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History Corner: Did You Miss the Bus?…

History Corner: Did You Miss the Bus?…

If you missed my last story, you will have to read it on line through The Orange Town News.  We took the bus to Hartford but that county is huge and has lots to see so we on our way again.  Sit back and enjoy the ride.  You may remember from 5th grade that you learned about the Massachusetts Bay Colony, right?  That was the beginnings of colonization in the “new world.”  Enfield, our first stop, seems to have been in Massachusetts in 1642 due to a surveyor’s error.  Its first European settlers had arrived in 1679 from Salem, Massachusetts and in incorporating the town found that they were part of the Bay Colony!  Oops. A 1695 survey corrected the problem but it wasn’t until 1750 that they actually seceded from Massachusetts.

Some of you may have heard of Mother Ann Lee, the leader of the Shaking Quakers.  With 3 visits to Enfield, she was able to form the Enfield Shaker Community growing to 250 members which encompassed 3000 acres.  This little town attracted another religious leader, Jonathan Edwards of Northampton, Massachusetts whose religious revival known as the Great Awakening presented one of the most intense fire and brimstone sermons of all time, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

As with other Connecticut towns, Enfield’s 60 square miles began with farming and turned to factories, using the brooks and rivers providing power for industry.  The first carpet mill was established in 1828 expanding Thompsonville with thousands of workers by the early 1900’s.  Since the gunpower industry surged in Enfield’s history you might think that the village of Hazardville got its name from the use of this powerful explosive but you would be mistaken. Allen Loomis built his mill in 1837 with Colonel Augustus Hazard joining the operation, the driving force behind that industry naming the town after him.

I mentioned the Farmington Canal in several of my stories and Farmington indeed is the town to have lent its name to this famous Connecticut waterway.  The year was 1640 when the English settled along the river and by the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution led to the Construction of the Farmington Canal. Opening in 1828, goods from the interior of Connecticut were sent to New Haven’s harbor but not being commercially a success, it closed in 1848.  At a drop in the river in Unionville, a nuts and bolt factory opened, several paper mills and shops manufacturing hardware, cutlery, muskets, hooks and eyes and flutes. Flutes? How in congruous. Lambert Hitchcock, known for quality furniture opened his shop there as well.

Farmington was a strong abolitionist town and in 1841 became involved in the Amistad case when the rebellious Mendi blacks, freed by the Supreme Court lived there for nine months. That became a sensational event in New Haven but that story is for another time.  This town of over 6000 saw the founding of Sarah Porter’s Farmington Female Seminary, a serious academic school in 1843.  Farmington can boast the saving of its historical homes with 14 from the 1600’s, and 51 from the 1700’s.  History abounds in Farmington.

So now we go into Hartford, a city with its share of history. There are a least 4 books about Hartford available from the Arcadia Publishing Co. with many titles available at Barnes & Noble stores. Hartford was settled by the Dutch in 1633 at the confluence of Little River, (now underground) and the Long River.  Any guess to its name? Yup, the Connecticut River.  In 1635, Thomas Hooker established residence there bringing in English settlers who built public buildings and divided the land into farms and roadways. After a series of land incidents, the Dutch were ushered out of scene one and enter scene two with the English.

The well-known “Fundamental Orders” of 1638-1639 helped to gain importance for Hartford with its lead in creating “The Foundation of Authority” citing the “free consent of the people.”  It is considered to be the first written constitution marking the beginning of American Democracy.  We are known as the Constitution State seen on automotive license plates.  Just an aside…. our vehicle license plates used to say “Nutmeg State” but that too is another story.

After 1638, Hartford grew, emerging as the center of manufacturing, finance, trade and politics.   A list of notables includes Samuel and Elizabeth Colt, Francis Pratt and Amos Whitney, Katherine Hepburn, and J.P. Morgan, once America’s richest and most ruthless man in industry.  Since we are on a “tour” bus, let me list some of the sights you will see as we travel through the city.  Keep a sharp eye for the ancient burying ground on Gold Street, the oldest historic site and the only one surviving from the 1600’s. As we pass Capitol Street you will see the famous Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.  Along the river, look for the bright, blue dome atop the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company which was erected after the Colts travels through Europe and Russia.

The dome, with its shining stars, was a significant addition to the factory as Mr. Colt was a business man and knew it would be a sure way to advertise his business. As folks whiz by on

I-91, they may not notice that atop the gold globe is a colt rearing back, the symbol of Colt’s firearms.  Two years after Mr. Colt passed away, the factory burned to the ground with the colt and ball tumbling with it.  The colt has been replaced by one made of fiberglass with the original in the Museum of Connecticut History and the entire domed structure has been restored.

Coltsville, once owned by the Colt family included the factory, worker housing, Church of the Good Shepherd, Colt Park and Potsdam Village built for the Willow Furniture makers.  Continuing to Columbus Blvd., we reach the Connecticut Convention Center and onto Elizabeth Street to the Connecticut Historical Society Museum, one of the oldest historical societies in the country, established in 1825.  We’ll stop at the Science Center with its 9 stories of interactive exhibits but you’ll have to plan a day trip to this site another day.

One cannot bypass two of America’s famous authors, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned the controversial Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mark Twain with his unabashed opinions of non-conventional thought and refusal to acquiesce to conventional writing. Phew, he was some character. His museum contains a permanent collection on his life and work. His birth name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens but in his travels as a young man, he was introduced to a riverboat term. Mark twain means to watch for the 2nd mark on a line that measures the depth of the water signifying 12 feet which was the safe depth for riverboats. Harriet Beecher Stowe made her own “waves” as an ardent abolitionist writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book about the harsh conditions of African Americans.   Through her own observations while living in Ohio and Kentucky, Stowe wrote with passion and the book was an immediate success in the North but vehemently denounced in the South.  Some say it was one piece of the puzzle that lead to the Civil War. Her home is located adjacent to Mark Twain’s home, he on Farmington Ave. and she on Forest Street.

Once again, you have reached your destination. You may get out now but I am not going to help carry your bags.  From now on, you’re on your own. *

*John Cleese – Tom Tom GPS

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