This route follows the course of the Connecticut from the Sound through one of the more remote and most beautiful portions of Connecticut. It is a region of hard glacial rocks and granites through which in former geologic times the Connecticut has worn a narrow gorge to a depth of about 500 feet below the fairly even level of the adjacent flattened hilltops which mark the river of the former `Cretaceous Peneplain.’ The tributary streams flow precipitately from the highlands to the Connecticut, affording small but valuable waterpowers. The Connecticut itself is a tidal stream through out this portion of its course.
From Saybrook to Hartford a State Road, one of the main trunk lines of the system, with blue markers, follows pretty closely the course of the river for the most part at a level of about one hundred feet above the stream, commanding beautiful views of the river gorge with its rocky, wooded banks. It passes through interesting old villages, many of which still retain a flavor of the prosperity of old shipbuilding days and the once prosperous West India trade, and through little industrial communities utilizing the waterpower from the streams that tumble down from the heights above.
From the Boston Post Road at Old Saybrook the State Road runs northward through Saybrook Junction (3.0), skirting South Cove to
7.5 ESSEX. Alt 32 ft. Pop (twp) 2745. Middlesex Co. Settled 1690. Indian name Potapaug. Mfg. bone and ivory goods, piano keys, augers and bits; daily steamer to New York and Hartford in season.
Essex is an oldtime shipbuilding village, where war vessels were built during the Revolution; it was still of sufficient importance in 1812 to be raided by the British. The first settlers built their houses on Potapaug Point, and as the village grew it crept up the steep hill to the west of the lowland. The houses on the hill are approached by gently sloping terraced streets, along which one gets charming and constantly changing views of the river, the coves, the islands, and the Lyme shore to the east. An old warehouse still stands on the shore, built in 1753 by Abner Parker and long owned by the Haydens, who acquired wealth in the shipbuilding and the West India trade. The old Hayden homestead (1766), just behind the warehouse, was a tavern up to 1800. It contains some fine large rooms filled with beautiful specimens of old furniture.
Bone and ivory working has long been an important industry here. The making of combs was begun before 1800, and the Pratts, father and son, here invented the first machine for cutting the teeth of combs. Their workshop is the third house west of Pratt’s Smithy on West Ave. The smithy is owned and operated by a direct descendant in the ninth generation of William Pratt, the settler, who built the first shop on the same spot about 1678. The second house west of the smithy is the old Pratt homestead, the rear portion being of unknown antiquity.
The Rev. Thomas Buckingham, one of the incorporators of Yale, and a successful trapper of beaver, settled in 1 702 on Beaver Pond, some miles back from the river, where beaver were then abundant.
The State Road runs at a distance from the river through Deep River (9.8), the principal community in what is left of the old town of Saybrook, from which have been carved out so many of the surrounding townships. The road descends to lower levels, following the blue markers beside the river near
11.0 CHESTER. Alt 17 ft. Pop (twp) 1419. Middlesex Co. Settled 1692. Mfg. auger bits, ivory, bone, and wooden goods, manicure fittings, bright wire goods, and brushes.
Chester is one of the many towns carved out of the former greater territory of Saybrook. It was incorporated as a parish in 1740, when it received its present name. The village lies a mile to the west. Its industries utilize the waterpower from Cedar Lake.
As early as x666 the fine waterpower at the outlet of Cedar Swamp was ceded by the colony to Governor Winthrop, who early “gobbled up” waterpowers throughout New England. This led to protest and litigation, and Winthrop was obliged to relinquish his claim. The first mill to utilize the valuable waterpower of the outlet of Cedar Lake was built in 1734.
Between the road and the river is the Haddam R.R. station. Immediately opposite is Lords Island. Through the township of Haddam the road runs close to the river through a succession of hamlets. The first road to the right leads to Tylersville, a charming little village close to the river, from which a bridge eads to East Haddam and the East Bank Route.
The first settler built his house to the north of Creek Row, where the hotel now stands, and established a ferry which until recently retained the original name of Chapman’s Ferry. Goodspeed’s ship-yard here turned out many vessels in the ’40′s and ’50′s, which were built on the site of what is now the Gelston House. Many Connecticut boats used in the Civil War were constructed here.
Two miles beyond, the State Road passes successively through the hamlets of Shailorville, Arnolds, and
18.5 HADDAM. Alt 20 ft. Pop (twp) 1958. Middlesex Co. Settled 1662. Mfg. cotton goods and agricultural implements; stone quarrying.
