When does the history of Cheshire begin?
Most — but not all — would point to 1694 when, according to reports, settlers from Wallingford first arrived on these lands.
But Town Historian Jeanne Chesanow has a different starting point.
For her new book, “Glaciers to Greenhouses: Cheshire Then and Now,” Chesanow travels back much further in time than 325 years. Her story begins well before the town’s first settlers arrived — before anyone arrived in New England at all, for that matter.
Starting in the Ice Age, Chesanow takes her readers on a journey — one that makes the land as much of a star as the people who built on top of it and planted in it.
“(A friend) was reading through the book recently and said to me, “Wow, you’ve provided the setting for all the rest,’” said Chesanow. “My friend said, ‘I’ve read about the architecture, the people who have lived here, but you’ve now put them all in the landscape. You’ve put them all on the land.’ I thought, ‘Wow, that’s why we have great friends, to give wonderful quotes like that.’”
“Glaciers to Greenhouses” is a labor of love for Chesanow. The idea first percolated to the surface approximately six years ago, after a presentation to the Cheshire Land Trust elicited some welcomed responses from the general public.
“I gave a slide show to the CLT, and that was the germination,” she said. “I did it to encourage people to send me things or talk to me about things in town, especially from an environmental viewpoint.”
As Town Historian, Chesanow is very familiar with the numerous books and pamphlets that have been written over the decades recording the history of the community. So, before beginning her new venture, Chesanow asked herself a very important question: “What can I add to the story that is new?”
“You always have to know what else has been written about the town … and I was familiar with the (different historical accounts) offered over the years. I asked myself, what could I bring that hasn’t been done before?”
She settled on a few ideas. The first would be to really look at how Cheshire’s topography played a role in shaping the community. Especially for early settlers, Cheshire’s fields were the biggest selling point, so providing the “setting” for the stories of the community was important.
“A lot of (past works) hadn’t put the events and the people in the context of the land,” she said. “The people (are discussed) making use of the land … but nothing had really tied it all together with a broad environmental viewpoint.”
Next, she wanted to focus on a group that has received little attention in the retelling of Cheshire’s early days as a community — Native Americans.
“Not many (Cheshire) history books have done a lot with Native Americans, so I decided I would try to find out as much as possible about them.”
Chesanow reached out to another author, who had written extensively on early Native Americans in Connecticut, and the Cheshire Historian was put in touch with the state’s archeological department.
“(The state archeologist) sent over all the accounts (of explorations done in Cheshire), so I had all that information. No one had really written about those particular sites, what was uncovered there, and more.”
Then, there was the look and feel of the book. Chesanow wanted her work to be as accessible and inviting to readers as possible. “I didn’t want it to seem like a textbook,” she said, with a laugh. That’s why the front cover of “Glaciers and Greenhouses” shows colorful flowers grown at Tower Farms — owned and operated since 1938 in Cheshire — and the back cover artwork depicts a melting glacier surrounded by green pastures and grazing wildlife.
The book is also brought to life by Chesanow’s distinct writing style, which filters information through the lens of humor. That, and the way in which the book is situated — each of the 11 chapters, plus three appendices, focus on a different aspect of Cheshire history — will allow readers, Chesanow hopes, to peruse the book at their convenience.
“People can browse,” said Chesanow. “They don’t have to read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. They can pick and choose (the topics) they want to read about.”
Writing the book was one thing. Getting it published was quite another.
Chesanow credits Cheshire Land Trust member David Schrumm for helping her with each aspect of the writing and production process — from editing to finding a publisher to securing photos. “He really was an enormous help with it all,” said Chesanow.
She also mentioned CLT member Tim Slocum, who helped in the editing process as well as procuring the many photographs that are sprinkled throughout.
“They were extremely important,” she said.
More than 500 copies were published, but only a select few have the special “Cheshire 325th Anniversary” banner at the top.
“(Town Economic Development Coordinator) Jerry Sitko asked if we could mention how the book coincides with the town celebrating its 325th anniversary … so we put this special banner on the top,” she said. “Only 200 have it.”
For those wishing to purchase a copy of “Glaciers to Greenhouses,” visit www.cheshirelandtrust.org, or call (203) 710-2563 to learn how else to obtain the book.