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Open W-F, 12-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm | (860) 364-5688

The Egglestons of Sharon

By Marge Smith  |  Summer 2012

Most small towns have prominent families that wax and wane, some leaving great legacies behind. Sharon is no exception. Often those legacies are in the form of clock towers, war monuments and libraries. Sometimes they’re as subtle as multitudes of descendants, dedicated civil service records, or a line of picture postcards. The Eggleston family is a good example of the latter. A recent donation of two framed photographic portraits to the Sharon Historical Society by descendant Susan Ewen prompted us to take a closer look into this family whose name has been familiar to Sharonites for close to 150 years.

In 1868, seventeen year old Dwight N. Eggleston moved to Sharon from Ancram, NY. Five years later, he married Amelia Hamlin, member of another important but subtle Sharon family. Dwight, Amelia and their five children settled into the house at 28 Upper Main Street, and Dwight immersed himself deeply into many aspects of his adopted home town. He was a master carpenter by trade, and did the skilled wood working in a number of Sharon buildings, including the lovely Hotchkiss Library. He also was a member of the Sharon Fire Department; treasurer of the First Congregational Church; official auditor for the town of Sharon; president of the Sharon Water Company; and superintendent, director and treasurer of both the Sharon Electric Light Company and the Sharon Telephone Company. He was also elected to the Connecticut State House of Representatives, where he represented Litchfield County. According to his grandson Bob, he also found time to run a coal business and to build a family camp on Indian Lake for his younger son Gerald. He died on July 30, 1937, and is buried in Hillside Cemetery along with 16 other members of the Eggleston family.

Amelia Hamlin Eggleston
Dwight N. Eggleston

So, where do the picture postcards come in? Dwight and Amelia’s older son was Clarence H. Eggleston, born in Sharon in 1884. Clarence clearly inherited his father’s love of the town, following in his Dwight’s footsteps as board member of the various utilities and owner of a retail busi-ness. Clarence’s business was a grocery store and pharmacy, and his hobby was photography. Setting up shop at 147 Main Street, Clarence became a major player, perhaps unwittingly, in recording the history of his town.

He really grew up with the postcard itself. In 1898, Congress passed an act allowing people to privately publish their own postcards, previously the exclusive right of the US Post Office. All one needed was a camera, a pack of blank postcards and the technology to develop them. The Kodak Company immediately took advantage of the new law, selling a camera designed for postcard-sized film along with blank-fronted postcards. Hordes of people began to send postcards of themselves, their friends, their gardens, etc. Clarence Eggleston in turn took advantage of the new technology and a ready market, and began producing postcards for sale. While we don’t know for sure that he used a Kodak, it is likely that he did. They were cheap, pocket-sized, and he apparently took his everywhere, recording the details of his surroundings. The Sharon Historical Society has a sizeable postcard collection, and a high percentage of those cards bear the inscription Published by Clarence H. Eggleston, PH, G, Sharon, Conn. Houses, street scenes, people or events. He recorded it all. Eggleston sold his postcards from his store at 147 Main Street, and people apparently bought them in quantity. It is quite safe to say that our knowledge of what Sharon looked like in the first quarter of the 20th century would be meager indeed without the Eggleston postcards, duly penned and mailed, that have come to our collection from all over the place.

Clarence Eggleston also married into a prominent Sharon family, in a variation of the old theme of marrying the girl next door. His wife was Elizabeth Gillette, daughter of E.F. Gillette, who ran the furniture and hardware store next to Eggleston’s pharmacy.

This retail complex (later Jenkins’ Store) was the go-to spot for years, and there are many Sharon residents today with fond memories of stopping in there in one of its various incarnations for penny candy or an ice cream cone.

We are honored and pleased to have the two portraits to add to our collection, along with some biographical and genealogical information about the Eggleston family. Our thanks to Dwight and Amelia’s great-granddaughter, Susan Ewen, for making the donation and for taking time to talk to various family members to gather the Eggleston stories for us.

These buildings should look familiar; they may be seen today at the north end of Sharon’s green, near the top of Cemetery Hill Road and the Civil War monument.

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