Everyday History in Easton

Commemorative 150th Anniversary Monopoly Game Board, Easton, 1995

This month, Easton reaches a landmark anniversary as it turns 175 years old.  As a parish that was once part of Weston, our town was settled by independent, brave and hardworking colonials who were often referred to as “outlivers” because they chose to live in the wilder lands north of the 18th century coastal towns.  From 1787 to 1845, both the parish of North Fairfield-the area now known as Easton, and the parish of Norfield-which is today Weston, existed as one town.  The union of these two areas seems not to have been an easy coexistence and the division was finalized on May 23rd 1845 by the General Assembly in Hartford.  The motives for the break-up were probably a mix of many factors, including economics and politics, but in the end it was presented simply as a matter of convenience and common sense.  Rugged roads and rough terrain made it difficult for these two distinct areas to be governed as one.

Since Easton’s first independent meeting in the summer of 1845, the town has had its share of adversity and accomplishment but the essential quality of resilience has been a feature of its citizens from then to now.  As our nation faces the current health crisis, the Historical Society of Easton is here continuing in its mission as it has for the past 52 years providing residents with research services and house histories.  We are still able to help homeowners learn more about their historic properties and we are still providing beautifully handcrafted house plaques.  Along with researching and updating our digital archives, we are publishing many inspiring stories from our past in the hope that these accounts can give our citizens today a sense of encouragement, context and continuity. 

Many people have asked us how we come across some of our topics and ideas for these articles and often, they start from something as common as a scrap book filled with newspaper clippings and photographs-the same kind of album that might be in your closet or attic.  Our collection contains many volumes from residents over the years who understood that history is all around us in the making.  For this reason, our Society had included in its founding by-laws the position of historian who was obligated to keep a scrapbook for newspaper, magazine and other clippings that would contain information valuable for years to come about the town and its people.  Over time, members have collected all sorts of printed material that might have been discarded: concert and fundraising posters, school playbills and town building proposals.  Small daily tasks are represented by recipe cards and grocery store inventories while heroism and tragedies are given witness by commendations and memorial plaques.  All together in every page, picture and object, these collections bring to life a very rich portrait of a dynamic community.

The digital age has certainly changed the way we can preserve and share history.  We are now able to scan and publicly post an ever increasing percentage of our fragile document collection. Sadly though, much of the physical materials that we relied on to record history are no longer in print form.  While many periodicals are available online, many come at a high subscription cost that some can not afford and more and more, personal and public events are advertised and exist almost completely online through social media-especially during this quarantine period.  Locating and preserving this information is now a new challenge for historical societies, especially those like ours with limited resources and volunteers. Realizing this new paradigm, we are asking town members to help us preserve current events.  We need you to be historians with us. Please, send us your photos, friend us on Facebook, tag us on Instagram. Email us your thoughts, tweet us about news and events, DM us-engage with your history. Ask yourself, if you could contribute just one picture of our town during this crisis-what would that be?  What would you preserve for our children and generations to come of our Easton? What will we show of this time in 25 years at our bicentennial celebration?   

Wanted for Murder!

On November 17, 1886 local newspapers reported on a “wrangle” in Easton Connecticut between a boarding house owner and a lodger.  A quarrel between two men over a four dollar tab-not a small amount at the time and roughly equivalent to over 100 dollars today.  The details are sparse, but the shooter, Joseph Gregoria Bua, made a living contracting housing for immigrant laborers-mostly Italian, to work on the Mill River dam. What must have been a heated argument turned fatal when Bua pulled out a pistol and shot Delia in the right side of his chest.  Despite being rushed to the nearest hospital in Bridgeport, the wound proved to be fatal.  Bua fled and the Deputy Sheriff for the county was searching the district for weeks.

We know that the shooter was still on the loose in December because a flyer from the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency is preserved in the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford.  The leaflet, dated December 3rd, is a police notice meant to be distributed to law enforcement agencies and it calls for Bua’s arrest. The text details his physical appearance, dress and ethnicity.  It even alludes to his education and character: he is described as both literate and multilingual, but also quick and shrewd.

Printed posters of criminals had been around for centuries, but Pinkerton’s had raised the medium to new heights.  Utilizing an immense distribution network, they capitalized on the latest technologies and were the first to use photography in their notices.  The organization functioned very much as a national security firm able to use its resources to apprehend criminals across the limited jurisdictions of local police departments.  Pinkerton’s was also the service of choice for large companies eager to protect their investments.  Considering the corporations that built the Easton reservoirs,  Pinkerton’s involvement isn’t surprising.  In 1886, the Mill River dam project was run by the Citizens Water Company, a newly formed group that vied with the  Bridgeport Hydraulic Company to provide clean drinking water for the city.  Citizens Water was a bit of an upstart company; forming in May of 1886, it purchased land, began the dam project and started to run pipes with the aim of providing fresh water to Bridgeport before October 1.  Despite their ambitious time table, their work was delayed by legal injunctions and even some serious accidents. Well over their goal date when Francisco Delia was murdered, the scandal and news coverage might have precipitated the hiring of Pinkerton’s for damage control. In truth, the detective agency could have been hired by either rivaling water company – Citizen’s to protect their reputation or Bridgeport Hydraulic to further sully their competitor.

By 1887, Citizen’s Water lost their court battle and the two companies merged into one under the Bridgeport Hydraulic name. Their combined legacy continues on with Easton’s beautiful reservoirs today but what about the wanted murderer-Joseph Bua? He seems to have vanished despite the all seeing eye of Pinkerton’s.