Our 149th reunion was held in Essex, Connecticut. It was the first reunion in that location, and probably long overdue given the importance of Dickinsons in the history of that town. Their involvement with witch hazel production began in 1866 with Rev. T. N. Dickinson and continued for three more generations.
On Friday afternoon, June 21st, a rainy day cleared up beautifully just in time for a tour of the North Main Street area where the homes and offices of several Dickinsons associated with that company were located. Our tour guide was Melissa Josefiak, director of the Essex Historical Society. She had been our speaker several years ago when she worked in the same capacity for Wethersfield CT and it was good to see her again.
Friday evening’s dinner was held in nearby Chester, CT, at the “Brushmill by the Waterfall.” This is a rustic restaurant in a historic building that once was actually a mill which produced brushes. A covered wooden pedestrian bridge over the Pattaconk River leads to the entrance and from our 2nd floor dining room we had a beautiful view of the waterfall produced by the dam just upstream. We had 40 people, a record number for Friday evening, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and good company.
On Saturday about 64 DFA members gathered at “River Station Junction” in Essex. The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Company has taken over much of the former grounds of the E.E. Dickinson Witch Hazel Company, and River Station Junction is their new name for the old bottling plant the interior of which has been transformed into a banquet space. It was an excellent setting for our reunion with adequate space for exhibits, sales, tables and speakers.
At 10:15 our friend Melissa Josefiak took a large group on a walking tour of the grounds. Melissa is very knowledgeable and shared much history of the area and information about the witch hazel production that took place here. She led us on a short walk over to the original main distilling plant, a two-story brick building with art-deco trim. The building’s exterior has been nicely restored and the inside is now an office building. Dickinson’s Witch Hazel is still being produced, but now in a more modern facility in East Hampton, CT.
Before lunch we had the traditional “counting of the cousins” and there were some surprises this year. Descendants of Nehemiah, often the runaway winners, were exceeded by those of Joseph, who numbered 18. A three-way tie for second place included Nathaniel, Nehemiah and Obadiah at 12 each.
The usual three prizes were presented. The winner(s) for the farthest distance traveled were Karen and Peter Brown from West Virginia. The youngest was Claire Butler, 11, from Noank CT. And the oldest was our former genealogist, Margaret “Bucky” Bock, 99, from neighboring Westbrook, CT. It was so good to see Bucky again. She looked great, is doing well and just as sharp as ever!
The lunch buffet was set up in a large exhibit space adjacent to our meeting room. Chicken, potatoes and salad were accompanied by a delicious but non-traditional succotash (no lima beans!) with strawberry shortcake for dessert.
After lunch the group picture was taken in the same adjacent room. Then our main speaker, Brenda Milkofsky, presented an excellent illustrated talk on the development of the Dickinson Witch Hazel business. Brenda is the former director of the Connecticut River Museum in Essex. She focused on the importance of artwork and labelling in propelling the company to its internationally known status.
After the talk, president Ken Dickinson called the 149th annual meeting to order. Some highlights included the announcement that next year’s reunion will be in Deerfield, MA, on June 26-27. That will be our 150th so we’re hoping to make it a special one and hope for a very good attendance. Scholarship Chair, Lisa Butler, announced that the committee has been reading applications from 8 students and that their decision will be forthcoming. Our genealogist, Becky Passa, could not attend this year. Nominations chair Dale Williams thanked her for her work over the past several years as genealogist and announced that she will continue as assistant genealogist. Lisa Butler was nominated for the position of genealogist. All other executive board nominees were the same as last year and all were elected unanimously.
As the meeting was adjourned, president Ken called on past-president Bob Magovern to give a closing prayer. We remember with sadness and gratitude Bob’s sister, Mary Zimmerman, who had been our chaplain for many years, and who passed away on November 4, 2018.
2019 REUNION ATTENDEES
[List coming soon]