Tuesday, November 4, 2008
And sweet homes nestle in these dales,
And perch along these wooded swells,
And, blest beyond Arcadian vales,
They hear the sound of Sabbath bells!
Here dwells no perfect man sublime,
No woman winged before her time
But with the faults, and follies of the race,
Old home-bred virtues hold their not unhonored place.
By Rev. John McLean
[Published in the Connecticut Quarterly April, May and June 1895]
Why Simsbury? There is much in a name notwithstanding Shakespearean philosophy. New York, Chicago, Boston. Could they have become great cities had they been blanketed with the name Simsbury? Some authentic historical reason for exchanging the musical Indian name Massaco for colorless Simsbury would make it more endurable, but the searchlight of the historian reveals but conflicting guesses. The name of a place, however, with which we have no acquaintance, is but an abstraction. Knowing it, it becomes concrete, and the framework and background of a series of pictures and impressions. Though the name, Simsbury, be without suggestiveness to the strange ear, to those who have watched the seasons come and go, from her quiet homes, and to the passerby, whose soul is touched by the beautiful, this name will turn many exquisite pages, in memory's album.
Simsbury is a mine of that wealth of which the man may possess most who has greatest capacity to receive. The great charm of the place is variety. It has some attractive features for almost every taste. Those who love mountain scenery may wander along the granite hills on the west or the trap ledges on the east. They may climb The Pinnacle, and look down on pretty Lake Bijou, lying like a pearl in emerald setting, or to the cedar-fringed summit of Mt. Philip, towering nearly a thousand feet above the river-ribboned meadows of Massaco. From this far famed royal view may be traced the old drift kames by the deep green of the pines which clothe their sterile summits. Far to the north and west, (Mts.) Tom, Holyoke, and distant Greylock salute you through the purple haze. In the west arises that wild tumult of hills, which conceal in their bosom the grand old towns of Litchfield and Norfolk.
If the more quiet scenery of a river valley affords greater pleasure, search out and feast upon the unsung beauties of the Farmington, a stream which would have ravished the soul of Wordsworth or David Gray. For miles the road follows the river where the waters flash to the eye their fresco of overarching elms, with background of blue sky and fleecy cloud, and where riverbank on the one hand and hedgerow on the other, seem to compete, in wild luxuriance of flowers, grasses, and tangles of clematis and woodbine. Northward the stream winds through well-tilled meadows, where the projecting coves are almost concealed beneath a thin garment of peltate leaves, and starry lilies. At length, turning sharply eastward its tortured waters plunge wildly over the rocks of the mountain pass.
For some, the forests have peculiar charm. There are many drives through the wooded belt, running north by south nearly through the center of the township. These give cool, refreshing shelter which the fierce heat of the summer sun can scarcely penetrate, where toiling, weary brutes, and men who are not brutes, breathe gratitude. Masses of ferns, and banks of soft cool moss tempt the passerby to recline in dreamy reverie and listen to the monotone of the wind, playing upon its mighty sylvan organ.
Simsbury offers rich enjoyment to any student who delights in reading the long story of creation, for nowhere on the face of the earth can more formations, distinct in character, be found within the limit of a few hours' walk. Here granite, trap, sandstone and the erratic rocks chant their tragic epics for those who have ears to hear. Not less of interest will here be found for the botanist. From showery April, when that sweet gift of the glacier smiles its greeting from beneath the leaves, to chill November, when the deep fringed gentian seems to chide the trees for putting off their summer robes so soon, broad flower-besprinkled meadows, deep orchid hiding woods, hedge-row, marsh, mountain cliff and glen will reward the patient seeker after Flora's gems.
Some, believing that "the proper study of mankind is man," would search the fading pages of history. No tragic scene of the world's great drama has been enacted here. The history of Simsbury is the story of a sturdy, self dependant, God-fearing, home-loving people, who spared neither blood, nor fortune when the drum beat sounded to that great struggle for independence, or that more terrible death grapple with the dark demon of sin, whose voice of wild satiric laughter had ever mingled its discords with our anthems of the free. Armed with such preparation as the district school and village lycium afforded, her Miltons and village Hamptons have not all remained mute and inglorious. Simsbury has given to the National Army, able officers; to Congress, wise statesmen; to the Executive, a Comptroller, a Secretary of the Treasury, and a distinguished foreign minister; to our Colleges, two Presidents; to the Episcopal Church, a Bishop; to Missouri, a Governor; to New York City, merchant princes, and to the professions prominent members.
Simsbury was the second town of the Tunxis Valley to invite the English settler. In 1643, John Griffin and Michael Humphrey came from Windsor and commenced the manufacture of tar. A certain Indian, Manahannoose, did wittingly kindle a fire which proved disastrous to their enterprise. The Court decreed, that "in default of payment of five hundred string of wampum," he should "serve or be shipped in exchange for neagcrs." He seems to have escaped this penalty by giving the injured tar-makers a deed of Massaco. The township has several times been divided. East Granby, (where Old Newgate Prison is located), Granby, North Canton and Canton having, in great Dart, been formed from its original territory.
