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A Revolutionary setting

Email|Print| Text size + By Jan Gardner
Globe Staff / August 21, 2005

LEBANON, Conn. -- The excitement of the nation's bicentennial never let up here. Billing itself as ''the heartbeat of the Revolution," Lebanon practically bursts with pride in its history. A cadre of tour guides welcomes visitors at historic sites around the mile-long town green.

Alicia Wayland became town historian after she and her husband, Howard, president of the Lebanon Historical Society, bought a farm on the green in 1976.

''You're here and it's such a fascinating story," she said. ''It sort of takes over."

About 30 miles east of Hartford, Lebanon lays claim to five governors, the doctor who solved the mystery of human digestion, and an artist whose paintings hang in the US Capitol.

Even the town green is historic. It is one of the largest in New England and the only one still in agricultural use, according to Alicia Wayland, whose husband hays it. French soldiers camped in Lebanon during the Revolutionary War. Still a center of activity, the green will host an antiques sale next month and a Revolutionary War encampment in October.

The Trumbull family, having produced three governors and a portrait artist, dominates the town's past, and history here is still a family affair, with a handful of married couples active in historical goings-on.

Lucille Manning, who gives tours of the First Congregational Church, sometimes with her husband, Oliver, married into a family that has been in town since 1701.

''Shake the bushes in Lebanon or Franklin and out comes a Manning," she said.

The Lebanon Historical Society Museum is a good place to start a tour. With hands-on exhibits and oral histories, it touches on Irish and Jewish settlements, slavery, and dairy farming.

Just down the road is Jonathan Trumbull Jr.'s house. Trumbull was George Washington's military secretary, governor of Connecticut, the second speaker of the US House, and a US senator.

Across the green is the house of his father, Governor Jonathan Trumbull. When Trumbull died in 1785, Washington wrote Jonathan Junior that his father's ''long and well-spent life in the service of his country placed Governor Trumbull among the first of patriots."

For eight years, the elder Trumbull had made his former shop the Revolutionary War Office. There, he presided over hundreds of meetings of the Council of Safety. Under his leadership, Connecticut is credited with providing more than half of the Continental Army's provisions, including armaments. Trumbull even arranged a cattle drive to Valley Forge to bring the soldiers fresh beef.

At the War Office, volunteer Betty Long tag-teamed with her husband, John, digging into minutes of the council's meetings to answer a visitor's question.

''Having been a teacher, I like the opportunity to be a teacher, even for a Saturday afternoon," she said. Her husband is a member of the Connecticut Society, Sons of the American Revolution, which owns the War Office.

Another son of the elder Trumbull, John, though blind in one eye, captured on canvas the Battle of Bunker Hill and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Four of his paintings, including one of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence featuring 48 identifiable faces, hang in the Capitol rotunda in Washington.

Also worth a visit is the birthplace of William Beaumont. Born in 1785, Beaumont was a pioneering medical researcher. Posted to Michigan as an Army surgeon, for 11 years he studied a man who had been shot in the stomach. He established the fact that the important element in gastric juice is hydrochloric acid, that the mind has an effect on gastric secretion, and that different foods are digested differently. In 1833 Beaumont published a book detailing his 51 conclusions about human digestion. Nearly all are still accepted.

''Once you learn the story of Beaumont," said tour guide John Kendall, whose wife, Martha, is the museum's librarian, ''you get hooked."

Contact Jan Gardner at jgardner@globe.com.

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