The village, the center of the interesting old town, is alive to present-day activities and is free from debt.
Haddam was settled in 1662 by twenty-eight young men who took up land in the neighborhood of Walkley Hill and Mill Creek. The Indian title is said to have been acquired for thirty cents. In the center of the township is a little hamlet known as Ponset from its Indian name of Cockaponset. One of the early clergy was Aaron Cleveland, great-great-grandfather of President Cleveland. He subsequently moved to Nova Scotia, where he became converted to the Episcopal Church. Later he returned to America and died at the home of his old friend, Benjamin Franklin, in Philadelphia. This was also the birthplace of David Dudley Field and Justice Stephen Johnson Field of the United States Supreme Court. They were the sons of David Dudley Field, another of the early parsons, who subsequently moved to Stockbridge.
The road continues close to the river to Higganum (21.0), where Ponset and Candlewood brooks tumble down to the river, supplying waterpower. The name, common in this region, comes from the Indian Higganumpus, “fishing-place.”
From here the route turns inland, cutting off a bend in the river and climbing between Chestnut Mountain (620 ft) and Bear Hill (650 ft) to a height of 400 feet, and descends into
28.5 MIDDLETOWN. Alt 40 ft. Pop 11,851 (1910), 20,749 (loc. est. 1916). Hartford Co. Settled 1650. Indian name Mattabesett, “carrying-place” or “portage.” Mfg. pumps and hydraulic machinery, rubber, textiles, hardware, and cutlery. Hartford and New York steamboats stop regularly during the season. Value of Product, $6,000,000; Payroll, $3,000,000 (1915).
Middletown, the seat of Wesleyan University, built on land gently rising from the great bend of the Connecticut, is one of New England’s most beautiful inland towns. President John Adams, traveling through the Connecticut valley, said: “Middletown, I think, is the most beautiful of all . . . the more I see of this town, the more I admire it.” John Fiske, the historian, who spent his boyhood here, said, “In the very aspect of these broad, quiet streets, with their arching trees, their dignified and hospitable, sometimes quaint homesteads, we see the sweet domesticity of the old New England unimpaired.”
The city lies at the western margin of the Connecticut low-land. Three miles to the east the river enters a narrow, steep-walled gorge and flows between the Haddam Hills of hard, gneissic rock to the Sound at Saybrook. From Middletown the view across the lowland and Pecausett Pond to the head of the gorge, where the river enters the hills, is striking.
Formerly a prosperous seaport, the town still gives some hint along Water St. of wharfage and shipyards, suggesting its former maritime prosperity. On Main St. are the public buildings and business houses, the old Custom House, a relic of the past, and the Berkeley Divinity School (Episcopal), organized in 1854.
High Street, 160 feet higher than the river, lined with fine old houses and gardens and a double row of stately elms, led Charles Dickens to declare it the finest rural street he had ever seen. Fronting on it is the campus of Wesleyan University, which opened its doors in 1831, the first of the Methodist Colleges, and one of the first to offer a scientific course. Benefactions have continued to pour in until now the plant and its endowments aggregate $3,000,000, $1,000,000 having been added in the year 1912. The Orange Judd Hall of natural science contains valuable natural history collections. The Memorial Chapel has in the upper church memorial windows to those who died in the Civil War as well as to other illustrious alumni.
The view from the tower embracing the baylike river, the city below, and the surrounding hills, is delightful. Brissot de Warville, a French tourist, wrote in 1788, “From the hill over Middletown is one of the finest and richest prospects in America.” Southeast are the spacious grounds and clustered buildings of the Industrial School for Girls, and southwest the imposing buildings of the State Hospital for the Insane, with doned brownstone quarries of Portland. To the north the river winds its placid way. Eastward it enters through a gateway into the gorge between the Haddam Hills.
Indian cemeteries and numerous relics found here attest the popularity of this territory with the Indians. The original Plantation, six miles on each side of the Connecticut, was purchased from the Great Sachem Sequasson, or Sowheag, in 1650 and 1673. Shipbuilding began here in 1670, and during the later Colonial days an extensive and lucrative trade was carried on with the West Indies. Coastwise trade with New York continued until the abandonment of the brownstone quarries on the opposite side of the river. In 1776 the prosperity of its trade was such that Middletown had the largest population of any town in Connecticut, 5000, as compared with New York’s 23,000 and Boston’s 4000. The first mill was built here in 1655, and with the nineteenth century, manufacturing industries began to supplant the declining trade. Today it is a remarkably wealthy town for its size, with thirty manufacturing plants, employing over 6000.
