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P.O.Box 123, Essex, CT 06426
(860) 767-0681

History, Mission & Inclusion

Essex, Middle Cove, photo taken after 1955

The Essex Historical Society was formed and incorporated in 1955. According to news reports at the time, the town was about to announce its intention to sell Hills Academy. It was no longer useful to the town for classroom space and had been rented to various tenants for many years. A concerned group sprung into action and the first unofficial meeting of the Board of Directors was held at Essex Town Hall on Friday, December 10, 1954. Edwin B. Pratt was nominated President, John A. Bjerkoe, Vice President, Elizabeth J. Mundie became treasurer and William H. Matthews, curator. The newly formed Essex Historical Society purchased the building from the town for one dollar.

From 1955 to 1985, Hills Academy served as the society’s meeting house, as home to its growing collection of Essex memorabilia, and as exhibit space depicting the story of Essex history. Then in 1985, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (known then as S.P.N.E.A. and now renamed Historic New England) deeded the Pratt House Museum on West Avenue to the Society and the focus of activity shifted to the Pratt family narrative.

Today, Pratt House continues to interpret 18th century farm life in Essex and the nine generations of Pratt Smithies, many of whom lived in the house. The barn houses changing exhibits and an early loom that is worked on by an award winning group of weavers. The beautiful meadow to the rear of the property is the site of the Community Garden and often the scene of antique car shows and old fashioned summer fairs.

Hills Academy provides additional meeting and exhibit space on the first floor and storage and office space on the second floor for the collection and archival files. The Essex Historical Society serves the three villages of Essex: Centerbrook, Essex and Ivoryton.



Essex Historical Society:
Engaging and Inspiring the Community

Essex. Ivoryton. Centerbrook

Vision Statement: EHS strives to become the center of excellence for collecting and sharing historic resources for Essex and the surrounding area, and to be the facilitator among other organizations focused on the history of the area, so that we may inspire future generations.



Living and Celebrating
the History of Essex

The vision of the Essex Historical Society is to be “the center of excellence for collecting and sharing the history of our three villages Essex, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton and the surrounding area so that we may inspire our community and future generations”.

Recent events have prompted widespread public debate whether the history of our nation is being portrayed and represented in ways that authentically recognize its racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, and religious diversity. These reflections have also inspired us to take a fresh look at how we tell our own local history here in Essex and how we can best live up to our vision.

History is not a static narrative. Traditionally, New England history has had a euro-centric bent. This is no surprise, as Dutch and British colonists were the first Europeans to settle here, and their religious beliefs and political convictions shaped the founding of a new nation. Traditionally, their experiences and perception determined which stories were prioritized for future generations and how they should be told.

We have long since recognized, however, that the history of our area in general, and of Essex in particular, is much more extensive, complex, and diverse than these earliest written records suggest. We have learned, for example, that the first human settlement of our region occurred some 9,000 years ago, and that the Nihantic tribe of Native Americans lived here at the time of first European contact and also afterwards.

We also understand, for example, that enslaved people were used at points throughout the global trade routes that supported the economic development of our community during the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition, we are aware of consecutive waves of immigrants from different nations whose determined quest for a better life built and maintained the industrial base of Essex.

We recognize, too, that our local history was shaped not only by prominent citizens whose names are easily identified in official records, but at least in equal measure by the many thousands of ordinary women and men whose lives may be more obscure, but who, by the strength and richness of their character and ideas, their aspirations and capabilities, their struggles and commitment to hard work, shaped our history and made our town what it is today. Their story also deserves to be told.

Against this background, the Essex Historical Society embraces the rich and diverse history of our villages of Essex, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton to its fullest extent. We are committed to undertaking historical research, enhancing our collections and telling our stories in ways that give life to all its dimensions as best we can, while being mindful of the challenge that much of our history is not easily accessible because it was not recorded in writing at the time.

Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion would not be complete without our best efforts to appeal to and collaborate with the broadest and most representative array of our citizenry. Historical experts and lay history buffs alike, fellow citizens with different racial, ethnic, religious, gender, age-related, and educational backgrounds, all bring their own unique perspectives to our history, insights that inspire and enrich the stories we tell and the manner in which we tell them.

We therefore reach out to all our citizens regardless of background in the hope that they will engage with us in whatever way they feel inspired, whether as members of our organization, as volunteers, as members of our Governing Board, as followers of our social media services, or as active participants in our numerous virtual and in-person lectures, walks, and other public events and community celebrations.

Like every generation, we write our own story through the actions we take and the example we set. Inclusiveness – both in our concept of the past and the participation of the community in our vision – is central to the legacy we seek to leave. It is also our opportunity to inspire future generations through the values we embrace.

Essex, in the fall of 2020