BERLIN – Cheers, applause and tears of joy marked the unveiling of a new interpretive sign outlining the history of Briddletown east of Berlin.
On Tuesday, elected officials, community members and descendants of the Briddell family gathered at the east end of Flower Street to celebrate the installation of a sign displaying the history of Briddletown. The area known as Briddletown was established in 1866 by free blacks and former slaves who settled there in the years following the Civil War.
“The dream of a sign was initiated years ago by the Briddell family,” said family historian James Allen Briddell. “Now, through the efforts of cousin Sharon Briddell-Fowlis and cousin Sandy Briddell Dublin it has become a reality.”
According to Lisa Challenger, Worcester County’s director of tourism, she was approached by the Briddell family some time ago about creating a sign to outline the community’s history.
“When this project landed on my desk I thought this is going to be a really fun project and something I’m going to learn a lot from,” she said.
She enlisted the help of historian Paul Baker Touart to research the origins of Briddletown.
“It was a pleasure, an honor, to be brought into this project and to take a little bit of a deep dive into the land records, which is the basis for most anything when you’re doing the history in an area,” he said.
Touart, holding up a thick binder of notes, said the history of Briddletown dated back to 1866, when Benjamin Pitts purchased slightly more than two acres of what was recorded as “Mill Haven Pasture.” After that, several other families, including the Briddells, purchased land in the area. Over the course of the late 19th century, a community of more than 160 people resided in the area that became known as Briddletown.
Touart noted that while there were several spelling variations of the Briddell name, old maps labeled the community Briddletown.
“Historical record confirmed that,” Touart said.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell said the new interpretive sign would celebrate the history of the Briddell family, which she said was an “integral part of the tapestry of our community.” She added that the sign would share the story of Briddletown with the public.
“Historic markers identify heritage sites of significance right here in our own backyard,” she said.
Following an invocation by Raheim Briddell and Pastor Deangelo “Tony” Johnson, both Briddell descendants, other members of the family thanked county officials for funding the sign.
“Thank you for embracing our proposal,” Dublin said. “We are very grateful and we’re excited.”
Longtime Berlin resident Gregory Purnell praised Dublin and Briddell-Fowlis for bringing an ambitious project to completion.
“Generations ago their families probably stood here with peach trees and so forth, just common laborers along this Briddletown road,” he said. He said they’d brought the past to the present to make sure Briddletown was never forgotten.
“We might forget all these words that have been said here today but as Abraham Lincoln said, you might forget the words but you will never forget what we have done here today,” Purnell said. “That is what we want to be sure to remember.”
James Purnell, Worcester County’s first African American elected official, recalled his childhood in the Briddletown area. He said that though the road sign said Flower Street, he’d never considered the area anything but Briddletown.
“It disturbed me in my heart when I came through here one day and saw Flower Street on that sign,” he said.
He praised the current commissioners for installing a sign that would inform passersby of Briddletown.
“You took the courage to put it back to its original,” he said. “When this is unveiled today, that name, it will always be the original. We should not let no one take it away from us. Today is just the beginning of something big in Briddletown. God bless you all.”