Commodore Macdonough, a resident of the town, the hero of the naval battle of the War of 1812 at Plattsburg on Lake Champlain (p 268), is buried in the cemetery north of the R.R. station. It was Major Meigs of this town who, when with Arnold on the Kennebec Expedition, was taken prisoner at Quebec, and later, in 1777, made the brilliantly successful raid on the British at Sag Harbor.
Following Main St. the road turns right at St. John’s Church and Square. To our right is the Union Station. The route follows the west bank of the Connecticut for half a mile, crossing a small iron bridge and R.R. to the swampy lowlands of the Mattabesett, or Little, river.
Cromwell (30.5), formerly known as the `Upper Houses,’ be-came a township with its present name in 1851. Near the station is a small triangular park with a memorial stone to the “Founders, Fathers, Pastors, and Patriots.” The growing of flowers under glass, Easter lilies and roses in particular, is the chief industry here. William C. Redfield (b. 1789), a marine engineer of note, who discovered the progressive and rotary motion of storms, and founded the Hudson river barge system, was a merchant of this town.
The road passes through a fertile country and ascends with fine views over the valley to 35.5 ROCKY HILL. Alt 46 ft. Pop (twp) 1187. Hartford Co. Inc. 1843. Mfg.,iron, steel, and crushed stone. Hartford-New York steamboat daily in season.
The parish, set off in 1720, bore the names successively of Lexington and Stepney until the present name was adopted in 1826. Captain Thomas Danforth manufactured tin and pew-ter here in 1785, and one of his apprentices, Ashbel Griswold, established at Meriden in 1808 the great britannia works which yielded him a fortune.
The road descends through South Wethersfield to 39.5 WETHERSFIELD. Alt 36 ft. Pop (twp) 3148. Hartford Co. Settled 1634. Indian name Pyquag, “open country.” Mfg. tools; seeds. State prison mfg. shirts.
Wethersfield today is a tranquil residential suburb of Hart-ford, with broad, elm-shaded streets and greens. It lies in the midst of a rich agricultural region, especially devoted to the growing of garden seeds; and Wethersfield onions have had a reputation for more than two centuries and are still to be noted in all seed catalogs.
The present church, greatly admired by Washington, was built in 1761, modeled after the Old South in Boston. Its Christopher Wren spire lifting above the trees from among the tombstones of the churchyard presents a charming pastoral. The Wethersfield Elm, on the east side of the Green, on Broad St., a quarter mile south of the church, is the largest American elm in existence, and perhaps the most magnificent tree east of the Rockies. It has a girth of twenty-six and a half feet five feet from the ground.
The Webb House, long known as `Hospitality Hall,’ nearly opposite the Post Office on Main St., near the center of the town, dates from 1753. At the time of the Revolution Joseph Webb entertained here many famous men. A brother of the host was on the personal staff of General Washington, and here in May, 1781, was held the historic conference between General Washington and Count De Rochambeau and their suites, at which the campaign of Yorktown was planned. The house is now owned by Wallace Nutting, the artist, of Framingham. One of the rooms still has the original wall paper carefully preserved. Adjoining is the house of Silas Deane, who married a Webb, and here attained great wealth in the West India trade. He became a member of the Continental Congress, and later was sent as agent to Paris, where through unfortunate events his career was wrecked, and he died impoverished.
This region was occupied by the Mohegan tribe, who, pressed by the warlike Pequots, in 1631 sent several sachems to Boston from “the River Quonehtacut which lies west of Narragansett,” to form an alliance with the English. One of these, Wahquinnicutt, a sagamore of the Podunk tribe, had been a servant of Sir Walter Raleigh. Their description of the fertile country led the adventurer John Oldham to come overland in 1633 to this district, where he was kindly received. In the winter of 1634-35 a company of people from Watertown, discontented with the religious and other rigorous restrictions placed upon them by the Bay Colony, and feeling that it was becoming overcrowded, migrated to the Connecticut valley and settled here. They evidently brought the seeds of discontent and discord with them, for from Wethersfield further, migrations resulting from similar causes between 1638 and 1645 settled the towns of Milford (1639), Stamford (1640), Stratford (1640), Branford (1644), and others, so that Wethersfield came to be the mother town among new settlements.
