldest schoolhouses still in use. It is a unique Georgian architectural style two-story brick building. It was saved from ruin and restored due to the efforts of the “Friends of Bullet Hill School”. In 1941, a successful petition was made to the Connecticut Legislature for Southbury to retain the building as a public building rather than being sold to help finance the new school, as was the custom at that time. The Friends of Bullet Hill School preserved and maintained the building during the 1960’s and 1970’s under the auspices of the Town Fathers. In 1980, the Town Fathers appointed the Historic Buildings Committee ( now the Historic Buildings Commission) to assume those responsibilities.

It has been noted for many years that the school’s date of origin was 1789. The date had been obtained from oral tradition records of a nearby neighbor family. However, according to Ancient Woodbury’s 1762 Town records, it is noted, “ A brick school was built in Southbury in 1762. (Bullet Hill School is the only known brick school in Southbury). “During the Revolutionary War, Bullet Hill, (at location of the Perry Farm, the site of the present Southbury Plaza) was used as a place for the Training Band to practice the required firearm drill. Throughout the 18th Century, the “Train Band South” is referred to in the minutes of Connecticut Colony, (or State) Assemblies. On orders for the Woodbury “Train Band”, companies of young men who served as emergency militia were to practice twice a year at that location. The spent musket balls used in the practice were dug out of the hill at the rear of the property by townswomen, and melted down in the Bullet Hill School fireplace and then recast to produce new ammunition. The 1771 Hicock Family Diary also includes this information.(Research completed by the late Margaret Lippencott, Southbury Historical Society- April 4th, 1985).

Further evidence of the earlier date occurred with the February 2003 research and subsequent information discovered by Southbury Historical Society President, Dorothy Manville, which also confirms an earlier date of origin for Bullet Hill School than the 1789 date. The David Hicok’s ( David Hicock) December 8th, 1769 Diary, is located at the Glastonbury Historical Society. The authenticity of the document was confirmed and validated by James F. Bennett, Executive Director. The diary states: “ Deacon Hicock hired me to keep school at Bullet Hill- begin school on the Monday after next.” A framed copy of this record is on display at Bullet Hill School accompanied by a framed copy of the 1770 roster of Mr. Hicock’s students. (As noted above in the Hicock Family Diary, the Hicocks including David, were early settlers of Southbury).

Bullet Hill School is registered on the National, State and Local Register of Historic Places as reported by former Director of the Connecticut Historical Commission, John Shannahan. The school served as one of Southbury’s District Schools from the 1700’s until it was closed in 1941. Two Hundred and four (204) students from the remaining five of Southbury’s original eleven school districts began classes at the new Southbury Consolidated School (Now Gainfield Elementary School) located on Old Field and Poverty Road in January of 1942.

“Bullet Hill School Days" - A Living Museum

Old classroom of the Bullet Hill School in Southbury

Board of Directors:

  • Melinda Elliott
  • Sue Isaacs
  • Marge Skinger
  • Maura Stanko

Bullet Hill School, as one of Southbury’s early eleven District Schools, has been used continuously through the years by government and private groups, in addition to the main role of educating children. In 1987, Bullet Hill School became the site of a Living Museum Program for the reenactment of a typical 1800’s school day. This program was developed for area students to learn about early education and the part that District Schools played in the learning process. (Although the school was used since 1762, it was decided to focus on the mid-point in the life of the school for the Living Museum Program). Each Spring, classes attend Bullet Hill School. Initially, the program was created for study of Community for second grade students and American History study for fifth grade students. Over the years, the curriculum changed to community study for only 3rd grade students. The study of American history was changed from 5th grade to 7th grade. In 2008 the study of community was changed back to the second grade curriculum.

The students are prepared by their teachers prior to their reenactment day in all matters of the time period to include proper dress, lunches, school decorum and subject matter. The focus is on lessons of the 1800’s appropriately presented with tools of that time period including slates, slate pencils and quill pens. Reproduction McGuffey Readers are used, and arithmetic problems of the day are addressed. Games of the period are played during recess. Lunch consists of foods prepared without benefit of today’s “snacks” or wrappings.

Over five thousand students from area schools and schools throughout the state have attended “Bullet Hill School Days” - A Living Museum Program since 1987. Its Founder, Board of Directors, and the Program itself, have been recognized through awards from the State of Connecticut Department of Education, “Celebration of Excellence” Program, the Connecticut League of Historical Societies, and the Southbury Historical Society.

The program operates under the direction of the dedicated Board of Directors. Community volunteers are a vital part of the program as Docents. Contributions from Allen Brinley in honor of his parents, Winifred and Robert Brinley, and donations from the Southbury Junior Women’s Club, former alumni, and visitors have helped with funds for the purchase of classroom materials. Assistance from the Town of Southbury administration and staff, Southbury Historic Buildings Commission, Southbury Historical Society, volunteer Docents, Region # 15 administration and educators, have all provided immeasurable support since the program’s inception.

Old Town Hall Museum - 1873

Old Town Hall Museum in Southbury

The Town of Southbury has granted Town permission, and encouraged the usage of the Town’s three historic buildings by the Southbury Historical Society for many years. The Society preserves and maintains extensive archival records of the Town, displays records of the past, assists researchers seeking information about Southbury, and also presents programs for the public at the Old Town Hall Museum in the South Britain section of Southbury.

