Simsbury's 350th anniversary celebration continues in 2021
Updated: Feb 16
• COVID shutdown extends mega-milestone for classic N.E. town
By Bruce Deckert
Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief
First things first — did you know that Simsbury is home to a number of distinctive firsts? The first steel mill in America (1728) … the first temperance society (1803) … production of the first safety fuse in America (1836). Yes, all occurred in Simsbury, according to various historical and media sources.
2020 marked another first for this quintessential New England town that was founded in 1670 — the first time Simsbury celebrated its 350th anniversary. And lo and behold, Simsbury gets to celebrate again this year!
The government's COVID shutdown hit the pause button for many of the events that were planned for the 350th celebration in 2020, and one corollary is that Simsbury is extending its anniversary celebration until at least September 2021.
COVID-19 was an unknown term when 2020 began, and apparently this pandemic has affected not only our language and lexicon but also our usual view of mathematics — because this also might be the first time in history that the following equation holds true:
1670 (the year Simsbury was established) plus 350 years equals both 2020 and 2021 ... another way of saying that Simsbury's 2020 anniversary party is continuing in 2021.
Put more succinctly, as a math equation that represents a COVID-impacted anomaly but is nonetheless mathematically correct:
1670 + 350 = 2020 + 2021
• A note for anyone who is confused — in this equation, the first + indicates the mathematical plus sign, and the second + signifies the word and
OK, enough math and lexicon digression — let's return to history class.
Once upon a time, in a colony called Connecticut, a town was founded. That time was May 12, 1670, and that town was Simmsbury … yes, with a double-m.
If you surmise that this old colonial town has become the Simsbury of today — with one m — you are historically correct.
"My call to the ministry … came about in the summer of 1944 [in Simsbury] when I felt an inescapable urge to serve society." — Martin Luther King Jr.
Joshua Holcomb and John Case, the region’s first constable, formally petitioned the colony to establish Simsbury — initially part of Windsor — as an official entity. Simsbury’s original boundaries encompassed the present-day towns of Granby (founded 1786) and Canton (1806). This distinctive area — a fertile valley defined by the Farmington River after its peculiar bend north, just west of the Metacomet Ridge — was inhabited by the Massacoe Indians when the first English settlers arrived.
Those settlers called the domain the Massacoh Plantation. But the origin of Simsbury’s name isn’t exactly known since records of the town’s first decade were lost in a fire in 1680. The nomenclature might be derived from the town of Symondsbury in the county of Dorset, England — some early residents came from Dorset — or Simsbury could be the namesake of Simon “Sim” Wolcott, one of the nascent town’s notable men.
When Simsbury was founded in May 1670, the Revolutionary War was more than a century away. Nearly 1,000 Simsbury residents served in that conflict, more than in any other war. While one magazine story evidently can’t record all the relevant details of Simsbury’s 350 years, we hope that our news coverage contributes to the celebration and education inherent in such a major milestone.
For the record, there are five core towns in the Farmington Valley. Besides Simsbury, Granby and Canton: Farmington (founded 1645) is the oldest and Avon (1830, a Farmington spinoff) is the youngest.
In 1831, William Bickford was granted a patent for a safety fuse that revolutionized the use of explosives, and thus began the history of Simsbury as a company town that carries through to this day. The present-day Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense Company on Hopmeadow Street is the descendant of the town-based firm that has changed names over the years while maintaining a reputation for innovation.
A century-plus after Bickford sowed the seeds of a fertile commercial enterprise in town, a teenager from Georgia spent two formative summers working in Simsbury in 1944 and ’47 — and seeds sown here helped define America’s civil-rights movement, for that teenager was Martin Luther King Jr.
As a summer job to pay for tuition, King worked at a Cullman Bros. tobacco farm with 100-plus fellow students from Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he was born and raised.
For years, stories circulated about MLK’s visits to town, and in 2010 a group of Simsbury High students produced an award-winning documentary that presented the fruits of their investigative work and proved that King’s tenure in Simsbury not only occurred but also deeply shaped his view of equality and civil rights.
On his seminary application, he wrote, “My call to the ministry … came about in the summer of 1944 [in Simsbury] when I felt an inescapable urge to serve society.”
Countless Simsbury residents have likewise served society and their town with distinction and flair for 350 years. +
• Updated anniversary news + events — Simsbury 350 website
• This article is a revised and updated version of Today Magazine's June 2020 cover story
• Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert is a five-time SPJ award-winner — he was an ESPN.com editor for 17 years, and before that he served as a reporter and editor for the former Imprint Newspapers group that produced weekly papers for most Valley towns
Sources — www.simsburyhistory.org • www.simsbury-ct.gov • other media outlets via Google