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History Corner: Did You Know…?

History Corner: Did You Know…?

I bet you didn’t know that we have 169 towns in Connecticut…or did you?  Well, I was privileged to be part of the authorship that put together Connecticut 169 Club Your Passport & Guide to Exploring Connecticut, edited by Martin Podskoch.  So here goes with some fascinating facts from some of the towns in New Haven County.

Ansonia was part of Derby in the late 1800s with the first English settlers coming from Milford in 1654 with their mission to grow hops for brewing.  They built their homes mostly in Ansonia with some foundations still existing but were obliged to help support the church in Milford until they organized their own in 1672 being named after Derbyshire, England.  In 1844, Anson G Phelps purchased land along the east side of the Housatonic River for an industrial village within Derby, creating the name Ansonia obviously from his first name.  In 1889 the state incorporated it as a town and in 1893, a city.  “The Copper City” became known for manufacturing with copper and brass products as well as heavy machinery, rubber and plastic products, sheet metal, electric supplies and on the lighter side, Ansonia clocks.

The Town of Beacon Falls is one of the smallest towns, being 9.9. square miles settled in 1678 when it was part of Derby.  It was eventually formed out of the towns of Bethany, Oxford, Seymour and Naugatuck with its incorporation in 1871.  Its industrial life began c. 1848 with textiles and in 1850s with the hard rubber industry using the invention of Charles Goodyear for vulcanized rubber.  Multiple items were then possible with buttons, buggy whips and powder flasks.  The mill area associated with this section was the location of Home Woolen Co. making blankets and shawls used by the Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Bethany was the home for thousands of Native Americans much earlier than the arrival of the Europeans.  In 1784, The Town of Woodbridge was incorporated including a portion called Bethany but the northern half broke off in 1832 to form the Town of Bethany today.  In the late 19th century, the New Haven Water Company began buying up large tracts of land, building reservoirs and replanting forests felled by earlier agricultural pursuits.  Bethany became the home to many families whose members worked in New Haven.  An airfield was established in 1923, one of the first in New England with many pioneers in aviation using it until its close in 1965.

Branford’s earliest settlers were concerned with dividing the land, building homes and fences and branding livestock with farming the mainstay of family life for over two hundred years.  Having an accessible port, trade was brisk with the West Indies, having exportation of lumber, livestock, brooms and produce in exchange for molasses and rum.  The railroad brought industry to Branford while opening up the shoreline as well.  Today, hundreds of pleasure boats are moored along its shoreline.  The oldest continuously running trolley line, in the United States, ran through Branford and the Shoreline Trolley Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cheshire is the “daughter” town of Wallingford which is the “daughter” town of New Haven.  Its beginnings were in the late 1600s.  By 1705 Englishman Thomas Brooks called the settlement Cheshire after a county in his homeland, England.  The “West Farmers”, as they were called established a school by 1719, a Congregational Church in 1724 and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in 1760.  By 1794 an Episcopal Academy came into being which is now known as, yes you got that, Cheshire Academy.  Transportation came into its own when in 1801, Cheshire’s Main Street became a turnpike for the Hartford and New Haven stagecoach while in 1828 the Farmington Canal saw completion, with the New Haven and Northampton Railroad laying its tracks along the towpath in 1848.

The area we know as East Haven was actually part of the original New Haven colony established by Puritan settlers Rev. John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton in1638.  By 1639, settlers began moving out of the 9 Squares into the center of present-day East Haven and in 1655, the area was known as “Iron Works Village.”  British forces attacked the fort called Black Rock while General Lafayette and revolutionary forces encamped on the Green.  With the British once again at war in 1812, the government decided to re-fortify Black Rock which was renamed Fort Nathan Hale after Connecticut’s Revolutionary patriot.  This fort is heralded by its defense of the area from several British raids.

Guildford, oh yes, Guilford was settled by an oppressed, but optimistic band of Puritans under the leadership of Rev. Henry Whitfield in 1639 making it the 7th oldest town in Connecticut.  During the 19th century, the Beattie Granite Quarry came into its own with every, yes, every block of granite now in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty quarried there.  The heart of Guilford is the Town Green comprising of 8 acres surrounded by small businesses and boutique shops, four churches, a town hall, the free library and art galleries.  It still remains a living neighborhood with one of the largest numbers of Colonial-era homes in the state.  There are nearly 800 dwellings that are older than 100 years old, four National Register districts and several thousand acres of protected open space.

There’s lots to see in Hamden so check out pages 126 & 127.  You want me to do all of the work for you?

Right off the bat you will know Meriden, as the “ Silver City of the World” due to the fact that by the mid-1800s, it could boast more than a dozen manufacturers of Britannia ware and silver-plated products that were consolidated into the International Silver Company in 1898, thus it’s title.  Mills powered by the Quinnipiac River and its tributaries made the town an early manufacturing center and in 1944 Meriden was named an “Ideal War Community” for its manufacturing in World War II.  When British settlers left England, they left castles behind but one can find a castle-like tower at Hubbard Park, set on a trap rock peak, 32 feet in the air and 58 feet in circumference.  Well-known as Castle Craig with it more than 1000 feet above sea level, it provides a terrific view of the countryside.

They left Naugatuck!  One of my favorite candies is Almond Joy, manufactured by the Peter Paul Manufacturing Company that became part of the Hershey family of candies but this little town, located on the Naugatuck River can boast Charles Goodyear’s discovery of vulcanizing rubber in 1843.  The rubber industry became a major employer in Naugatuck for the next 150 years.  The Naugatuck Malleable Iron Co. later became Eastern Malleable Iron Company whose corporate offices remain in town.  With foresight, town leaders created an Industrial Park in 1970 which today is at capacity with small and midsized industries.

Wolcott, the last on the hit parade has an interesting early name:  Farmingbury.  In 1700 settlers began to inhabit various sections of town with disputes over boundaries of Waterbury and Farmington.  Bound Line Road was established with Farmingbury being created.  With churches far distance from either town, the townsfolk petitioned the General Assembly to establish them as a separate ecclesiastical society in 1761.  Petitions were denied because both towns needed financial support for their ministry and schools.  In 1767 and 1768 they were denied again, but in 1770 the General Court in New Haven allowed them to become a distinct and separate parish.  In 1787 they petitioned to be free from their parent towns but this too was denied again and again and again.  By 1796 a vote was taken and the tie-breaking vote was cast by Connecticut State lieut. Governor Oliver Wolcott.

These wonderful old stories, legends and facts can be found in the Connecticut 169 Club book for sale at the Academy Museum, 605 Orange Center Road, open Saturdays from 10-3.  I will sign the page I wrote for Orange if you wish.

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