Simsbury is located northwest of Hartford, in the northern part of that valley rent from the broad Connecticut by the convulsions following the Jurassic epoch. Scattered over its area, are numerous small villages, the one known as Simsbury being near the center. These are, with two or three exceptions, arranged along the streets running north and south on either side of the river. North, on the cast side of the river, is located the once thriving village of Tariffville. Desolating fires, with a series of other misfortunes, have checked its prosperity. The long road, of its misfortunes, now seems to have reached its turning. It is wonderfully picturesque in its surroundings, and the scenery attracts many to the Bartlett Tower, located on a mountain near by. From Tariffville southward the drive commands the most charming river and meadow scenery. Where the old Windsor road descends the mountain is a little hamlet known as Terry's Plain. Fair and delectable indeed must have seemed the virgin face of Massaco as seen first from this mountain crest, and one cannot wonder that Griffin and Humphrey (the Caleb and Joshua sent to spy out the land) resolved to settle here, notwithstanding the Anakim.
About two miles of road, mostly along the river bank brings us to East Weatogue, a pretty, restful hamlet. The morning sun is late in driving away the mountain shadows, but the wide westward vista lengthens out the day with glowing sunsets. Here the Hartford road winds over the mountain. From the summit of the last steep descent, the song of turbulent waters will fall upon the ear. Would you enjoy one of the daintiest bits of scenery; swing down the deep ravine and follow the laughing cascades through the gloom of the rock-walled canon.
In this village stands the oldest house of the township, known as the Bacon Place or Ft. George. Built in 1717, though somewhat bowed with age, its massive timbers yield but slowly to the ravages of time. Tradition tells of wild scenes here in the old days of warfare. There also is located that fine example of colonial architecture, the Humphrey Place, at present occupied by the lineal descendants of that Michael Humphrey who with John Griffin first invaded the primeval forests of Massaco.
On the opposite side of the river lies the sister village, West Weatogue, in former days the business center of the place. The old inhabitant still boasts of those halcyon times. Here was the village store, and the school where John Slater was, by vote of the town, authorized "to teach the youths to read, write, cypher and say the rules of arathmetack," and here another teacher of great local fame taught grammar by machinery. With growth of business in another part of the town, the star of her prosperity set, but only to rise again with increased splendor. Her prophet no longer chants hi, Jeremiads from her ruins. The spirit of the renaissance is sweeping over her, everywhere transforming the unsightly into the beautiful. Old farm houses burst from the chrysalis into towered mansions. An artistic granite fountain, in memoriam of the beloved physician, Dr. White, ornaments her pretty green. Even the old school house, has put off her simple gown and come out in a brand new suit, with a Romanesque flounce.
Separated from Weatogue by the loveliest of drives through the fragrant pines is Bushy Hill. A bushy hill no longer. Her ill-kept farms, where men often failed in the struggle with nature because of the heavy tribute paid King Alcohol, have come into the possession of the Rev. D. Stuart Dodge, the Messrs Arthur, Norman, and Walter Phelps Dodge, the sons and grandson of the late William E. Dodge of New York; and her hills, commanding a wide circle of exquisite scenery, are being crowned with stately mansions. Bushy hill is honored by the association of distinguished names. In her humble farmhouses were born Anson G. Phelps the successful man of business and philanthropist, and John J. Phelps, the merchant prince. His son the eminent statesman and diplomat, William Walter Phelps, spent here many days of his childhood and youth.
About two miles westward, where the road from the granite mountains enters the valley between twin frowning ledges of intrusive trap, nestles the little village of West Simsbury, or The Harms, a place lying at the threshold of the most charming and unique scenery.
About two miles north of Weatogue is the central village, which takes the township name, Simsbury. It is built along a terrace, between the wooded bluff and the river meadows. Entering from the Bushy Hill or Farms Road, you will pass the Old Mill which still grinds the grists, and takes the toll, as in days of yore. A little down the stream stands the old distillery. It is now many years since barefoot lads and lassies, with tin pails and pennies, descended the winding path, and climbed the stile to get "a mess of emptins," as yeast was called.
The road describes a half circle at the foot of the hill, where stands the Congregational Church, a building of classic proportions, and of a simple chaste style which harmonized with the age and worship of its time. Admire its exterior. Do not enter until a mistake of a few years since be remedied, and the sober Purl tan meeting house be disrobed of its gaudy attire. Northward for nearly a mile the street extends, straight as an arrow, broad, sentinelled by magnificent elms and sycamores. The accompanying views will give hints of its beauty. Aside from the many fine modern houses arc many places of historic interest.
The Amos R. Eno Mansion stands on a finely shaded eminence, overlooking the valley. Built by the Hon. Elisha Phelps, the father of Mrs. Eno, the recent changes in the building seem rather to emphasize its old time dignity and atmosphere of hospitality. Here for nearly a half century, the queenly hostess won the love of high and low; and the farmer lad of fourscore years ago, having fought life's battle in the great metropolis, and won not only great riches, but that good name honored and respected by all, has come here for quiet and rest in his declining years.
Simsbury numbers among her most valuable institutions, the Free Library, a gift from Mr. Eno to his birthplace. The building is designed in harmony with its surroundings, and, within and without, is a fine expression of colonial architecture. The library, nourished by a liberal fund, removes from the youth of Simsbury any barrier from culture.
