Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Most of us have heard of Webster's dictionary, but many are unfamiliar with the story of its inventor, West Hartford resident Noah Webster.
Born in 1758, Noah Webster was the first person to compile a dictionary of American definitions of words, as opposed to British definitions and usages. He spent 22 years building and refining his master work, American Dictionary of the English Language, which included over 65,000 words.
Once completed, it became evident that the lack of copyright laws in 18th century America would allow others to copy and profit from Noah's intensive work, so he dedicated himself to lobby in every state of the Union to encourage local governments to adopt their own copyright laws.
As the West Hartford Historical Society notes, "Noah Webster accomplished many things in his life. Not only did he fight for an American language, he also fought for copyright laws, a strong federal government, universal education, and the abolition of slavery. In between fighting for these causes, he wrote textbooks, edited magazines, corresponded with men like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, helped found Amherst College, created his own version of an “American” Bible, raised eight children, and celebrated 54 anniversaries with his beloved wife. When Noah Webster died in 1843, he was an American hero."
Noah Webster's home was restored in the 1960s, and merged with the West Hartford Historical Society in 1970. Today, the museum incorporates the historic house and a larger addition containing space for exhibition galleries, a museum shop, a one-room schoolhouse theater, and many hands-on exhibits to delight visitors of all ages. The museum also features a fascinating collection of "decorative arts, manuscripts, books, and ephemeral artifacts related to Noah Webster as well as to the local community."
Visitors can stroll the historic house on a self-guided tour and enjoy viewing this carefully restored colonial home, complete with walk-in fireplaces and a working loom. Furnished in the period of 1774 (the year Noah left for Yale University), the house provides insight into the life of one of Connecticut's most notable colonial residents.
In addition to its function as a museum, the Noah Webster House offers a wide range of clever literary activities to enjoy, including lectures by local authors, poetry readings, workshops, cemetery tours, summer camps, literary dinners, and even a history club for young people. Some recent events included a "Harvest and Hearth Dinner with Metro Bis Chef Chris Prosperi," a special holiday ballet program for children called "Noah and the Nutcracker" in conjuction with Ballet Theater Company, and a "Christmas with the Websters" holiday tour featuring costumed historic interpreters leading the way.
Located at 227 South Main Street in West Hartford, the Noah Webster House is open Monday through Saturday from 1:00 - 4:00 pm. More information can be found on their website at www.noahwebsterhouse.org.