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A Wiltonian Comes Home Again, for the First Time

Wilton resident Patrice Gillespie moved to Wilton and discovered, years later, her family's roots ran deep into the town's history.

Patrice Gillespie came home 23 years ago, only she didn't know it.

"It was astonishing for me to learn last month that of all the places in Connecticut that my husband and I might have bought a house, we happened to settle in a town that was inhabited by my mother's ancestors," said Gillespie, a member of Wilton's Conservation and Energy Commissions.

Not only did Gillespie's ancestors dwell in Wilton, two of the buildings they owned still exist– the Marvin Tavern at 405 Danbury Road and Marvin Gardens on Route 7.

But growing up in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania, Gillespie had no inkling her forefathers had lived in Wilton. In fact, she didn't learn this until about two months ago when her Aunt Betty Marvin, 96, died; except Marvin died in Colorado, not Connecticut.

After the funeral, Gillespie's cousin gave her a book: "The Marvin Family: Descendants of Reinold and Matthew: 1635 to 1904." Gillespie's great-grandfather, William Theophilus Marvin, published the now-worn book in 1904.

"I'm on the plane, with my brother, flipping forward in the book," Gillespie said in a recent interview in Starbucks.  "When I'm somewhere over Chicago, I see it says there was a Matthew Marvin in Pimpewaug, Connecticut."

Pimpewaug? The word tripped over her tongue.

Now some might know Pimpewaug Road; it lies off Route 7.  But not many know both Indians and early colonial settlers once called Wilton by the name Pimpewaug.

After the funeral, Gillespie delved into her family's history. She learned Matthew Marvin left England in 1635 for tax reasons. He joined his brother Reinold in the Hartford area. The two slowly migrated down the Connecticut River, settling in Lyme and then eventually present-day Wilton.

Details emerge. Gillespie discovered Reinold, born in 1594 in Essex, England, had two wives. The pair flanks him in an Old Lyme cemetery. One of the wives' deaths was attributed to witchcraft.

Then there is the Matthew Marvin line, name creativity not their strong suit.  Matthew Marvin's descendent, also named Matthew Marvin, settled in Pimpewaug, or Wilton. He had a son named Matthew Marvin, and so on.

Choosing Wilton, for Gillespie. was random.  She and her husband had been house-hunting when they spied a tiny advertisement in the New York Times.

"Dick thought it looked interesting, but I didn't feel like looking at houses," she said.

The couple had been enjoying a brilliant day at the beach.  In fact, she said, she secretly hoped they hated the house.  They didn't.

 "We immediately felt: okay, this is it. We have to take it.  And it was quirky, run-down and in need of repair," Gillespie said.

It turned out Gillespie purchased a home a couple miles from where her ancestors had once dwelt and worked.

In 1764, one of Gillespie's ancestors Matthew Marvin was born in a house that his father had built. In 1762, Matthew Marvin IV received a tavern license and ran the Marvin Tavern. A popular spot before the Revolutionary War, it still stands today.

The yellow-sided home's historical import stems not just from Gillespie's roots, but because it played a role in the Revolution.

In 1777, General Samuel H. Parsons stayed in the tavern July 11-12. He had fought the British in Norwalk and lost. While in the tavern, Gen. Parsons alerted General George Washington that the British had burned more than 200 buildings in Norwalk. He also asked for more ammunition.

In recent years, town government almost did what the British could not– take the tavern.

The town of Wilton purchased the land around the old Marvin Tavern in the 1960's to build the high school.  In 1971 the building became a teen center.  Then, in 1981, police charged five youths with reckless burning of the structure.

As a result the town nearly razed the tavern, which had fallen into disrepair. But the building was restored, in part because of the Wilton Historical Society, Gillespie said.

As Gillespie dug deeper, she continued to discover many coincidences between her upbringing and the town she now calls home.

She grew up in a more than 200-year-old farmhouse.  The Marvin dwelling is more than 200-years-old, as well. Her great-grandfather lived in Boston. Gillespie graduated Tufts University in Boston. And the Lenape Indians of her hometown also lived in Connecticut.

"They used to camp on the soccer fields of Wilton High School," she said.

Gillespie, whose background is in marketing, has always been an active member in town.  She works with many non-profits, from the Sierra Club to the Norwalk River Watershed Association.

It must be genetic. The Marvins too were involved in local affairs, many of them serving as town selectmen.

"I protected the water where my ancestors surely fished," she said. "What I like to think about when I work on climate change, natural resources is what will Wilton look like in the future? The spirit of the town is to do our best to preserve our valuable heritage."

"In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, bridge to our future." Alex Haley, author of Roots, could have been writing about Patrice Gillespie when he said this.

Some might say mysterious forces guided her here.

"Why else would I come to this town and feel so at home?" Gillespie asked.

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