By Josh LaBella
When questioned as to why he has remained in West Haven his entire life, Jon Purmont responds with a quote from Governor Ella Grasso.
“Bloom where you are planted,” said Purmont. “So, that has kept me anchored here I think. Not to say that I don’t enjoy travelling and all the rest but my roots are here so I decided, ‘This is it. This is the place.’”
Purmont, who is city historian and president of the West Haven Historical Society, graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in history and was a professor at Southern Connecticut State University. He has served as president of the historical society since 2010 and said he joined because he was interested in the history of West Haven and of Connecticut.
Purmont started a yearly event where the historical society takes groups on tours to the cemeteries and share city history by “resurrecting” the people buried there. He said they have students from UNH, as well as society members, portray the former residents.
Purmont said through events like that, walking tours and the groups’ archives, they aim to educate people about West Haven’s history. He said he enjoys studying the history of the city, especially its development.
“1648 is when we were founded,” said Purmont. “[West Haven started out] as a farming community, we’ve gone through the manufacturing stage and we’re now in what I call the service based economy – with UNH and the VA hospital being large employers.”
Purmont was appointed city historian by Mayor Picard and said it is an interesting position. He said his role is to answer questions about the city’s history.
“If people call or stop me on the street and want to know were certain things were,” said Purmont, “I have to be knowledgeable in the sense that people… turn to me sometimes when they can’t get answers.”
The historian also said he recently wrote a book for the city which detailed the developments of West Haven since the 1980s – when the last edition of the book was written. He said, in reference to their archives, that he finds photographs of the graduating classes, going back to the 18th Century, to be quite a treasure.
“It shows the makeup of the city,” said Purmont. “It shows the evolving racial makeup of the city. It shows the city as it was.”
Purmont said he is concerned about the future of the city and he hopes to see more development, such as the Haven shopping complex. He said he thinks the future of the city’s economy is service based – not manufacturing.
According to Purmont, studying the history of a community is important because it shows where it has been and where it is going.
“If you don’t know where your past is, and what it’s been like,” said Purmont, “you’re blind to what the future may hold too.”