When Southbury separated from Ancient Woodbury and was incorporated in May of 1787, Town meetings were held alternately in the Congregational Church on Main Street North in Southbury and the South Britain Congregational Church on Main Street in South Britain. When the Southbury Congregational Church was blown down in a windstorm in 1844, the meetings were moved to the (Brick School) Bullet Hill School. By 1868, plans were made for a Town Hall to be located in South Britain, which was Southbury’s business center at that time.

Building of the first Town Hall began in 1873. The land cost $125.00, and the projected building costs were not to exceed $1,375.00. At that time, the ladies of the South Britain Congregational Church offered to pay $1,600.00 for a second floor to be used for church activities. Southbury’s first Town Hall opened at this site in 1874. The Town’s government operated on the first floor and social activities occurred on the second floor. A “Select School” began operation in 1888 for a few years at this site. By 1907, due to elementary school overcrowding, students from 8th Grade through the first two years of high school also used the second floor as their classroom.

The building remained as the Southbury Town Hall until December 31, 1963 when it was replaced by a larger building, the present Town Hall Annex. The first Town Hall was closed and gradually deteriorated until a group of concerned citizens raised money and gave their time and talents in an effort to preserve it. It was a monumental task, and one that was turned back to the Town of Southbury in 1979. It then became one of Southbury’s Historic Properties in 1980 and became the responsibility of the appointed Southbury Historic Buildings Commission. It has been preserved and maintained by the Commission for close to 30 years.

South Britain Library - 1904

South Britain Library in Southbury

The South Britain Library was built in 1904 by contractor A. H. Wilson at a cost of $746.00. It served as the Town’s source of reading material until 1969 when the Southbury Public Library was built on Main Street South. The Town’s Senior Center is now housed in that building.

Over a thousand books were transferred in 1969 from the South Britain Library to the then new Public Library. A wide range of histories and reference material remained in the South Britain Library. The little library remained open a few years staffed by volunteers and then closed. In 1983, the Town of Southbury accepted the library as one of the Town’s historic public buildings. It has been preserved and maintained by the Historic Buildings Commission since that time.

The South Britain Library volunteers from the Southbury Historical Society preserve and maintain books and records of the past for the public to borrow at the library at specified hours. The books are also available through a unique ADA Accessibility program initiated by the Historic Buildings Commission and put into place by staff and volunteers of the Southbury Public Library. The contents of the card catalog were entered into the Southbury Public Library computer by the staff and volunteers over a period of several months. All of the South Britain Library books are available to citizens unable to physically access the South Britain Library through the Southbury Public Library computer. They may access the computer listing and then request books of their choice from the South Britain Library by asking the Public Library staff for assistance.

Southbury Historical Society volunteers are contacted with the request by the Public Library staff. The Historical Society volunteers then provide the service of bringing requested books to the Town Library to be signed out at that location. The books are returned by the borrowers to the Public Library. The Historical Society volunteers pick up the books and return them to the proper shelf at the South Britain library.

In addition to a vast collection of fiction and non-fiction books, genealogical and local history materials are available for research. Southbury Historical Society volunteers have spent endless hours preserving and maintaining the collection throughout the years. For those citizens wishing to visit the 1904 South Britain Library on Route # 172, South Britain’s Main Street, they may call the Southbury Historical Society at (203) 405-3124 to inquire as to the hours of operation.

Resources

  • William Lamson Warren’s Report- “The Brick School of Southbury’s Bullet Hill District”-circa 1787—1789,1989.
  • Burdett Atwood’s report- “ The History of Bullet Hill School” 1977.
  • VOICES” May 13, 1997. “Southbury, Connecticut. 200th Anniversary Celebration Historical Journal and Program.
  • Bullet Hill School, Southbury Icon, 1995 Sheila Brennan
  • Historic Buildings of Southbury, Connecticut, An Americans with Disabilities Act Programmatic Access Booklet, Volume I, 1996 by Catherine A. Palmer, Chairman, Southbury Historic Buildings Commission.
  • Historic Buildings of Southbury, Connecticut, An Americans with Disabilities Act Programmatic Access Booklet, Volume II, 2004. Written and compiled by Catherine A. Palmer, Chairman, Southbury Historic Buildings Commission. Photographs by Robert Weil and Catherine Palmer.
  • A VCR videotape entitled “BULLET HILL SCHOOL DAYS”-A LIVING MUSEUM PROGRAM – Directed, Narrated, and Produced by Catherine A. Palmer –1987.
  • A VCR videotape – “ A Pictorial History of Southbury, Connecticut, 1781-1987” and a VCR videotape, “Bullet Hill School 1789-1989” both produced by the Southbury Historical Society in 1987 and 1989.
  • IMAGES OF AMERICA- SOUTHBURY- Virginia Palmer-Skok- 2003 Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC p.15, 20, 27,68,69, 108 and 109.
  • IMAGES OF AMERICA- SOUTHBURY REVISITED- Virginia Palmer-Skok, 2005 Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC p.11, 12, 39,42, 102,108.114.