If you didn’t get to Tolland County with my last story, then plan two counties at once with Windham County, just next door, to the east. Ashford is the first stop in what is known as the quiet corner and believe me, driving through woods to get to my destination was quite quiet indeed. Formally New Scituate, Ashford was settled in 1710. During the Revolutionary War, the famous Knowlton’s Raiders were led by Col. Thomas Knowlton with 75 men going to Boston to fight the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Often the name Breed’s Hill is associated with the name Bunker Hill. Knowlton was covering a retreat of Washington’s troops on Long Island where he was mortally wounded in battle in September of 1776.
Ashford has many old buildings dating back to the 18th century and was a farming community as were so many of our towns in Connecticut. A committee elected by an Annual Town Meeting was charged with providing farmers with the fastest and safest routes to market, with direct routes from Hartford to Boston and Providence. Taverns, hotels and blacksmith shops grew along the well-traveled highways and as the population grew, tanneries, carpenter shops, grist mills and dairy farms provided additional opportunities for its citizenry.
Just a hop, skip and a jump, to the south, is Chaplin with 30% of its land being preserved with a State forest, Joshua’s Trust, a private trust and the Legacy Program, a state and federally funded land preservation program. As with many early towns, church going involved going long distances. Benjamin Chaplin, a wealthy deacon of the Mansfield church built his home on the Natchaug River* but before he died, in 1795, he gave $1500 to finance a new meetinghouse (church) about a mile from his home.
The Historic District is known as the Village with homes in the Federal and Greek Revival style. Although the old post office, country store and tavern are missing, the Village still has the charm of a street, suspended in time. There are some working farms but Chaplin has many of its citizens employed at the University of Connecticut. One of the more famous aspects of Chaplin is Diana’s Pool, located in the Natchaug River where fishermen enjoy a day along a quiet riverbed and visitors from around New England come to photograph the pool. Sound interesting?
Eastford is just to the north of Chaplin where Connecticut Magazine named it the best small town in the state, in 1993. Originally part of Ashford, Eastford was first settled in 1711 with 28.6 square miles covered by two major forests today. The Natchaug State Forest offers fishing, hunting, hiking, and horseback riding with private campgrounds. The Yale Myers Forest is Yale University’s main forestry training center and one of Connecticut’s top ten birding sites on the Nipmunk Trail.
Eastford is loved by astronomers for its dark night skies. I bet you can see the Milky Way up there. At one time, Eastford was an agricultural community but with its vast waterways, early industry sprang up with all types of mills; grain, lumber, cotton, wool, silk, as well as an iron foundry. A clover seed mill produced 20,000 pounds of seed annually. Do you know what the clover plants were used for? Industry flourished with palm leaf hats, cart wheels, cotton mattresses, carriages, wooden washing machines, twine, furniture, wooden handles and the ever-loved baseball bats.
Within walking distance of the town center of Scotland is the birthplace of Samuel Huntington, one of its most prominent citizens. Huntington was one of four signers of the Declaration of Independence** from Connecticut and after returning to Connecticut, he was elected governor in 1786, a position he held until 1796. The Town of Scotland was settled in 1700 and is predominantly rural with small farms having the honor of being the eighth smallest town in our state.
The Scottish Highland Festival Association, New England’s largest Scottish event is held in Scotland, the town being named by Isaac Magoon, one of its first settlers because it reminded him of his origins in Scotland. Once a farming town, it is now a community of citizens working in other towns while being part of what is a picturesque, historic and quaint place to live.
To the east of Scotland is Canterbury, along the Quinnebaug River. The first inhabitants were the Peagscomsuck Native Americans. The name Canterbury, from Kent England, made famous by Chaucer with his Canterbury Tales, is the origin of the name for this Connecticut town. Many settlers, during the 18th century, established farms and with rivers and streams, power was generated for mills, both textile and grist. Moses Cleaveland, a Canterbury resident, led his fellow citizens to the west and founded Cleveland, Ohio. The northern portion of Ohio was once a Connecticut Reserve and many Connecticut town and city names can be seen there today.
Another famous resident was Prudence Crandall who established the Canterbury Female Boarding School in 1831 which provided a varied curriculum for girls. In 1833, Miss Crandall welcomed 20-year-old Sarah Harris, an African-American girl who wished to become a teacher. The Caucasian girls soon withdrew from her school and it became a school “for young ladies and little misses of color.” Girls from several states came to attend the school but Crandall faced legal harassment and social ridicule for her efforts to educate black girls. The Connecticut legislature passed the Black Law which stated that no out-of-state black student could be educated there and the school was forced to close.
Today, the Prudence Crandall Museum is a National Historic Landmark and it is said that her school was the first integrated school in the country. Prudence Crandall is Connecticut’s State Heroine. Oh, did I forget to tell you, last time, that Nathan Hale is Connecticut’s State Hero? You’ll have to look back at my last article to check on me. Until the next trip…Enjoy Connecticut.
*Native American word meaning “land between two rivers.”
**Samuel Huntington’s signature is to the right under Roger Sherman and no, John Hancock was not from CT, he was from Massachusetts.
Pictured: Col. Thomas Knowlton, Isaac Magoon and Prudence Crandall