West Bank: Hartford To Springfield

In leaving Hartford via Windsor Ave. we have the cemetery and Keney Park on our left. The highway from here was the first laid out in Connecticut, in 1638. The broad Connecticut flows placidly between fringing elms. The river terraces (p 24) are notably developed. The rich alluvial soil of the broad levels, still known as Plymouth Meadows, attracted the first settlement in this region. The land is now largely given over to market-gardening, and the houses so thickly border the road as to make almost a continuous village.

6.5 WINDSOR. AU 61 ft. Pop 4178. Hartford Co. Settled 1633. Indian name Matianuck. Mfg. electric apparatus, hosiery, underwear, paper; market-gardening and tobacco-growing.

Old Windsor is a quiet village rich in associations of the past. It is a “lovely old place, though,—home of perpetual peace, a staid, frugal, dignified village,” writes Edward Rowland Sill, one of Windsor’s sons. The village preserves the line of the original settlement,—one long street along the ter-race parallel with the river. It is divided by the Farmington river, which is crossed by a covered bridge with a long cause-way approach; to the south it is known as Broad St., to the north as Palisado Ave.

South of the river is the present business center of the town and the village Green, formerly known as Bow Field Green. Facing the latter is the Campbell School for Girls and on it the Loomis Memorial fountain. The old Moore house of 1690 which formerly faced the Green now stands on Elm St. On the `Island’ south of the Farmington river is the old Loomis house, and here was opened in 1914 the Loomis Institute, incorporated in 1874, with an endowment of over $2,000,000.

Near the river is the Eddy Electric Company’s plant, now owned by the General Electric Company, employing about 300 hands. In the adjacent village of Poquonock are made hosiery, underwear, and paper.

Across the Farmington river the tree-shaded Palisado Green is faced by some fine gambrel-roofed houses of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, reminiscent of the time when Windsor was a port of entry and her merchants prosperously engaged in foreign commerce.

The long, low white house where Sill was born on April 29, 1841, looks obliquely across the Green toward the old church. Here in Windsor his ancestors, maternal and paternal, lived from the foundation of the colony, when one of his forebears was the first minister of the church. Sill never lost his affection for the ancient town, and in July, 1883, he writes:

“I am just back from a summering in the ancient and somnolent pastures of New England: some weeks at my old home, Windsor, in the Connecticut River Valley—you remember how green and peaceful that region is, cornfields and hay-fields, and elm-shaded streets and maple-shaded houses (with green blinds, mostly shut tight), and patches of their pretty woods. . . . What a dignity and placid reserve about the place! The houses all look like the country-seats of persons of great respectability who had retired on a competence—and retired a great ways while they were about it. And what big houses they used to build! Used to, I say, because there isn’t a house over there that looks less than a thousand years old: not that they look old as seeming worn or rickety at all, but old as being very stately and wise and imperturbable. I am struck, all about here in Connecticut, with the wellkept-up look of the houses. Paint must be cheap—no, ’tisn’t that. Paint is probably pretty dear; but they believe in keeping every-thing slicked up. Yet there are a few oldest of the old houses that came out of the ark, I know.”

Windsor’s proudest landmark is Elmwood, the Ellsworth mansion, two miles north of the Green on the right, now in the care of the Daughters of the Revolution. It stands on the homestead lot granted to Josiah Ellsworth in 1665. Originally it was the home of Oliver Ellsworth, prominent in the Continental Congress, one of the framers of the Constitution, and appointed by Washington, Chief Justice of the United States.

Men great in the history of the country have been entertained under its hospitable roof. Washington was a frequent visitor, and in 1789 wrote in his diary: “Wednesday, 21st. By promise I was to have Breakfasted at Mr. Ellsworth’s at Windsor, on my way to Springfield, but the morning proving very wet, and the rain not ceasing till half after that hour. I called, however, on Mr. Ellsworth and stayed there near an hour.”

According to tradition Washington used to amuse the older Ellsworth children by dancing the younger ones on his crossed knee while he sang to them of the wonderful “Darby Ram.”

