ELLINGTON, Conn. — The chance discovery of two diaries on eBay has led the Ellington Historical Society to purchase those and six more written by a town official in the early 20th century.

The eight diaries – an incomplete set dating between 1917 and 1933 that the society paid a total of $339 for – belonged to former town assessor Charles A. Price, who died at 81 on Dec. 6, 1939 at his home on Maple Avenue. He was town assessor for 30 years.

Lynn Fahy, the historical society’s archivist, said she bought the first two diaries after being notified by a historical society member they were up for bid on the online auction site eBay.

Fahy said the seller, who lives in Pennsylvania, contacted her and asked if she’d be interested in buying the other six.

‘LIKE BUYING A CADILLAC’

“She had charged about $75 for one and $89 for the second one,” Fahy said. “I said, ‘I think your prices are a little high for an all-volunteer historical society.’ But we ended up coming to an agreement because it’s very important to bring these diaries back home.”

The historical society and the seller settled on an agreement of $175 to purchase the remaining diaries.

Nancy Long, curator of the Nellie McKnight Museum, said, “You have to understand we have such a small operating budget. It’s like buying a Cadillac. It’s Ellington history.”

The diaries have found a home at the museum, located on Main Street, where other artifacts from Price’s life are being displayed.

“We have a scrapbook that Charles Price’s wife had composed,” Long said, referring to his second wife, Mary Louise Hancock Price. “Not only things of their life, but things of Ellington as well. To have the diaries fit with the scrapbook was really important.”

STILL WORKING THROUGH THEM

Along with the scrapbook and diaries is a photo of Price along with Charles B. Sikes Jr., which shows Price with crutches after breaking his hip.

“There was a newspaper article about Charles Price having broken his hip, and he was on his way to a setback party,” Fahy said. “He got care for it after. I found the place in the diaries where he mentioned it and it was in December 1933 where he said he fell in his yard and hurt his leg. But his wife took over the entries from that point and mentioned him being in Hartford Hospital.”

The society has had the diaries for about eight months and officials are still working through them, doing their best to decipher Price’s script.

Long said, “I had a lot more fun with the oldest diary. In addition to getting used to the handwriting, every time he mentioned a name, I would write it down and go to Ancestry.com or some town records to put together the people he was talking about.”

In his oldest diary, he writes about his childhood and his work for Chauncey Chapman at his store, which was located on Main Street where the Hall Memorial Library is today.

“They talked about picking up deliveries and going to Ellington Depot and going to Enfield,” Long said. She said he also mentions a crush he had on a girl named Mary, who was Chapman’s daughter. His infatuation never came to fruition and he later married Nettie Ward, Long said.

“It seems to me that he had a real circle of cronies that he grew up with,” she said. “I say that because there are names in the early diary that there are names that are mentioned later.

LOTS OF LOCAL FLAVOR

“He always started his entries with a comment about the weather,” she said. “Then he would comment about what happened at the store.”

She said that every day Price recounted his activities for work, which included not just his work at the store but also his work on farms haying and tobacco pulling.

“It wasn’t just delivering things, he was working at various farms,” Long said. “He was working on someone’s carriage and then painting. He talked about taking a horse to get new shoes on it.

“He was industrious, not just leaning on the shop counter waiting for customers to come in,” she added.

“You pick up on a lot of the local flavor and what went on day to day,” she said about the diaries. “It’s a snapshot of that period of time. Ellington, 1900 to about 1930 had a lot of growing and changing … Everyone that Charles mentions in the diary is somebody of note in the town.”

TRANSCRIBING A BIG JOB

Though he was town assessor for three decades he doesn’t mention his work much in his diaries.

“What I’ve read so far doesn’t really talk about the assessor job,” Long said. “It had more to do with his personal relationship with people in town. We find generally with these diaries that people wrote about different things in this period of time.”

The age of the diaries – the oldest being nearly 100 years old – has required Long and Fahy to be gentle and tedious with their handling and transcribing of them. After eight months, they are still working on it.

Fahy said, “It’s a big job to transcribe all that.”

Complicating matters is that Price was a terrible speller and his penmanship got worse over time, making it more difficult to transcribe his handwriting, she said.

The diaries and other artifacts from Price’s life will be available for viewing by the public when the Nellie McKnight Museum, located at 70 Main St., reopens for the season in May.

The museum is only open Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. May through September.


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