Weston celebrates its 300th birthday

Weston might be best known today as a wealthy enclave with more than its fair share of famous sports figures, but over three centuries of history it has also been home to dairy farms, a pipe organ factory, and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton.

With a commemoration ceremony last weekend, Weston embarked on a yearlong 300th anniversary celebration that will be filled with concerts, a cycling tour, fireworks, even a commemorative postage stamp. An exhibit about the town’s history is also on display this month at Weston Public Library.

“I think this celebration is really a way to bring a small community together,” said Ed Coburn, a Weston selectman whose family settled in town just after the Revolutionary War. “I think the interest is to celebrate the past, the present, and also the future of the town.”

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The party continues Jan. 26 with a one-day Winterfest, featuring horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice sculptures, and snowman-building competitions. Two skating rinks will be set up on the Town Green, along with bonfires for marshmallow roasting.

“Don’t laugh but we’ve taken Christmas trees that were being abandoned by people selling them, and we’ve lined the rink with these trees — very Currier & Ives, if you will,” said Dusty Rhodes, the volunteer chairwoman of the Weston 300 Committee.

The history of Weston, now a suburb of around 11,000 people, is rooted in agriculture. It was known as the Farmers’ Precinct of Watertown until the population finally grew large enough to support its own parish and soon after, in 1713, its own town, which was a common way for new communities to form at that time, according to Pamela W. Fox, president of the Weston Historical Society.

Industry eventually developed, including mills and factories that made school desks and chairs, enormous pipe organs, and pottery.

But it was rich Bostonians, who came to Weston to build summer homes, who shaped what the town is today. They wanted the town to be appealing to other people of means, Fox said.

“By the late 19th century, there were . . . wealthy businessmen from Boston who were establishing summer estates here — they basically discouraged industry,” said Fox. “They basically shaped the town. It was their idea that the town’s best future was as a residential community.”

A historical society exhibit, “The Farmers’ Precinct: Three Centuries of Weston History,” opened this month at the Weston Public Library and will run through Jan. 29. After its stop at the library, the show will be on display at several other locations throughout the year, including Town Hall.

The exhibit’s hundreds of items include a school desk and chair made at a Weston factory, milk bottles from local dairies, and the trunk that belonged to a World War I soldier who hailed from Weston. Also featured are wooden organ pipes and tools from the Hook & Hastings Co. organ factory, which was nationally known.

(There’s no mention of Anne Sexton, according to Fox. The famous poet committed suicide at her Weston home in 1974.)

Fox, a former Planning Board member, said other big changes came to town after World War II, when there was pent-up demand for housing and growth really took off. Town leaders tried to control development by buying land for conservation and rezoning to create larger minimum lot sizes, said Fox.

“One reason people live out here is not just because it’s a wealthy town but because there’s a lot of conservation land,” said Fox. “People have tried the best they can, given that growth happens, to preserve that rural character.”

This being Weston, promotional materials of the yearlong celebration promise events sure to please discerning residents.

In March, the Tercentennial Tribute fund-raiser will be a gala dinner at the Weston Golf Club, and in June the Weston 300 Grand Celebration Concert at the high school football stadium will include “spectacular” lighting, “thunderous” singing, and be capped off by an “impressive” fireworks display. Concertgoers can choose a picnic dinner, set up on “brightly painted custom picnic tables.”

Also on the schedule is a Field Day in June, with activities for children, a 5K road race, a film festival, Weston High School alumni tents, and two performance stages. In October, the Founder’s Day Fall Festival will feature a parade, apple pie bake-off, hayrides, pumpkin carving, and scarecrow making.

At least two dozen other events and exhibits, some specific to the schools, are scheduled throughout the year. Some highlights include: the Weston 300 Memory Road Show, where residents can take historical items to Town Hall to learn more about them or their value (September); Tour de Weston, for cyclists of all ages, with stops at local farms (September); and the issue of a Weston 300 official commemorative stamp, in cooperation with the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History.

If it all sounds like it would take an army of event planners, keep in mind Rhodes comes across as an army of one.

Founder and president of Conventures Inc., a special events, marketing, and public relations firm in Boston, she has taken on much more daunting endeavors: Tall Ships, the opening of the Boston Garden, major Democratic National Convention events, and a host of sports-related happenings, like the Boston World Cup Soccer tournament.

“I felt like a garage band opening up for the Rolling Stones,” said Coburn, who turned over the reins of the Weston 300 Committee to Rhodes after he was elected selectman. “This is what she does. She’s as good as they get, so the planning for this has just been extraordinary.”

Apparently so has the fund-raising, which Rhodes is also spearheading.

A chunk of the contributions will go toward the Weston 300 Legacy Trail Trust, created so the celebration includes a lasting tribute to the town. The idea is to create a 1.5-mile trail loop in the center of town, connecting the Weston Public Library, the Community Center, and the Field School. Residents will be able to sponsor not just the usual pavers and benches, but also statues and other art along the trail.

The committee hoped to raise $300,000. It is already three-quarters of the way there, said Rhodes.

“I say that with great humility because I’m astounded,” she said. “I’m so very, very pleased with the coming together of the community.”