Person of the Week
Christy Pontillo: A Life in History
Christy Pontillo has combined a lifelong love of history and a life in Clinton together to help the Clinton Historical Society, most recently as its president. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
It’s no stretch to say that Clinton Historical Society President Christy Pontillo lives and breathes Clinton history. On a hot August day, Christy asks a visitor to look at the fireplace inside the Elisha White House and close his eyes.
“Just imagine one night someone came in here as people were around this fire to tell them that the colonies had just declared war on Great Britain,” he prompts.
Christy was born and raised in Clinton and, except for a brief stretch in West Haven, has lived in town all his life.
Christy says he can recall a childhood where he walked from his home on Liberty Street to the Abraham Pierson School. Along the way he would pass the MacMillan family house, where he would occasionally strike up a conversation with Mr. MacMillan.
“These were the ‘50s when the Yankees were winning the World Series every year, so he would talk about that,” Christy recalls.
In 1987 the family donated the home, originally built in the 1700s and known to locals as “Old Brick,” to the historical society. As president of the society, Christy spends significant time inside the old house he used to walk past.
As one might expect, Christy has always had an interest in history.
“Ever since I was a kid, I was into old houses. My house is over 300 years old,” says Christy.
Other historical interests include the Revolutionary War and World War II. In the late ‘90s, Christy’s wife Sandy suggested that they get more involved in the historical society. Christy eventually served as president of the board for time, but took a break for several years in the early 2000s.
“About a year and a half ago, they suggested I get involved again since I was going to retire. And I said yes,” Christy explains.
As president, Christy handles much of the behind-the-scenes work related to the historical society properties: Old Brick, the museum room at Town Hall, and the Stanton House.
“This is almost a full-time job. We do a lot more than we did before,” says Christy.
Under Christy’s watch, the museum room is open for expanded hours, now 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, year-round.
“You can go in there and read for hours. I don’t know all the history in there,” Christy says of the extensive collections on display.
As for current projects, Christy say the society is working on opening the Stanton House more often, and is putting together a tour of the Little Red School House on Cow Hill Road. On Saturday, Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the group will coordinate history lessons on the school house at the Henry Carter Hull Library, then use the new Clinton Trolley to shepherd people to the school house and back for tours.
“It’s very important to me to preserve that building,” says Christy.
As for a favorite historical society event, Christy says “I love Pierson day,” referring to the annual walking trip from the Pierson School to Old Brick for a tour. “Of course, that’s going to change.”
That’s going to change because the Clinton Board of Education made the decision to close the school last year. Control of the school will be turned over to the town this fall. However, Christy is quick to say that the event will still go on, as the students will instead be bussed to the school for a field trip.
“I love telling them my story. The day is the best—they just stand there and listen. It’s important to me because there’s some kid now that in 50 years will be on the historical society, whether it’s here or in Iowa someplace,” Christy.
Christy has a special connection to Pierson as his father Louis was a former principle there.
“My dad was beloved in this town and people always tell me, especially when I go into Chips,” he says with a laugh.
Christy was named one of the members of the committee to help determine what the future use of the Pierson School should be once the town regains control of the building.
“We have to do what’s right for the town. Personally, I want to keep the gym and stage because as a kid on Friday nights I just wanted to go down there and shoot hoops,” Christy recalls.
Other potential ideas Christy said he has thought about include senior housing and other services.
“I think everyone would like to keep the front the same and I think it’s nice to have things downtown where you can walk places,” says Christy.
Christy went to Southern Connecticut State University and recently retired from a rewarding career in sales. To keep busy when he’s not at the historical society, Christy says he likes to spend time with his wife Sandy and their granddaughters Isabella and Bridget.
“What I really like to do is drive my ’66 Mustang and ’67 Mustang and I haven’t all summer,” Christy says with slight exasperation.
As a practically lifelong Clinton resident, Christy says his favorite part of the town is the people in it.
“They come up to you on the street and talk about whatever,” he says. “Without me my wife can do the grocery shopping in 20 minutes, with me it can take two hours since I know everyone we run into.”