FARMINGTON — The Farmington Historical Society (FHS) held its annual meeting on Monday, July 27, at the Meetinghouse Park to listen to a presentation by Vice President Jane Woodman about the park’s formation. 

“If you don’t know the time dimension of something, then you don’t know where you are,” lifetime FHS member Marty Fleishman said before Woodman’s presentation.

Farmington Historical Society members brought their own chairs to the annual meeting and remained six feet apart while wearing masks. This was the first time the Society held an official meeting since Governor Mills announced a state of emergency on March 15. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Members sat on the park lawn, socially distanced in the rain beneath umbrellas with their faces covered by masks. As it began to pour, FHS President Marion Scharoun held up an umbrella to shield Woodman during her presentation.

In 1802, John Church deeded his land for a town center and designated the park, which used to face the Meeting House on Pleasant Street, as a green space. He also included a burial ground in his deed which is the Center Meeting House Cemetery nestled behind the Courthouse between Anson and Cony streets.

“All of the early settlers wanted a place to call the center to build out from there,” Woodman said.

FHS president Marion Scharoun held up an umbrella to shield Jane Woodman during her presentation about the 1802 formation of the Meetinghouse Park. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

The Meeting House, a two story stick building with a bell tower that was destroyed in Farmington’s 1886 fire, served as a government and religious center and an exhibition house for the Franklin County Agricultural Society. When farmers came into town with their prized animals, they used the Meetinghouse Park for their livestock. 

“This was big pasture that we are in,” Woodman said as she addressed members on the park’s lawn. “Well, you know, farm animals don’t stay put, so in 1871 the town fathers agreed to spend no more than 15 dollars to build a fence around the park so the farmers could contain their livestock.”

Woodman thinks that the rod iron fence around the park is the original 1871 fencing. The Meetinghouse Park also houses the 1894, controversial watering trough that once quenched thirsts in front of the courthouse. 

“The water was proclaimed out of the trough to be for both man and beast,” Woodman said as members smirked. 

The trough and its tin cup on a chain created quite the drama in town when a North Church congregant asked for the cup to be removed.  

The controversial 1894 watering trough is now used a planter next to the gazebo in the Meetinghouse Park. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

“This person was saying, ‘in these times of improper use, the young folk will use that cup to add water to their drink!’ The minister declared, ‘the cup stays; well, at least they’re drinking pure water with their whiskey!’” Woodman quoted. 

After the fire, the park suffered from neglect. In 1897, George Ranger, a merchant whose residence faced the park, offered a deal to the town fathers. If the town would clean up the park, he would donate a Civil War monument. Ranger had served as a private soldier in the Civil War in the 53rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

The park was quickly revamped and after the Civil War monument was constructed, the Meetinghouse Park accrued several more historic monuments.

Members quickly scattered from the park in the downpour after Woodman’s presentation with hope that future FHS events could be modified to meet CDC gathering guidelines.

The Society owns three buildings in downtown Farmington, the Octagon House, the Titcomb House and the North Church. Funding from FHS events such as monthly concerts in the North Church and fundraisers from annual yard sales go towards the maintenance of these historical landmarks.

“That’s one of our biggest activities as a historical society. When you have three buildings, you have to work hard to keep them going,” Scharoun said as she thanked members for their emergency donations to the Society during the pandemic.

Scharon also reminded the small crowd that although it feels as though things have come to a standstill, history is still happening.

“Keep your diaries, write things down, because in a 100 years people are going to say, ‘I wonder what they did during that terrible pandemic. I wonder how they lived, what did they do, how did they cope?’” Scharon said in front of the park’s gazebo.

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