Happy 200th Birthday, Darien!

After many meetings, much planning, and hours of work behind the scenes by lots of dedicated individuals, Darien’s big year has finally arrived — the town’s bicentennial birthday celebration.

The opening ceremony of Darien’s 200th anniversary year is just one day away. It’s tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 10, and it will be held in the Town Hall auditorium, 2 Renshaw Road.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the presentation begins at 7. The snow date is Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.

It’s a free event that is open to the public. No registration is required.

Highlights

Highlights of the special evening include:

 Musical presentation by the Darien High School Tudor Singers

 Keynote address by Darien’s Scott Pelley, award-winning correspondent with 60 Minutes and author of Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times.

 Slideshow presentation of old photographs from the collections of the Darien Historical Society

 Opening remarks by Al Miller, chairman of the town’s 2020 Bicentennial Committee

 Welcoming address by First Selectman Jayme Stevenson

 2020 merchandise featuring the official Bicentennial 2020 logo (hats and t-shirts) will be available for purchase.

Commentary

“Our 200th anniversary is a great opportunity to learn about and honor those who made Darien the town we treasure,” Pelley said.

His family “discovered” Darien a little more than a decade ago. “Uncovering the rich history of the generations who came before makes their gift to us even more precious,” he added.

Pelley continued, “I'm honored to be part of our bicentennial celebration. I invite everyone to take the opportunity to learn more about the sacrifices and triumphs that allowed all of us to inherit the town we love.”

Stevenson said, “It was June of 2018, that a small group of us gathered around a table at the Darien Historical Society to start discussing plans for the town's 200th Birthday.”

“This initial group evolved into the town's 2020 Bicentennial Committee, which brought together many talented individuals from a broad spectrum of the community. Its members have done a tremendous job for the past year and a half, planning for projects and events that both celebrate and commemorate Darien's unique history,” she added. “I'm really looking forward to kicking off this special Bicentennial year at the Opening Ceremony and celebrating our town at all the special events planned to mark this special year.”

Miller said, “We’re seeing growing excitement throughout the Darien community, especially as we approach the official Opening Ceremony this Friday. We are really rolling out the red carpet to celebrate Darien’s 200th birthday, and we have a great year planned.”

Of note, the ticketed Bicentennial Cocktail Reception at the Darien Arts Center, co-hosted by the Darien Historical Society and following the Opening Ceremony at town hall, is now sold out.

However, “there are still plenty of seats available for the Opening Ceremony at the town hall auditorium, and seating will be first come, first served,” Miller added.

Karen K. Polett, secretary of the town’s Monuments and Ceremonies Commission, said “David [Polett] and I are coming back from Rapid City, South Dakota, to join in Darien’s 200th anniversary celebration. We’re looking forward to all the events that the Bicentennial Committee has planned. We sincerely appreciate all the hard work this committee has done.”

Darien’s recreation program supervisor Jami Gore said, “Friday’s Opening Ceremony begins a year of community celebration of Darien’s fascinating history and a tease of the incredible years to come. A generous group of volunteers has dedicated their time and efforts over the last two years to coordinate a variety of events to bring the town together in jubilee. So please join us Friday at Town Hall to kick off the fun and let the 2020 good times roll!”

Planning

The Darien 2020 Bicentennial Committee — a subcommittee of the town’s Monuments and Ceremonies Commission — first got together in February 2019 to discuss plans for the big celebration year.

The town’s celebrations have included:

 A bicentennial logo created by Darien High School students.

 A gigantic birthday cake float, donated to Darien by the town of Salem, Mass., which recently celebrated its 200th anniversary

 A townwide mailing, asking for donations to the celebrations.

 A Historical Marker project, consisting of eight historical markers placed in areas in town that have historical significance.

Upcoming anniversary events

Other activities the town’s Darien 2020 Bicentennial Committee has in the works during the year include:

 Weed Beach Festival’s Bicentennial Bash, Saturday, June 6

 Anniversary Day, Friday, June 12, Slawson Cemetery, Hanson Road

 Heritage Day Celebration, Oct. 24, Darien Historical Society & Mather Homestead, featuring: The Fifth Connecticut Regiment

The beginning: A step back 200 years

The founding of Darien, from the Darien Historical Society:

The area that would become today’s Darien was originally part of Stamford. People living in this area had to travel 10 miles in one direction to attend Sunday services.

After a hard winter in the late 1730s, several residents fell ill and died as a result of having to travel so far to attend Sunday Meeting, so the people living in this part of Stamford, and also near Five Mile River in Norwalk, started to petition for their own parish.

The Middlesex Society was officially established in 1741 and made up of parts of both Stamford and Norwalk.

Middlesex Parish remained intact until 1820, when the state legislature granted the town its official charter. Thaddeus Bell led a 15-year campaign to gain independence for Middlesex.

The stumbling block was that Norwalk did not want to give up its portion of Middlesex (part of today’s Rowayton), but a new state constitution paved the way for Bell to give up the Norwalk portion and draw the new town’s boundary entirely from Stamford.

Everyone wanted to call the new town Bellville in his honor, but Thaddeus crossed out Bellville in the town charter and replaced it with the name Darien, instead.

sfox@darientimes.com