In the center of the village, where was once the churchyard is the Cemetery. For two and a quarter centuries, groups of people, with sad eyes, and aching hearts, have climbed this beautiful hillside, to lay away the tenement of some beloved soul. Whether the earth were covered with snow or violets, in sunshine and storm, the sad burial words have been spoken, but when the trembling voice strikes the brighter strain, "I am the resurrection and the life," the restful beauty of the scene seems to turn the thought from the city of the dead, to that city whose Builder and Maker is He who giveth and taketh away. The limit of this paper forbids tarrying among the quaint headstones and quainter inscriptions. Passing the little group of stores, the old Ensign Homestead stands on the left, with its lilac bushes and cinnamon roses, and nearly opposite the Jeffrey O. Phelps Mansion, built in 1771, in colonial days the famous Phelps Tavern. Now take off your hat and make obeisance to the monarch of the street, King Ulmus. I can never consciously pass under this tree without a feeling of reverence. It combines, more than any other I have ever seen, great size, symmetry, grace, impressiveness of strength and character. Beautiful as it is clothed in its summer robe, it is even more impressive when the lofty arches of its giant arms are thrown against the face of the moon or the clear blue of the winter sky.
The Dr. Barber House was built in 1762, and soon came into the possession of Major Elihu Humphrey, an ancestor of its late occupant. When Lexington roused the land, the Major gathered his company on the green before this house, on the eve before their departure to Boston, and here the tearful farewells were said to wives and mothers. To the shelter of this roof the wounded warrior was brought to breathe away his ebbing life.
Under the pine-covered bluff, facing meadow and mountain is the McLean Seminary, a school founded and named in honor of the Rev. Allen McLean, for fifty-two years the beloved pastor of the Congregational Church.
The Elizur Eno House, located in that continuation of the street called Westover plain, is the oldest but one in the town, built about 1750. It is a fine old structure, reposing under a mammoth elm of great age and beauty. Here at one time were quartered some French officers. A quarrel arising at dinner, one threw the carving knife, which missing his antagonist, buried itself in the casing, where the gash can now be seen.
I have given but a glimpse of this fair valley and its traditions. Would you see more? Study for yourself the tapestry of its meadows, the frescoes of its skies, the pictures on its mountain walls, and the resting place of its children, with the names engraven there.
From mossy mound and grassy hillock gliding,
With noiseless step we come;
Wishful to learn of good or ill, betiding
The old remembered home;
A band of brothers we, who sleep where weeping willows grow,
Your great grand-fathers, dead and gone, one hundred years ago.
[From the Memorial History of Hartford County, CT
Edited by: J. Hammond Trumbull, LL.D.
Published by Edward L. Osgood, 1886]
Although Granby has existed as an independent township only since 1786, the history proper of the tract enclosed in its present limits antedates that period by considerably more than a century. A hasty (summary) of the history prior to the final separation from Simsbury is necessary for a complete and satisfactory understanding of the later chronicles.
The town, as incorporated in October 1786, comprised an area of about fifty-nine miles, with an average length of nine and one half miles, and a breadth of about six miles. Still later, in 1858, this territory was in turn divided (with) about one third of the eastern part of the town going to form the present township of East Granby, which includes the famous Newgate Prison. The location of Granby cannot perhaps be better described than by saying that it lies adjacent to and directly south of the irregular notch in the Massachusetts and Connecticut boundary line. It consists of a hilly and irregular district, like most of the towns which make up the northern and northwestern portions of the State. Its lowlands are traversed by the waters of two large brooks, with their several tributaries, which, coming from nearly opposite directions, meet near the southeastern boundary of the town, and together flow on to the crooked Farmington River about three miles distant. The soil is generally sandy, although the well-watered lowlands are as fertile as those of the adjacent towns.
Farming is the prevailing occupation of the people, the distance from good water-power, as well as from railroad conveniences, rendering the place undesirable for manufacturing purposes. Copper in quantities too small to warrant the expense of mining is an indigenous product, and traces of iron have likewise been found in sufficient quantities to arouse the enthusiasm of enterprising people; but Granby mining ventures, of whatever description, have so far proved most dismal failures to all who have embarked in them.
Although nothing definite is known concerning the earliest period of the town's history, yet there is good reason for supposing that the first house in the town stood at the Falls, now in East Granby, and a little less than a mile north of the village of Tariffville. This was occupied by John Griffin as early as 1664, and he may with reasonable certainty be called the first settler. He held the first Indian deed, given by Manahanoose on account of the Indians having set fire to some of his tar, which he manufactured in considerable quantities. The next settlers in the town located at Salmon Brook, Granby proper, and the first house there stood near the present residence of Mr. Dennison Case. Daniel Hays, of Indian fame, lived about 1720 in a house which stood "below the hill" and near the present home of Mr. Joseph Sanford. It is also generally supposed that a blockhouse was erected still farther south, immediately in the rear of the house lately occupied by Mr. Charles Pettibone, where the settlers flocked in times of danger, and when in fear of any outbreak from the savage proprietors of the country.
Little by little the wildness of the country took on a more civilized air. First of all it was necessary that there should be roads. Means of communication must be had with neighbors, and with the adjoining towns. As in all early settlements in new countries, these roads were at first simply footpaths. One of the first public highways was a road from Barn Door Hills, in the western part of the town, to Wilcox's mill, which was located near the present site of the New Haven and Northampton Railroad depot. Another road ran from near the residence of Mr. Dennison Case to the same mill, and still another lay between Barn Door Hills and the house now occupied by Mr. Orlando Smith. These highways were of the most primitive sort, and were constructed only as the strict necessities of the occasion required.
Fear of the Indians, which is the one omnipresent and unquestioned factor in all our colonial history, seems to have been present at this period among the settlers, and, unfortunately, with excellent reason. Frequent attacks and murderous outbreaks kept these unfortunate pioneers in a perpetual state of alarm; and their energies at this time seem rather to have been devoted to measures of personal safety than to matters of public interest and improvement. In the early days of the settlement the Indians were never slow to take advantage of its weak state, and many acts of depredation and malicious deviltry took place. The most noteworthy of these was probably the capture of Daniel Hays, an early settler, alluded to before.
