Picture: The main east-west street in downtown Wilton connected all the elements needed for a community: the Wilton Methodist Church, the Wilton Hall, a blacksmith shop, Van Rensselaer’s General Store, the Wiltonville District No. 4 School and doctor’s offices. This 1929 picture, before Route 9 came through, shows the Wilton Hotel, an ice-house, a hay barn and a wagon shed.
On a recent Saturday afternoon a group of country music fans enjoyed a wonderful “happening” on the lawn of the Wilton Heritage Society. Members and neighborhood families sat around and sang along with “Tom and Friends”. What could be better for a nice summer afternoon? Between sets, I was asked to give a few minutes of local history. My greeting was “Welcome to Downtown Wilton”. This wasn’t a flippant remark, but a factual statement. The road that stretches from the bottom of Mt. McGregor once continued across Route 9 to the historic square on Northern Pines.
The Beers map of 1866 shows a vibrant area of the main street of Wilton, complete with a meeting hall, blacksmith shops, a laundry, doctors’ offices, a hotel and general store with a post office. Many of the original historic homes are still enjoyed by families. The Heritage Society was once the Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1873, one of three churches served by a single circuit minister. The South Wilton Church on Route 9 is now a business and the Gurn Springs Church at Exit 16 has been the home of several church congregations in the past few years and was last used as a consignment shop. This last church is now owned by a local business man. The Trinity Methodist Church is the combined congregations of these three churches and serves the town as the home of the Wilton Food Pantry and holds community dinners throughout the year.
The 1880’s brought the Mt. McGregor development with the grand hotel Balmoral and the narrow-gauge railroad that served the tourists. The same railroad that brought Ulysses S. Grant to the mountain to complete his memoirs before his death and served as his funeral train to his tomb in New York City.
Wilton was dotted with small hotels and tea rooms. The Wilton Hall offered a wonderful community gathering spot complete with a popular dance floor. School #4 was within walking distance of the square. This was a rural farm community with a main street that supplied all the requirements for everyday life. Transportation was by horse and wagon and the blacksmith shops were the service stations. The general store could supplement the self-sustaining farm life. Community gatherings and conversation was the entertainment for the citizens.
The Heritage Society will provide an Apple Pie Social in October for the enjoyment of the Wilton community. Please feel free to come and meet your neighbors and have some conversation with your pie and sharp cheese.
The hamlet should be complete and serve the needs of the people.