The Dutch, who had from their fort a few miles above previously enjoyed unmolested the trade of the valley, did not welcome these Puritan intruders. In Irving’s “Knickerbocker’s History of New York” we read: “The enemy pushed farther and farther into his territories, and assumed a most formidable appearance in the neighbourhood of Fort Goed Hoop. Here they founded the mighty town of Piquag, or, as it has since been called, Wethersfield, a place which, if we may credit the assertion of that worthy historian, John Josselyn, Gent., `hath been infamous by reason of the witches therein.’ And so daring did these men of Piquag become that they extended ‘their plantations of onions, for which their town is illustrious, under the very noses of the garrison of Fort Goed Hoopinsomuch that the honest Dutchmen could not look toward that quarter without tears in their eyes.”
A frontier town, it was for many years exposed to the attacks of the Pequots. In 1637 two hundred of them fell upon the settlement, killing six men and three women, and carrying off captives; two maids, daughters of William Swayne, were later rescued by a Dutch trader, ransomed by Lyon Gardiner, and restored to their relatives.
Wethersfield was a prolific field for witches. In 1648 Mary Johnson, an old offender, who had been whipped for theft in 1641, was “by her owne confession” found guilty of “familiarity with the devil” and hanged; and a few years later John Carrington and his wife, proved witches, were likewise hanged.
Shipbuilding and fishing for shad and salmon were important occupations from the early days of the Plantation. Here in 1797 were made the first corn brooms, which soon became conspicuous in the Yankee peddler’s pack. But the vast onion fields furnished the chief occupation and source of wealth. Kendall in his “Travels” in 1808 remarked that “Wethersfield has a church built of brick, and strangers are facetiously told that it was built of onions. On explanation it is said that it was built at the cost of the female part of the community, and out of the profits of their agriculture,” and Peters in his fanciful “History” (p 116) writes in 1781 that Wethersfield parents “buy annually a silk gown for each daughter above the age of seven until she is married. The young beauty is obliged in return to weed a patch of onions with her own hands.”
The Nott family was prominent in the early history of Wethersfield. John Nott, from Nottingham, England, settled here in 1640. Among his descendants were Judge Tapping Reeve of the Litchfield Law School, and Nathan Hale of Revolutionary fame. Abraham Nott, one of the earliest graduates from Yale, in 1720, survives in tradition as a strong man. It is said that he could raise a barrel of cider and drink from the bung-hole. As a preacher he was irresistible, and equally so as a wrestler. One of the later John Notts settled in Weathersfield, Vt. (See Springfield, Vt., R. 43.)
While Wethersfield is today proud of the fact that it has no public place of refreshment for the weary traveler, in the old days it was well supplied with taverns. In 1675 Richard Smith, the ferryman, kept a tavern at the ferry on the New London road. At Stillman’ s Tavern Washington in 1781 held a consultation with his officers.
Leaving the town the route follows the blue markers and the trolley. The State Penitentiary, to the right, was located here 111 1827, when the unfortunate prisoners were removed to it from the old copper mines and caverns at Newgate. In the chapel of the State Prison is a fresco by Miss Genevieve Cowles, who devoted more than three years to this task.
Her interest was aroused when designing windows for Christ Church, New Haven, the composition of which was based upon the following ancient antiphon (O Clavis David): “O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel, Thou that openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest and no man openeth; come and loose the prisoner from the prison house and him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.” To obtain a prisoner as a model, Miss Cowles came to Wethersfield. A life prisoner was found who consented to pose, and as day by day she worked in the prison and came to sympathize with the unfortunates about her, she became a potent spiritual force among them. She then conceived the idea of painting a fresco for the chapel that might bring comfort and inspiration to the inmates. The prisoners discussed the grouping of the scene and pored over their Bibles until they decided that they wished as a background the portrayal of the Sea of Galilee. To get the true atmosphere Miss Cowles spent many months in Palestine studying the Galilean landscape and native types. The lettering of the fresco is by the hand of the life prisoner who posed for Miss Cowles at the beginning of her prison work.
Just beyond is a little old brick school house, still in use, on our left as we turn the corner toward Hartford, four miles away. After passing the baseball grounds, Armsmear, the estate of the Colt family, extends for some distance on the east, and bordering the river are the extensive plants of Colt’s Firearms. To the left, on Rocky Hill, are the Trinity College buildings. We reach the center of Hartford via Wethersfield Ave. and Main St.
43.5 HARTFORD (R. 1).