Hays, as has been stated, lived at Salmon Brook. At that time a young man of twenty-two or twenty-three years, he was captured on his way to the pasture in search of his horse. The three Indians who had thus lain in wait for him immediately bound their captive and started for the north. A general alarm was soon spread among the settlers, and a party made up of men from his own town and the neighboring town of Windsor was soon scouring the woods in search of the savages. All their efforts were vain, however, and in the mean time the captive was hurried on to Canada, treated with all manner of insults and indignities. After a journey of nearly thirty days he was brought to a great Indian encampment on the Canada border. Here he was compelled to "run the gauntlet," which terrible ordeal he was fortunate enough to pass through alive, and. was at length by unusual good fortune adopted into an Indian family. After a lapse of several years he was sold to a Frenchman at Montreal, who took pity on him and allowed him the privilege of purchasing his own freedom after a service of some years. He returned to his family after an absence of about seven years, and lived from that time in an uninterrupted course of peace and happiness. He died in 1756, and was buried in the cemetery at Salmon Brook, where his grave may yet be seen, marked by one of the curious little red freestone slabs of that period.
The work of settlement and population was very slow and discouraging. Records show that as late as 1709 there were only eleven families settled within the present boundaries of the town. It has been affirmed that frequent Indian outbreaks kept the place entirely deserted for considerable periods of time. As the town grew in numbers and strength, however, apprehension of dangers from these sources gradually disappeared, and the population seems to have increased with considerable rapidity, as in 1736 two ecclesiastical societies were established, called respectively the Northeast and Northwest societies.
It must be remembered that all public measures prior to 1786 were carried out only with the approval of the town of Simsbury, of which the settlements at the Falls and at Salmon Brook and Turkey Hills were a part. The "meetings" of the Salmon Brook Society were held for a time in the house of Daniel Hays, which was also used as a tavern; but in 1739 a meeting of this society was convened to adopt measures for building a meeting house. Local feeling was strong, and the General Assembly was at length referred to, in order to settle disputes and decide upon a location for the new building. This august body appointed a committee, in accordance with whose report the site finally adopted was upon Seminary Hill, at Salmon Brook. This result of outside arbitration seems to have by no means put an end to internal dissuasions, however; for in 1775 the building was taken down and rebuilt on a spot designated by another committee of arbitration, some two miles north of its first location. This in turn was taken down, and another building erected in 1834, which is still standing, and is occupied by the First Society.
In these earliest years of the Northwest Society the congregation did not feel able to support a minister, and the "meetings" were conducted by the "brethren" alternately, with an occasional sermon from some ordained minister whenever it was practicable to secure such a (rara avis) for one or more Sundays. This state of affairs lasted for fifteen or sixteen years, until the little parish had so grown in numerical and financial strength that the churchgoers felt warranted in keeping a shepherd of their own.
The first settled minister of the original Northwest Society was the Rev. Joseph Strong, ordained 1752 and dismissed 1779. Mr. Strong probably organized the church. He "used Watts' Psalms, and catechized the children," receiving as compensation for his ministerial labors a salary of £50, his firewood, and the use of the parsonage, which stood on the site of the old Jewett place, now owned by the Hon. T. M. Maltbie. The magnificent elms which are now standing at this place were probably set out by Mr. Strong. Before his dismissal some trouble arose in regard to his salary, owing to the depreciation of currency during the war. He removed to Williamsburg, Mass., and remained there engaged in his labors until his death.
The Rev. Israel Holly succeeded him in the parish, in October, 1784, remaining until 1793, when he in turn gave way to the Rev. Isaac Porter, who was ordained in June, 1794, and remained in the pastorate for more than thirty-eight years. Mr. Porter experienced many difficulties during his long ministry. It would seem, from appearances that he was a strict disciplinarian, and ruled his congregation with a rod of iron. Members were disciplined for absenting themselves from church services, and much dissatisfaction followed. At last Simeon Holcomb brought specific charges against the church, criticizing the manner in which the sacrament was administered, complaining that the pastor had not been ordained and was not supported "in the Gospel way," and avowing that the church was impure and corrupt in many of its members. After Mr. Porter's dismissal he lost his property, and became dependent for his support upon the generosity of individuals; the church, be it said to her shame, withholding her aid, in spite of his long and faithful pastorate. His successor, the Rev. Charles Bentley, was pastor from 1883 to 1889. Mr. Bentley consented to settle in Granby only on condition that a new church be erected; and the present edifice was completed early in his pastorate.
The next pastor was the Rev. Chauncey D. Rice, who served in that capacity from 1839 to 1841. A new parsonage was built for Mr. Rice, adjoining the present church building. The Rev. Israel P. Warren was his successor. He was ordained in 1842. Mr. Warren was considered rather "liberal" in his theology, and, after the manner of his kind, his pastorate was marked by contests between himself and the more conservative element. He afterward removed to Boston, and rose to considerable eminence in his profession. After his dismissal the pulpit was filled for some time by "supplies," and not until 1855 was the next regular minister ordained.
