Jeanne Chesanow had a very simple goal when she began her last book: She wanted to look at Cheshire’s history from beginning to end.
In “Glaciers to Greenhouses: Cheshire Then and Now,” published in 2019, the community’s long-serving Town Historian set out to chronicle almost every aspect of the town’s past — from the Indigenous People who first occupied the land to how the environment influenced Cheshire’s growth from a small settlement to an agricultural hub for the state.
She wanted her work to be a resource for future generations of Cheshire-ites.
Awards, however, were the furthest thing from her mind.
“It definitely wasn’t anything I was thinking about when going through the process (of writing the book),” she recently told The Herald.
But accolades have arrived, the most recent of which came as a “very pleasant surprise,” Chesanow admits. In September, “Glaciers to Greenhouses” was recognized by the Connecticut League of History Organizations as one of its Awards of Merit honorees, in the category of Educational Programs and Publications.
“It’s an award (for which) you have to apply,” explained Chesanow. “So, I decided I would try, but I wasn’t sure what kind of competition there would be. There’s always so many wonderful (works) being honored. When I found out, I was very happy.”
This is not the first time Chesanow has received an award from the League. Several years back, Chesanow was instrumental in helping the Historical Society develop a specific app that allows residents to more easily access information about the community’s past, putting local history one click away for interested residents. For that app, the entire group was honored.
This, however, is Chesanow’s first individual award, yet speak to her about it for any length of time and you’ll find that she feels somewhat differently.
“It really was a collective effort, so I see this (award) as an acknowledgement of that,” she stated.
To her, the recognition is a testament to the kind of the collaboration it took to bring “Glaciers to Greenhouses” to life. In particular, Chesanow commends longtime residents David Schrumm and Tim Slocum, who helped with everything from research to finding the right publisher for the work.
“They were just so good and helped in such important ways,” explained Chesanow.
In its description of the book, the League credited Cheshire’s Town Historian for setting “a new standard” for local historical works. “Using an ecological approach to the town’s development, it examines how the natural environment played a role in shaping early settlement into the greenhouse operations today. This town-focused study of environmental history, and its place in Connecticut’s ecological and geographical framework, furthers our understanding of the state’s history,” the League stated, in a release dated July 29.
The group also credited Chesanow for focusing on the history of indigenous tribes that lived in the area well before any settlers, something that motivated Chesanow to write the book in the first place.
“I always thought that any town history should start with the people who were there first,” said Chesanow. “They were on the land, lived there, and had a lifestyle we know something about.”
Over the years, Chesanow had uncovered several pieces of information about the tribes who lived in the area, but realized that no one had taken “what we have and put it all together.”
Recent discoveries on land purchased by the Town from John Ricci, owner of Ricci Construction, off of Fenn Road, has shed even more light on those early inhabitants, with remnants of burial grounds having been found and likely some areas that served as places of worship. It confirmed what Chesanow has believed all along — that the town was home to a vibrant indigenous population well before Wallingford farmers showed up.
“I would expect that we’ll find, either on the property or nearby, traces of a village,” she said.
Being acknowledged by the League for her effort to bring that history to life, along with being credited with setting a “new standard” for such research, was particularly gratifying for Chesanow.
“I liked that very much,” she said, with a laugh. “I was thrilled to think I set some sort of standard. I have always felt that, in order to know where you are going in life, you have to know where you’ve been.”
While the book has been out and available to readers for over a year, Chesanow is hoping that it will find a long life as a teaching guide for the community. Working off of the book, Chesanow is developing a new program based on the school year. With 180 days of classes, Chesanow is looking to put together 180 images that have historical significance. The hope would be that anyone interested in utilizing the materials — from parents to students to educators — can simply take the photos and weave them into a broader discussion about Cheshire’s past.
“There will be photos, drawings, sketches. We’ll have them online and all of it will be geared towards kids,” explained Chesanow. “You can click on the image and there will be text where you can find out more. People can maybe make a game of it.”
“Kids should grow up knowing something about their town,” she continued.