“The horns upon this ram, sir, They grew up to the moon, A man went up in January And didn’t come down till June. And if you don’t believe me, And think I tell a lie, Why just go down to Darbytown And see the same as I.”

When the early colonists of Massachusetts Bay “became like a hive overstocked with bees, and many thought of swarming into new plantations,” as Cotton Mather said at that time, some of the more adventurous pushed their way into the interior, and after crossing a rugged region of uplands and valleys came upon a fertile lowland through which ran the Connecticut river. Here the old settlements of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield were founded. Beyond, the uplands rose even higher than before. Thus, as early as 1637 the broad depression worn down on the weak Triassic sandstones between the resistant crystalline rocks of the uplands exerted a determining influence on the history of New England.

However geology may have determined the place of settlement, other causes gave impetus. The pestilential spirit of intolerance forbade the Puritans to grant any one “freedom to worship God” save after the Puritan manner. Seekers of further religious liberty were driven hither, only to repeat again the persecution which had been visited upon them. Windsor became `The Mother of Towns,’ in part because of the desire of her children to get out of leading strings; but in justice it must be added that of Windsor’s original territory enough was sliced off at one time and another to make eight more townships.

The first settlement was made in 1633 by the Plymouth Company in England, of which Lord Saye and Sete and John Hampden were stockholders. They equipped a “great new bark” which sailed from Plymouth, England, and up the Connecticut under the guns of the Dutch fort. An inscribed boulder marks the spot below the Farmington river where they landed and quickly “clapt up” the house which they had brought ready prepared.

Two years later parties of malcontents from Dorchester in the Bay State began to arrive by sea and overland by the Old Connecticut Path, and not without protest from the Plymouth men settled on the rich Plymouth meadows,—and their numbers, increasing more rapidly, eventually drove out the original settlers, more by might than right, though there was a more or less forced sale. Among these first settlers were Matthew Grant and Thomas Dewey, from whom were directly descended Gen. U. S. Grant and Admiral George Dewey.

Windsor took the usual part of a frontier town in the Indian wars, and inaugurated witch-hanging in 1647 with one Alse Young. The Farmington river, then known as the Tunxis, the Indian name for “crane,” in its time was alive with West India shipping.

The macadam and concrete road from Windsor leads straight away, except for a sharp turn under R.R., beyond Windsor Green, through the rich alluvial country of the Connecticut, and paralleling the river from a quarter to a half mile from its banks.

We are in the heart of the tobacco country in the region where it is so extensively grown under shade. Some of the areas of white billowing cloth are over 120 acres in extent. This plan of growing tobacco under shade dates only from Ig0r and has brought about a revolution in tobacco growing in the Connecticut valley. The Connecticut Tobacco Company, a Hartford corporation with a capitalization of $1,000,000, grows in this neighborhood some 600 acres under cloth. The purpose of shading is by tempering the effect of wind and rain to produce climatic conditions more favorable to the development of a high quality of wrapper leaf. It costs about $150 an acre to erect these cheese-cloth tents, but it pays because of the increased value of the leaf, for whereas the sun-grown may bring twenty cents per pound, shade-grown wrapper leaf brings from $1.25 to $3.00. The plants are set 1200 to an acre and grow to a height of from seven to nine feet in shade. Each leaf is picked separately, and in the process of curing is handled some thirty-six times. Incidentally, after curing they are sorted into some twenty or more grades according to weight, size, grade, and texture. In 1914 Connecticut raised 35,754,000 pounds of tobacco, the most valuable crop in the State next to hay.

12.0 WINDSOR LOCKS. Alt 49 ft. Pop (twp) 3715. Inc. 1854. Mfg. paper, cotton warp, machinery, and underwear.

This is an industrial town, utilizing the waterpower of the Connecticut, which is led to the mills through the old Enfield canal. The water is taken from the river at the dam some miles above, opposite Enfield, and discharges through the mill wheels into the Connecticut at this point. A suspension bridge connects the village with Warehouse Point opposite. A mile above is a great cantilever railroad bridge. A short half mile from the village are the Government Fish Hatcheries, where millions of speckled brook troutlings are annually hatched.