This was the Rev. William Gilbert, who remained in charge until 1863. The Rev. Thomas D. Murphy (Yale, 1863) was ordained in 1866, the Rev. Dr. Leonard Bacon, of New Haven, preaching the ordination sermon. Mr. Murphy was pastor of the church until 1871. Shortly after the organization of the South Church at Salmon Brook in 1872 Mr. Murphy became its pastor, and remained as such until 1880. The Rev. William Hammond succeeded him in the pastorate of the First Church, and remained two years. Mr. Hammond was followed by the Rev. James B. Cleaveland, the present pastor. At the South Church the pulpit was filled, after Mr. Murphy's dismissal, by the Rev. George W. Griffith, at that time a student in the Yale Theological Seminary. Upon his graduation (1881) Mr. Griffith became the pastor of the church, remaining in that position one year. He was succeeded by the Rev. W. P. McFarland, who left at the expiration of a year's service to accept a position upon the staff of "The Gospel in All Lands," a religious paper published at Baltimore. From the time of Mr. McFarland's dismissal the church has had no settled pastor.
The Northeast, or, as it came to be called, the Turkey Hills Society is described in the history of East Granby.
An Episcopal church was begun in 1792, although not finished until 1800, and stood many years on the site of the present building of the Library Association. From the small number of Episcopalians, the parish was always weak in its finances, and never able to support a minister of its own. The pulpit was usually supplied by combining with the people of St. Andrew's Parish in Bloomfield, all together hiring a rector who should do the duties incumbent upon him for both parishes. The church was closed about forty years ago, but to this day traces of its influence are occasionally observed. A movement has been started quite recently to reorganize the Episcopalians of the town, with a view to testing the advisability of again holding services in the place.
The Methodists erected their present church building in West Granby in 1845, and the society is now in a comfortably flourishing condition. There is also a society of Universalists possessing a substantial little church located in North Granby, some few hundred rods above the old North Church of the Congregationalists. They are prosperous and independent enough to employ their own minister, and their numerical strength, although confined almost exclusively to the northern section of the town, is considerable.
The organization of the South Church, alluded to before, took place in 1872, when a division occurred, and the people of Salmon Brook and immediate vicinity, who formed a considerable portion of the congregation, dissatisfied at having to ride two miles over a poor road to get the benefits of public worship, seceded from the mother church and organized themselves into the South Congregational Society. They have never built a church, but have held services in the building of the Granby Library Association, a commodious two-storied structure, which was erected about the time of the formation of the new society, and admirably answers the purposes of a church.
We have spoken of the early ecclesiastical history of the town, and it is proper in this connection to add a few words regarding the early educational history. But little is known definitely concerning the first schools, and we must pass rapidly from the time when the early settlers built their first schoolhouse near Salmon Brook, to the period, a century or more later, when something more systematic was undertaken. In 1874 the entire public school system of the town was improved and remodeled. The number of scholars in each district was as follows: In district No. 1, 111; No. 2, 34; No. 3, 18; No. 4, 64; No. 5, 17; No. 6, 45; No. 8, 16; No. 9, 80; No. 10, 27; No. 11, 10. Total, 372. It was at this time that the modern high-school methods were adopted by the board for the examination of teachers. The standard then set has been rigidly adhered to, and has resulted most satisfactorily. A better qualified and more competent body of teachers has been the result sought for and attained. For the year 1884 the cost of maintaining the schools of the town amounted to $2,554.94, of which $625.50 came from the school fund and $296.12 from the town deposit fund, leaving $1,452.89 to be assessed by taxation. At present the town ranks fifty-second among the towns of the State, in school attendance according to enumeration, which for the eleven districts is now 264, a decrease of 108 in eleven years.
Private schools of more or less importance have at various periods had a brief existence within the town. A school of considerable note once stood near the present site of the Soldiers Monument, at Salmon Brook Street. This was discontinued more than half a century ago. The library building at Salmon Brook was occupied for a number of years by the Rev. Mr. Murphy, who, with an assistant, taught the various branches of the classics, for collegiate preparation, and kept a school of the first order. At Mr. Murphy's departure this school was closed.
We have alluded before to a "blockhouse" which stood, at the earliest period of the history of the settlement, in Salmon Brook Street. An elaborate map of Simsbury, made about 1730, located another and more important fortification about a mile north of the "street," and near the Southwick road. This was known as Shaw's Fort. It is supposed to have been erected in 1708, and was probably of the most primitive style of architecture, a rough block-house, protected by the conventional ditches and palisades. In these early days of the settlement no military organization was attempted; and it is probable that this fort was used only on occasions of unusual Indian outbreaks, when the settlers flocked to it en masse. At this time there were but fifty-eight houses in the entire tract which afterward became Granby, and they were scattered over several miles of territory. Nevertheless, we must date the military history of the town from this period; and it is not surprising, when we consider the rough training which these people had in their early struggles with savage foes, to find them in after years playing so important a part in the most serious wars which afflicted the country. In the French war of 1756 Simsbury furnished a company in which several Granby men served, and in 1762 a company of forty-seven men, under the command of Captain Noah Humphrey, formed part of the disastrous expedition to Havana under General Lyman. Fourteen members of this company came from the Granby part of Simsbury. Only two of them returned from Havana. Their names were Andrew Hfflyer and Dudley Hays. The sufferings of the men who took part in this foolhardy expedition were extreme. Sickness and shipwreck, and every form of disaster, in fact, seemed to be present.
