Nellie McKnight Promotes History and Literacy throughout Ellington
March 2, 2022 • Ellington, Education, Women, Work
Sexton family home, now the Ellington Historical Society

Sexton family home, ca. 1935-42, now the Ellington Historical Society - Connecticut State Library, State Archives, RG 033:28, WPA Records

Nellie McKnight was a teacher, librarian, and historian who served the town of Ellington for most of her life. Born July 22, 1894, on her father’s farm in Ellington, she grew up in a house her grandfather built in 1850 at the intersection of Sadds Mill and Muddy Brook Roads. After graduating from Rockville High School in 1913, Nellie attended Mount Holyoke College—completing her degree in 1917.

Her first job was teaching English and Latin at the high school in Rutland, Massachusetts. She then accepted similar positions in Milford and Torrington, Connecticut, before returning to Ellington in 1929 to become the librarian of the Hall Memorial Library. For the next 27 years she served as the Hall Library’s only staff member.

Nellie McKnight

Nellie McKnight – Nellie McKnight Museum, Ellington Historical Society

1867 Time Capsule Opened 100 Years After Burial

As the town’s librarian, she traveled to each Ellington school once a month to bring children books and tell them stories. She also initiated numerous reading programs and became curator of the Hall Library’s second-floor museum. In 1967 she revealed the contents of a time capsule laid in the cornerstone of the Ellington Congregational Church 100 years earlier—finding its contents to include various coins, a copy of the Tolland County Journal for June 30, 1867, a sermon preached by the Reverend Diodate Brockway on the day the workers laid the cornerstone, and what the Hartford Courant referred to as numerous “shinplasters”—a slang term for paper money so devalued as to make it more useful for bandages than for purchasing goods.

Ellington Historical Society’s Nellie McKnight Museum

On August 31, 1967, after 38 years of service, McKnight retired from her position as the town’s trusted librarian. During her retirement years, she dedicated herself to researching Ellington’s history and became a member of the newly formed Ellington Historical Society. She served as a historian and librarian for Ellington Congregational Church and as chaplain of the Ellington Grange. In 1976 she won the Tolland County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award for community service.

Nellie McKnight died in 1981 at the age of 87. Upon her death, she bequeathed her home (built in 1812 by the Sexton family and purchased by Nellie’s father in 1922) to the Ellington Historical Society who operates the building as a museum.

Learn More


“Ellington Historical Society,” 2017. Link.

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