This is the old `Pine Meadow’ of Colonial days. The village dates from about 1829, when a canal with locks was built around the rapids here to facilitate navigation between Hartford and Springfield. The canal is now used only to supply waterpower to the mills, but plans are on foot to open up navigation again and more fully utilize the 30-foot head of water, which is capable of supplying electricity for half the State of Connecticut.

Note. From Windsor Locks a road continues straight away, parallel with the river, through the township of Suffield, and crosses the Massachusetts State line (7.0).

The blue-marked road through Suffield, a little longer, affords a better and more interesting route. At the fork beyond R.R. station leave trolley and passing under R.R. keep right, join trolley to

16.0 SUFFIELD. Alt 124 ft. Pop (twp) 3841. Inc. 1674 by Massachusetts. Mfg. cigars; tobacco-growing.

Originally called Stony River, this settlement became South-field, and finally Suffield in 1674. It was spared the usual ravages of the Indian wars, for the Indians felt they had been paid a good price for the land, thirty pounds for the town site. Tobacco-growing, the secrets of which were learned from the Indians, has always been the chief interest, and as early as 1727 tobacco passed as legal tender. Here “genuine Spanish Cigars” were first made in New England by a Cuban tramp of intemperate habits who drifted here in 1810.

This secluded village is said to have been the original home of the Connecticut peddlers, who even before the Revolution traveled from Quebec to Mobile, exchanging their tinware and Yankee notions for rags, which they sold to the paper mills then springing up in the Connecticut valley. Dr. Dwight, more than a century ago, observed that

“A considerable number of the inhabitants of this part of the state have for many years employed themselves in peddling several kinds of articles, of small value, in many parts of this country. The proprietor loads with these one or more horses, and either travels himself or sends an agent, from place to place, until he has bartered or sold them…. The consequences of this employment, and of all others like it, are generally malignant. Men who begin life bargaining for small wares will almost invariably become sharpers.”

The village has a long, broad Green through its center, with the usual monument and D.A.R. memorial stone. The Connecticut Literary Institution is an oldtime academy, and near it is the Kent Memorial Library. The house now used by the Ramapogue Historical Society as a museum was formerly a tavern, one of the few in this neighborhood which does not boast of having entertained George Washington.

Giles Grange, a substantial Colonial dwelling with a side porch, was the home of Gideon Granger, the first Postmaster-general of the United States, and of his son Francis, who later held the same office.

Dr. Sylvester Graham (1794–1851) was a native of Suffield and an ardent vegetarian. He aroused the indignation of the bakers throughout the country by his invention and advocacy of a new kind of flour and bread which he claimed was more nutritive. Graham bread today perpetuates his name.

General Phineas Lyman, the commander-in-chief of the Connecticut troops in the French wars, though born at Durham, married and lived here. With 4000 Connecticut troops he was with Lord Amherst at the taking of Ticonderoga and Crown Point in 1759, and later on commanded the provincial troops in the disastrous campaign against Havana in 1762.

From Suffield we continue with trolley, turn right at cross-roads south of Buck Hill, rejoining the main road (r9.5) about one mile south of the Massachusetts line, where the blue markers cease.

Two miles beyond the State line we enter the long straggling village of Agawam (23.0). The name is Indian, meaning “meadow,” and was formerly applied to all the region round about, including Springfield. Two miles west is Feeding Hills, so called because the settlers pastured their cattle on the level uplands at the foot of Proven Mountain, a long narrow ridge of trap rock running north and south with a height of about 640 feet.

The road for Springfield bears right at the end of the village and crosses the Connecticut on a long iron bridge. Above we see the North End Bridge, or Old Toll Bridge, an ancient covered wooden structure. To the south lies Forest Park, the gift of Everett Barney of Barney and Berry Skate fame, whose factory, residence, and mausoleum may be seen in the neighbor-hood. We follow Pecousic Ave. and Main St. to the heart of the city.

26.0 SPRINGFIELD (R. I, p 121).

Note. The direct route up the west bank curves left through crossroads and turns right at the hilltop beyond into Mittineague and West Springfield. Turn right on Elm St., and left at the bridge entrance, along the west bank.