In the War of the Revolution the record of the town was one in which we may well take pride. Volunteers to the cause of freedom came forward from every section, and in the attack on Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, Granby men were present as members of Captain Phelps's company. It was during this war that the usefulness of Newgate was made apparent, and the place was fitted up and transformed into a prison for Tories and English prisoners. It proved its admirable fitness for the purpose, as a letter from General Washington still bears evidence,' and did much good service in the cause of the patriots. After Burgoyne's surrender, detachments of his captured army, were sent through to Hartford, and a peaceful little meadow, only a few hundred yards from the spot where the original block house stood, is still pointed out as the camping ground of a company of Hessians who passed through the place as prisoners of war. Men from this town participated in nearly every battle of importance during the entire Revolutionary War; and the writer treasures a curious old razor, with its wooden case, which passed through the untold hardships of Valley Forge as the property of Sergeant Seth Hares.
The part which Granby played in the second war with Great Britain and the Mexican War is lost to us, although there were doubtless natives of the town who enlisted in each of these struggles. No companies were formed from this place exclusively. After the latter war, and during the period of "militia" excitement, there was much interest manifested in military matters, and many of the older citizens remember, with a thrill of the same old patriotic ardor that fired them then, the "general training day." This was an occasion of extraordinary interest to the dwellers in the rural districts, which flocked in great numbers to the village which had been previously selected as the gathering ground of the volunteer companies for miles around. Granby was often selected for this honor, and the broad "street" seems to have been especially adapted for the warlike maneuvers which characterized such gala days.
In the War of the Rebellion the town furnished her full quota of men. Everett Griswold joined the service April 19, 1861, and was probably the first Granby man to enlist, although his example was quickly followed by seventeen more enlistments in May. Twenty more men were enrolled in the service before the end of the year. The number of enlistments during the following year was thirty-eight, and in 1863 and 1864, nineteen. Of these men, the greater part enlisted as privates, and never rose above the positions of minor officers, though there was at least one brilliant exception in the person of Colonel Richard E. Holcomb, who rose rapidly by promotion and was finally put in command of the 1st Louisiana, the first white Union regiment from that State. He was killed at the battle of Port Hudson, June 14th, 1863, while at the head of his men and urging them on. Colonel Holcomb was a man of great bravery and determination, and his brilliant record as a soldier gave promise of a bright future.
Since the exciting events of the Civil War little has occurred to disturb the tranquil sleepiness of the staid old town. With the memory of their dead heroes fresh in their minds, the people of the town immediately after the war voted to erect a soldiers' monument. Voluntary contributions were forthcoming, and in a short period the amount requisite for a handsome memorial was pledged. Then came the inevitable wrangle over the location of the proposed monument. Every section of the town came forward with its own particular claims to recognition. There were apparently insurmountable objections to its erection in one place, and unanswerable reasons for its being located in another place, and vice versa. The upshot of the whole affair was the dedication, July 4, 1868, of the handsome brown stone monument which stands at the northern end of Salmon Brook Street.
In 1786 the town was incorporated, with Jttdah. Holcomb, Jr., as the first town clerk. Colonel Ozias Pettibone and Colonel Pliny Hillyer were the first representatives to the State legislature. Until 1794 the town was allowed but one representative in the legislature. In that year, and thereafter, two were sent, and the two gentlemen who first went together were the men who had up to that time alternated in representing the town, Messrs. Pettibone and Hillyer.
In 1858 the town was subdivided, East Granby forming itself into an independent town, as Granby had done before. During the campaign of 1840 political excitement in Granby ran very high, and a spot near Stony Hill is still recollected by many people as the site of the log cabin of the Harrison and Tyler men.
The Granby Water Company was incorporated in 1868, with Dr. Jairus Case as president. Water is brought from Bissell's Brook, and is supplied at present to almost every house-owner in the vicinity. A visionary scheme to construct a railroad from Granby to Tariffville, a distance of some four miles, also upset the minds of the villagers a few years ago. After going to the trouble of securing a charter from the legislature, the upholders of the scheme decided it to be impracticable, and it was abandoned. In December, 1876, the place was visited by a disastrous fire which destroyed the principal hotel, the store of Loomis Brothers, together with the post-office, and the adjoining buildings. A high wind was blowing at the time, and a general conflagration was apprehended. This, however, was happily averted. The burned buildings have not been rebuilt.
In 1882 disputes arose between Granby and Suffield regarding the town boundaries upon Manatic Mountain. The trouble was referred to a committee of three persons appointed by the Superior Court, who decided the matter in favor of this town, after a Personal examination of the disputed territory and a full review of the evidence.
In manufacturing, the town has never held a prominent place. West Granby has acquired some note as a centre for cider brandy distilleries, and there was, at one time, a brass foundry, on the present site of Forsyth's Gristmill.
Pegville, one of the small villages of the town, derived its name from quite an extensive shoe industry once located there; and a building was erected at Salmon Brook a few years ago for the purpose of manufacturing toy pistols and other "notions" of like character. The place was subsequently occupied by another company for the manufacture of knife handles; but it has been unoccupied for a considerable period. In politics, Granby has been variable. At present the town is very strongly Republican, giving a Republican majority of between forty and fifty on a total vote of about three hundred. The town is in the Third Senatorial District, and has been represented in the State Senate by Edmund Holcomb, Republican, in 1866, Dr. Jairus Case, Democrat, in 1868, and Theodore M. Maltbie, Republican, in 1884. William C. Case, Republican member from the town, was Speaker of time Connecticut House in 1881.
