Monday, June 07, 2010


I do not think of myself as a conspiracy theorist -- no CIA/JFK cover-up, no 9/11 false flag operations. But when something that seems like it should be soooo! easy, turns out to be an impenetrable mystery, you just gotta wonder!

The source of my frustration is the origin of the name Wintergreen Woods for the nature park in my hometown of Wethersfield, Connecticut.

I was asked to research and write about the history of the preserve by a neighbor who is a member of the town Conservation Commission. To jumpstart my investigation she provided me with a set of reports on the area done by geography students at a local university. Although these papers concentrated mostly on the land, flora, and fauna of the woods, they did provide a chronology of most of the key twentieth century events that led to its establishment.

They did not however discover when or why it received its name.

I looked at town histories, old town maps, and Parks and Recreation Department planning reports and was not able to find one single reference to "Wintergreen Woods" prior to 1960 when it is mentioned in one of the above planning reports as "to be acquired". On most maps the area is simply not labeled. Others from the 1600's show it without a clear boundary and terms like "The Great West Field", "Tappins' Hill", "The Great West Swamp" and "Wolf Swamp" written over portions of what is now the park territory.

The major newspaper in our area was started in 1764 ("oldest continually printed" paper in America) and has lots of information about the early days of our village, which was founded in 1634. And it is all online.

For the first 196 years there is nothing about Wintergreen Woods. Then I found a 12/4/1961 article, "Council To Get Request For Renaming of Park", which said that The Wethersfield Town Council had received a request from the Committee on the Preservation of Old Wethersfield to "give the Folly Brook park area back its old name of 'Wintergreen Woods'".

I went to read the minutes of the town council meetings, which are stored in a locked, gray metal storage cabinet at the Wethersfield Town Clerk's office. The typed documents -- you could feel the imprint of each letter on the back of the page -- are stored in red leather binders that cover varying periods of time depending upon the number of pages required to document each gathering. There is a manually prepared index, which listed Wintergreen Woods as a topic.

On 12/4/61 the petition was tabled for discussion and the matter lay dormant until the January 21, 1963 council meeting at which the "Manager said the historians in town had suggested that this area was originally known as Wintergreen Woods and they had suggested that the park be called Wintergreen Woods Park."

The motion was passed.

Now all I needed was the letter from the Committee on the Preservation of Old Wethersfield wherein they undoubtedly gave documented evidence for their claim as to the appropriate name. The Town Clerk's copy was destroyed, probably in 1962 since such papers legally need only be retained for one year.

The Wethersfield Historical Society, source for most of the maps and other historical material mentioned above, had boxes of correspondence from hundreds of town organizations, but no information at all on the Committee on the Preservation of Old Wethersfield.

It is almost as if they didn't exist.

So here are my theories as to how Wintergreen Woods got its name -- neither of which will even be hinted at in my final paper to the commission.

(1) Several twentieth century reports and newspaper articles refer to the land in question as Folly Brook Park, or the Folly Brook area. My house is on the corner of Folly Brook Boulevard. That name, and that body of water, resulted from a failed attempt in the mid 1700's to reroute another stream, Beaver Brook, which runs through that part of town. Town residents affixed that name derisively to the unintended resulting rivulet.

Some traditionalists (every town has them) never took to the Folly Brook appellation and its connotation of foolhardiness. One even forced the town to replace signage identifying the waterway with a guidepost reading "Beaver Brook", and attempted to have the eponymous street renamed "West Swamp Parkway".
One night over gin and tonics a group of these folks concocted a plan for ridding the park of its odious name. It probably started as a drinking game, but quickly escalated into a full blown political movement. They came up with a name they liked, invented a fictitious provenance, formed an imaginary "commission", and knowing how in the land of steady habits precedent is everything, mailed their demand to the Town Council.

The rest is history.

(2) It was a senior prank pulled off by members of the class of '61 at Wethersfield High School. My wife Mars graduated from there that year, but disavows any knowledge of such a hoax -- exactly what she would do if it really happened.

Her fiftieth reunion is next year. Now I have a legitimate historical reason to go with her. After pouring a few Mojitos into some primary sources I am positive I will get to the truth at last.

Kind of makes you wonder why the Warren and 9/11 Commissions didn't try that. Hmmm.

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