This course will investigate the form of the oral narrative. Students will work with Portland, Connecticut, residents who have been involved with the brownstone quarry there and know the history of this cultural, economic, and aesthetic feature of our community. Brownstone from Portland was important from the 1700s through the 1800s; it was the material that built many of the famous brownstones of New York and Boston and was even used in San Francisco. The quarry remained productive until the 1930s, when flooding made the stone unavailable. The 1990s saw a renewed interest in it; there is now a limited amount of quarrying and the site is developed as a recreational area, with hiking, canoeing, and camping facilities. In 2000, the quarry was listed as a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Students will interview residents and transcribe accounts and memories as oral histories of the quarries, choosing the medium of transcription–print, voice only (CD or audiotape), video (TV or DVD)–and producing final documents that will be offered to Portland and Middletown for the local history collections and to Wesleyan University for Special Collections.
Oral histories collected by Wesleyan students were provided by:
Jeanne Dilworth, collected by Shayna Bauchner and Rhea Sen
Jeanne Dilworth has lived in Connecticut her entire life. She grew up in Manchester during the Great Depression, and moved to Portland with her husband almost 60 years ago. Her interest in the town’s community and natural resources has led her to a career in teaching, and later to a position as president of the Brownstone Quorum
Bill Barrows, collected by Arielle Berrick and Rachel Miller-Howard
Bill Barrows is a professional antiques dealer. He was born and raised in Portland, CT, where he resides today. He is a fourth generation Portlander. Bill’s father started the antiques business, Thomas Barrows & Son. Bill lives in a historic house on Main Street, Middletown with his wife Ann.
Joe Seiferman, collected by Samuel Cohen and Rosa McElheny
Joe Seiferman is a lifelong Portland resident and proprietor of the Riverdale Motel in Portland, CT.
Alison Guinness, collected by Laura Heath and Chalmers Hamill
Allison Guinness is an archaeologist for a Cultural Resource Management firm and continues to study and educate people about the brownstone quarries. Alison Guinness has been instrumental in shaping the way we understand the Portland brownstone quarries. Her roles as a researcher, educator, and activist for preservation have helped the Portland community understand its history and resources.
Christoph Henning, collected by Laura Heath and Chalmers Hamill
Christoph Henning is a stone carver and cutter working in Portland, Connecticut. He does stone fabrication work for the brownstone quarry operated by Mike Meehan in Portland, along with brownstone and other stone restoration work around the state and country. He was born and grew up in Erfurt, East Germany, eventually relocating to the United States after the reunification of Germany and meeting his future wife. He now lives with his wife and son in Berlin, Connecticut, a few towns west of Portland. His house has a brownstone foundation.
Bob McDougall, collected by Emmy Levitas, Michelle Garcia, and Sarah Tracy-Wanck
Bob McDougall is a lifelong resident of Portland. He was born in 1961 and attended Portland public schools until leaving for college, after which he decided to return to Portland. He is a charter member of the Portland Historical Society (established in 1973), and is currently the Museum Director of the Ruth Callander House Museum of Portland history. Bob’s contributions to local history include “PORTLAND,” a book commissioned by the Images of America project. He is also employed as a Computer Systems Engineer.
Anna Fairbank, collected by Julia Marroquin-Ceron and William Levitt
Anna Fairbank was born in Portland and has remained here all here life. She grew up “under the bridge” in a community composed mostly of new immigrants. Anna Fairbank provides a fascinating social history of the town of Portland, CT. Able to view the town from many perspectives (both “under the bridge” and “uptown”), her stories reveal a fascinating, true-to-life account of Portland shortly after the quarries closed.
Jack Dillon, collected by Julia Marroquin-Ceron and William Levitt
Jack Dillon has been a life long resident of Portland, CT. He has had been interested in the history of the quarries for his whole life, and his family history goes back many generations with the quarries. His children and he and his wife still live in Portland today.
Mike Meehan, collected by Gus Seixas and Eleni Healy
Mike Meehan was born in 1949 on a dairy farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania. His grandfather was an engineer, and the farm was worked by a local farmer. Mike grew up traversing the property and observing the coal mining operations on his grandfather’s land and in the surrounding areas. He started his career as a science teacher, but soon got a master’s in geology and began working in the coal industry. After a successful career in coal exploration, Mike and his wife moved to Connecticut, where he opened up the Portland brownstone quarries for small scale restoration and repair. Mike has been working at the quarries since 1993.