New Plymouth mural beautifies and educates

Litchfield

PLYMOUTH, Conn. (WTNH)– The town of Plymouth officially dedicated a new town landmark Tuesday morning. It is a mural depicted the town’s history, designed to celebrate Plymouth’s 225th anniversary next year.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this mural must be worth a million. Some art teachers, their students and other volunteers crammed more than 200 years of town history onto the side of a hardware store.

“I do murals with my students,” explained elementary school art teacher Diane Boylan. “We have an art club, and that’s kind of how Jerry got going on this, because he saw our murals in the Board of Education and he said, ‘These need to be seen by everybody.'”

Jerry is Jerry Milne, town history expert who took the art teachers around to places of interest starting a year ago.

“And once we got all the images and notes down, then we started making a drawing for the mural,” said high school art teacher Gina Ritchie.

It includes landmarks like the old Toll House, depicted with a detailed sign listing all the tolls. The Terryville train tunnel is on there, too. It is the longest tunnel in Connecticut. Speaking of Terryville, the Eli Terry water wheel is painted right next to Terry himself, the clockmaker who invented interchangeable clock parts.

“So that if one gear broke, you could just put another one in, and he pioneered the industrial revolution right here in Plymouth,” said Milne.

That kind of technology led to the Ives model train company.

“In the clocks, they would use springs to wind up the clocks to set the time, and they took that same technology and put it into toy trains,” Milne said.

Ives later became Lionel trains. You probably heard of them. You probably heard of Terryville’s own TV star Ted Knight and fashion designer Betsey Johnson, too. They get their own mentions. So does pioneering balloonist Silas Brooks, who made his own hydrogen balloons.

“He made almost 200 hot air balloon ascensions in the 1800s,” Milne said. “He was part of P.T. Barnum’s circus.”

Around that same time, the underground railroad had a stop in Plymouth as escaped slaves followed the north star to Canada. Dorence Atwater fought to end slavery, joining the union army when he was just 16. He was captured and kept in the notorious confederate prison in Andsersonville, Georgia, where unsanitary conditions killed thousands of prisoners.

“And he kept a secret list of all the union soldiers that died because he was concerned that the rebels wouldn’t be accurate, wouldn’t own up to it,” Milne explained.

Atwater went on to team up with Red Cross founder Clara Barton to mark the graves of previously unknown soldiers.

As if all that history were not enough, the artists have also hidden 10 keyholes in the painting as a nod to the town’s lockmaking history. If you want to try to find them all, keep in mind that some are easier than others, and one is really, really small.

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