New Britain City Journal

New Britain's Weekly Online Newspaper


City Historian @ NBPL

Earlier this month, the Common Council passed a resolution naming Pat Watson, our Adult Services Librarian, as the City Historian – a true honor.  One of her duties is the Local History Room which she has overseen since 2000. Pat succeeds Arlene Palmer, the past City Historian for 19 years and at one time, the library’s Local History Librarian.

We are pleased to receive the recognition of the work that the library does.   Information has always been our business, connecting people with information. You can think of our librarians as the original search engine.  Of course that includes providing information on the history of our city.

In 1976, the library expanded, joining the original main library and the children’s library. Space was designated solely for local history. Materials that had been stored in vaults were moved to the room, making them available to the public for the first time.  The first mention of a local history collection was in 1893 by the library committee “Steps have been taken to collect and preserve in the fire proof vault of the Institute, records and documents relating to the early history of New Britain which are liable to be destroyed or irrecoverably lost”.

The room is a wonderful collection of all things New Britain, with many thanks for all the donated items we receive. There are books about New Britain and books by New Britain authors. The collection includes maps chronicling the changes of our city, municipal reports, yearbooks, postcards, photos, scrapbooks and items made in the city.  We also own a complete collection of the New Britain Herald on microfilm. One of our most prized possessions is 21 volumes written by Elihu Burritt between 1840 and 1859.  Mr. Burritt, widely known throughout the world, was born in New Britain in 1910. Known as a social reformer, abolitionist and advocate of world peace, he traveled and lectured across the United States and Europe. During his life, he wrote over 37 books, articles and pamphlets.  He taught himself almost 50 foreign languages, and received the nickname, the Learned Blacksmith, referring to the days when he was a blacksmith’s apprentice.  From 1865 to 1870, he served as the U.S Consul in England, as appointed by President Lincoln. He returned to New Britain in 1870 to spend his remaining years, passing away in 1879. Known and respected throughout the world, his works continue to be studied by researchers.

The Local History Room brings people to the city from all over the United States and the world.  We have had visitors from Australia, Amsterdam, Canada, France, Germany, England, Jamaica, Korea, Taiwan,   Botswana, Hong Kong, Poland and more.  Just recently, an author from Japan visited the room to research  materials for his book, Zipper Gear Collectors Guide to American Antique Zippers as zippers were manufactured at one time in New Britain.

The room is used by all ages, and all walks of life:  students, historians, authors, lawyers, architects, teachers, engineers and genealogists. It is used for homework projects, by organizations, churches and industries interested in their histories, by families searching their genealogies, and people researching people, buildings, monuments, automobiles, factories and parks.

Anyone can visit the room, Monday and Wednesdays 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursdays

2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Questions are also answered in person, by mail, email, and telephone and special appointments are available for those unable to make the scheduled hours.