Along with facilitating the Windsor Stories during our centennial celebration, Sulema DePeyster, our Community History Specialist, has begun conducting one-on-one oral history interviews with several Windsor residents. This column will feature one of these individuals and provide highlights from the interview, giving readers an inside look into the discussion we had.
Victoria Brown has quite an exceptional family history, and her deep-rooted connection to Windsor and the New England region extends for generations. Possessing records dating back to the 1700s, Victoria is one of few fortunate Black individuals who can trace their lineage with ease.
She was born in 1948 and is the daughter of Emory S. Brown and Gladys H. Niles Brown. At the time of her passing at age 104 in 2010, Victoria’s mother was Windsor’s oldest native resident. Gladys was the youngest of 15 children, and two of her siblings were Floyd Niles and George Niles. Both Floyd and George worked as brick masons, and we featured photographs of them in our exhibit entitled Paradox of Progress: Windsor in 1921.
Although Victoria did not know her Uncle Floyd very well, she still remembers the toys he brought for her as a child. When she was around five years old, he gave her a set of wooden puzzles and a toy steam shovel. He also gave her family large tobacco crates, and she describes playing in them:
“[M]y dad stacked them so that it was like a fort. It was so cool because, you know, it was like having a house. There were different rooms, you could go from the 1st floor and climb up and then you were on the 2nd floor and my mom gave me little rags or old pieces of sheet or curtains that you put over.”
During the oral history interview, we discussed several other components of her childhood, including her neighborhood and the schools she attended. She grew up on Mountain Road, which was previously known as Woodland Road in the 50s, and her father built the home they lived in all by himself. She lived there with her parents and two older siblings – Joan and Niles – who were 13 and 18 years older than her respectively.
Her childhood home sat on six acres of land with beautiful fruit trees and a large garden her father tended to. This meant that her family frequently ate homegrown food, and most if not all of their meals were homemade.
Victoria described her family as incredibly loving and recollected quite a few vivid memories from when she was younger. They ate many of their meals together, especially on Sundays, and spent a lot of their time outdoors. Her sister made most of Victoria’s clothes because she was an excellent seamstress, and she even created dresses for her dolls to match Victoria. But out of everyone in her household, Victoria was the closest to her father. According to Victoria, Emory Brown was a private man of many talents. He built not one but two homes for her mother on his own, crafted crystal radio sets in their basement, and was an outstanding cook.
“It’s just really hard to explain the kind of human being that he was. Yeah, it’s just, he was – the only word I can think of is extraordinary. You know? He was just exceptional. I don’t think I’ve ever met as spiritual and humble and beautiful a human being ever in my life as he was. It was incredible. Like I said, he was so intelligent, he was so smart, but he would never tell you a thing about how he obtained the knowledge. […] So, he was extraordinary. He was extraordinary.”
Victoria attended Rodger Ludlow School for first and second grade, John Fitch from third to sixth grade, and Leland P. Wilson from seventh to ninth grade. She was the only Black female in the Class of 1966 at Windsor High School. She says:
“…my best school, especially high school memories…are like working after school […] So you know other kids would be in the Glee Club or whatever, and I’d be heading down Capen Street to get the bus to go to G. Fox. You’d go downtown and you could get some peanuts or something at the peanut store, or you’d run and get a record and then you’d go to your little job. […] That truly helped me appreciate what a dollar was. It helped me learn how to save.”
Her first full-time job was as a typist at Travelers Insurance, but she quickly realized that she wanted to pursue a different career. For this reason, she began taking night classes at the University of Hartford and obtained her associates degree in paralegal studies from Hartford College For Women. During her 38 years of state employment, she worked in several positions of increasing responsibility and in various departments, including the Department of Environmental Protection as an executive secretary, which she described as her favorite job. In 2003, she retired from her office supervisor position at the Department of Children and Families. From then until 2010, Victoria began taking care of her mother full-time, as she started showing signs of dementia.
Today, Victoria remains in Windsor and continues to discover more about her lineage. We are constantly looking to explore this town’s history by emphasizing the voices of its residents.
If you have any inquiries about our oral history interviews, contact our Community History Specialist: Sulema DePeyster, (860) 688-3813 ext. 107.
By Sulema DePeyster, Community History Specialist, 2021