The population of the town is decreasing. Every census shows a loss of some scores, and the "Ricardian Acre" is only too common a sight on the hillsides and among the mountains in the northern and least settled portions of the town. The census of 1870 gave Granby a population of 1,517, and that of 1880 reduced the number to 1,340.
[From the Memorial History of Hartford County, CT
Edited by: J. Hammond Trumbull, LL.D.
Published by Edward L. Osgood, 1886]
East Granby was incorporated in 1858, out of Granby and Windsor Locks. Granby was set off from Simsbury in 1786 and Windsor Locks from Windsor in 1854. The individual history of East Granby is chiefly that of the Turkey Hills Parish Society, which was the Northeast Society of Simsbury. This society was created in 1736, and in 1737 a part of the Northwest Society of Windsor was added to it; this part was taken from Windsor Locks and incorporated into East Granby when the town was established.
As early as 1793 an effort was made to have East Granby set off as a separate town, because Granby at that time reconsidered the vote under which the town meeting was held once in three years at Turkey Hills. The limits then asked for the proposed town was practically those which were at last fixed upon.
The town embraces about eighteen square miles; being four and a half miles east and west, and averaging four miles north and south. Its population in 1860 was 883; in 1870, 853; in 1880, 754; showing a decrease in the last decade of more than twelve per cent. This decrease was due almost wholly to the decline in value of agricultural products, especially tobacco, which followed the close of the War of the Rebellion, and the extended culture of that product in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. A more economical production was necessary, and there was consequently a limited employment of farm laborers. The Talcott range of mountains divides the town from north to south into nearly equal parts. That west of the mountain is rolling and somewhat hilly; that east of the mountain slopes gradually down to a plain, and is of peculiar natural beauty.
As early as 1710 iron was manufactured at a mill on Stony Brook, in the extreme northeast part of the town, close by the Suffield line, and this is believed to have been the first manufacture of iron from ore procured in the colony. About 1728 a furnace called the "New Works" was set up a mile farther south, on land now owned by Oliver M. Holcomb. The ore was from surface stone gathered in that part of Windsor which still retains the name of Ore Marsh. The manufacture of wire cards began about 1820, on the Farmington River, and other industries followed. In 1846 the Cowles Manufacturing Company made spoons, and it is claimed was the first to make a practical success of electric plating. Its works gave the name of Spoonville to the site, and that remains, although spoon-making ceased there about thirty years ago.
The town is free from debt, and an average annual tax of seven mills has been sufficient to support all public burdens during the last ten years. The town has two ecclesiastical societies: the Congregational, having its church edifice in the Centre, just at the foot of the eastern slope of the mountain; and the Methodist Episcopal church, situated about a mile north of the old Newgate prison, on the west side of the mountain. The former was established in October, 1786, after a long and bitter controversy extending through many years. The final result was the division of Simsbury into four parish societies, of which Turkey Hills was one, each to have independent ecclesiastical privileges. June 16, 1737, the parish of Turkey Hills voted to build a church, and applied to the legislature for a committee to locate its position. John Edwards, James Church, and Joseph Talcott, Jr., having been appointed such committee, selected the site for the church at an "oak straddle," on land of Samuel Clark, upon the west side of the north and south highway, some ten rods south of the present dwelling house of Charles P. Clarke, and about the same distance north of the intersecting highway leading eastward. Out of the bitter church controversy referred to there grew a topographical map of ancient Simsbury. This map shows that about 1780 there were living in the parish twenty-eight families -- twenty-three east and five west of the mountain. In 1709 there were but two families, those of John Griffin and Joshua Holcomb, both of whom lived near the Falls.
The church building was begun in 1788. It was taken down in 1831 by George Burleigh Holcomb, who used some of its timbers in the buildings on the place where he now resides. The present edifice was begun in 1880 and completed in 1831. The first clergyman employed in the parish was a Mr. Wolcott, who preached in 1737. The Rev. Ebenezer Mills was settled in 1741. From 1754 to 1760 there was preaching by candidates. The Rev. Nehemiah Strong, afterward professor in Yale College, was settled as pastor, Jan. 21, 1761, and dismissed in 1767. The next settled pastor was the Rev. Aaron Booge, November, 1776. The society appointed seventeen tavern keepers for the day of his ordination! He was dismissed in 1785, but supplied the pulpit four years longer. The Rev. Whitfield Cowles was ordained in 1794; but dissensions arose, he was tried for heresy, and the society fell into discord, and for a while lost its legal existence. The next regular ministers were the Reverends Harvey Wilbur, 1815-1816, and Eber L. Clark, 1816-1820, who were also chaplains at Newgate Prison. There have been frequent changes of ministers since then. The Rev. Joel H. Lindsley, who found the church in 1865 in a much reduced condition, owing to quarrels and dissensions arising from the questions of the war, did much to revive it and to endear himself to the people. At that time the church building was renovated and improved. The pulpit is now supplied by the Rev. P. A. Strong.
The Methodist church at Copper Hill was built in 1839, and in 1850 was thoroughly repaired, and moved about five rods westward. Like all Methodist churches, it has had regular changes of pastor. In the ministry of Lemuel Richardson, in 1871, there was an extensive revival of religion, attended with remarkable manifestations. The writer, at a single evening meeting in the church, which lasted from seven o'clock until midnight, witnessed as many as fifteen persons who became apparently unconscious. Some were stretched upon the floor; others were lying or being supported upon the seats. This visitation of "the Spirit" was regarded as a great blessing, and it certainly did strengthen the church in numbers. Mr. Richardson was a large, powerful man, full of strength, zeal, and boldness, and possessed of a strong, loud voice, which he used in singing as well as in preaching and prayer.
