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Town Historian Being Honored With Elm Tree Planting

Retired Conard High School history teacher and town historian Tracey Wilson will be honored with the planting of an elm tree, on Oct. 7.

Wilson taught a combined 38 years at both Conard and the former Talcott Junior High School. The tree honoring her will be planted by the Elmwood Business Association and the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society, in the Elmwood section of West Hartford, a neighborhood named for trees it no longer has.

Elm trees were planted in Elmwood in 1777, 240 years ago, after General John Burgoyne - a British army officer - was defeated in a battle in Saratoga, New York during the Revolutionary War.

The trees disappeared, Wilson said, in the 1950s.

"They thought they should plant elms to commemorate the win," Wilson said. "The elm tree, to the Patriots, represented the idea of liberty. The elm took on this symbolism of liberty."

Ten years ago, two Elm trees were planted in Elmwood for the first time since they disappeared. A plaque beside the new tree will honor Wilson. The ceremony will take place on the Elmwood Green, at 3 p.m.

"I like to think that in 100 years, people will know the tree as Tracey's tree," said Jennifer DiCola Matos, executive director of the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society.

It's a fitting tribute to someone who has focused their life and career, and still does, on history.

"A big part of my interest in history came from trying to bring out the voices of people who hadn't been heard," Wilson said. "The standard adage is that history is written by the victors. But, I really spent a lot of time in my career and in my research trying to find the other side of the story and trying to give voice to people who often didn't have a voice."

That's also similar to the way she wanted her students at Conard High School to approach their historical research.

"As a teacher, my job was to have kids find their voice and be able to speak and write about what mattered to them," Wilson said. "I didn't want them to tell me back what I told them. I wanted them to find a piece of the story that had resonance with them and have them try to make meaning out of that."

Wilson describes herself as being a humble person, but said she's honored that someone would plant an Elm tree in her honor.

"I really love the idea of it, because it's a living memorial," Wilson said. "I truly feel honored that people think I'm worthy to have something named after me. But, I see it as something that really helps define what our community is. You feel like you've helped people understand the importance of history. Knowing our history helps us really understand our community and it helps us to connect to our community."

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