Where History Blooms
For the town’s 300th anniversary, the Litchfield Historical Society gives the community an opportunity to explore its past al fresco.
Many organizations would be envious of the Litchfield Historical Society’s dilemma. Faced with six virtually blank acres adjacent to the Tapping Reeve House and Law School museum, they were tasked with the delightful duty of finding a suitable purpose for the site. Already the proud owners of the center of town Litchfield History Museum housing their collections plus the law school building holding an interpretive exhibit, they didn’t need further structures. What they lacked was an outdoor education venue. And that’s why the idea for the Tapping Reeve Meadow was born.
The Tapping Reeve law school came to the historical society in 1914 after the structure was shuffled around town for a century or so. Home of the first law school in the country established in 1784 with alumni who served as US vice president, members of the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as justices on the Supreme Court, it ceased operation as a teaching facility after 49 years. Moved back to its original site after a 1976 archaeological survey identified the exact location, it now dwells in the last remaining meadow in Litchfield center. And the meadow was actually the inspiration for the educational initiative. Judiciously conserved, they fitted the meadow with walking trails for the benefit of anyone wanting to take a stroll on the wild side. But that was just the beginning of this project and its inventive outreach programs to gather the community to its grounds.
According to the historical society director Cathy Fields, an orchard and kitchen garden were probably in residence judging from written evidence, but beyond those features, what existed in the field is anyone’s guess. So the historical society opted to gather outdoor elements important to the town’s past including stone walls and a fledgling grove of disease resistant chestnut trees. Litchfield resident and landscape architect Lauren Richardson developed a planting plan that includes a children’s vegetable and flower garden, and an education pavilion. Many members of the local community became involved including Goshen-based stone wall builder Matt Wheeler, and Montgomery Gardens in Warren—supplier of heirloom apples such as ‘Pound Sweet’ (a golden baking apple that originated in Connecticut around 1834) and ‘Newtown Pippin’ (the oldest commercial apple variety in North America). But the crux of the Tapping Reeve Meadow is its outreach.
From the project’s earliest stages, the historical society has proactively linked with residents of all ages to discover and utilize the space for all the opportunities it might afford.
What’s in store for the Tapping Reeve Meadow? Plenty. From scavenger hunts to weeding programs, croquet games, watercolor classes, and harvesting opportunities, the space is open for the community. “We’re hosting loosely structured drop-in programs,” says Kate Zullo, curator of education,. “We want everyone to come.” What does this have to do with history? Everything. “Our programs explore the connection between people, their environment, and their past.”
The Tapping Reeve Meadow will be rolling out activities specifically to celebrate Litchfield’s tricentennial including a June 21 walking tour of the historic district that begins and ends in the garden. The second annual Apple Harvest Festival will be held on October 5 with craft demonstrations, woodworkers, live music, and an apple pie contest. But that’s just the beginning. The Litchfield Historical Society is hoping you will just stop by when you need a sprig of thyme. The Tapping Reeve Meadow is always waiting with open arms.