The celebrated Simsbury copper mine, where afterward was located for fifty-four years the Connecticut State prison called Newgate, was first known to the inhabitants of Simsbury in 1705. Two years later there was an association of such proprietors of the town as chose to subscribe to articles of agreement for the purpose of opening and working it. The location of the mine was about a hundred rods from the west ledge of the Talcott Mountain, at its highest point in East Granby, which is a point nearly as high as any in the same ridge in the State. The position is one of much picturesque-ness and beauty.
The period of greatest mining activity was from 1715 to 1787; during these years it was carried on in face of great dangers and greater discouragements arising from the newness of the country and the want of proper facilities of every nature pertaining to the business. The articles of agreement under which the subscribing proprietors, in 1707, undertook to work the mine, provided that, after deducting the expenses of the work, there be allowed to the town ten shillings on each ton of copper produced, and the residue be divided among the proprietors in proportion to their subscriptions. The company only dug the ore; they did not undertake to smelt and refine it.
In the same year they entered into a contract with Messrs. John Woodhridge, of Springfield, Dudley Woodbridge, of Simsbury, and Timothy Woodbridge, Jr., of Hartford, all clergymen, who agreed to run and refine the ore, and cast the metal into bars fit for transportation or a market; and, after deducting the tenth part belonging to the town (of which two thirds was to be given for the maintenance of an able schoolmaster in Simsbury, and the other third to the collegiate school of Yale College), the residue was to be equally divided between them and the proprietors, or workers of the mine.
The legislature, in 1709, passed an act vesting the right to control all matters relating to the mine in the major part of the proprietors, according to the interests of each; and it was under arrangement with this organization that milling operations were carried on until the State began to use the mine as a prison. The act also provided for the adjudication of all matters in controversy between any and all persons connected with the mines, by a board of commissioners. During the mining excitement companies, organized in Boston, in London, and in Holland, expended large sums at Copper Hill. Governor Belcher, of Massachusetts, said in 1735 that he bad spent £15,000 there. The mine most improved, and where the greatest excavation was made, was the one purchased for a prison. The most extensive workings, aside from those on Copper Hill, were known as Higley's Mine, situated a little more than a mile southward, on land now owned by Hilton Griffin, and nearly west of the old vineyard gap in tile mountain, where upon. [Interesting background on Higley's Mine at http://www.coinfacts.com/historical_notes/history_of_the_higley_copper_coins.htm.] The map of ancient Simsbury Mr. Higley's house is seen to have been located. Mr. Edmund Quincy, of Boston, had a company of miners working here at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War; soon afterward the works were abandoned. About 1787 Samuel Higley, here referred to, manufactured a rude copper coin which to some extent circulated as a representative of value in the vicinity, and has since been known as the Higley Copper. Tile coins are said to have passed current for “two and sixpence;" presumably in paper, because their intrinsic value was only a penny. They were not all of one device; but one now in the Connecticut Historical Society, at Hartford, is here represented by engravings, showing both sides. Such a coin has now a cabinet value of perhaps a hundred dollars. The interest in the mines was very much abated after 1737. Of the ore dug, a considerable part was shipped to Europe; some of it arrived safely, and was smelted. One cargo was reported lost in the English Channel, and one captured by the French. About 1721 smelting and refining works were built and secretly operated (to what extent is unknown) at a place in West Simsbury called Hanover by the Germans, who were then conducting the business. The locality has since retained the name.
At the May session of the General Assembly, in 1773, William Pitkin, Erastus Ellsworth, and Jonathan Humphreys were appointed a committee to "view and explore the copper mines at Simsbury" with regard to the fitness of that place for a prison, and after their favorable report they were authorized to obtain possession of the property. They bought up a mining lease that had nineteen years to run, and prepared the place to receive prisoners. The legislature gave it the name of Newgate. Burglars, horse thieves, and counterfeiters were liable to be sent there to work in the mines. John Viets was the first master, or keeper, of the prison. The first convict, John Henson, was received December 22, 1773, and escaped on the 9th of the next month. The history of the prison is a long record of escapes, uprisings, fires, and other troubles, although it early acquired the reputation of a very secure place, as appears by General Washington's reference to it. In 1777 the prisoners were all taken to the Hartford jail, and probably the prison was not used again until 1780, when it was rebuilt, and the prisoners were set at other work than mining. Previously they had mined ore, which was sold by order of the legislature. There was another sweeping fire in 1782, and the place was then abandoned until 1790. A new prison was completed in October, 1790, and Major Peter Curtiss was appointed keeper. The heavy wall about the premises was built in 1802. The prisoners were confined below ground; many of them wore iron fetters, and tradition has it that some were chained to rings in the wall. There was a treadmill under one of the buildings, which the convicts operated.
All the prisoners were finally removed to Wethersfield, on the 1st of October, 1827, and the prison buildings and, land were sold shortly afterward to persons interested in mining operations. The history of Newgate has been written out with great detail by Noah A. Phelps. After the abandonment of the property by the State for prison purposes several efforts were made, without success, to carry on the mining of copper. No considerable amount of ore was reduced, and the experiments were abandoned in 1859. Since then the mines have served only to afford a curious interest to those who visit the place on account of its associations as the former prison of the State. Its buildings are now far gone to decay, and soon nothing but crumbling walls of stone will mark the place, once famous alike for its hidden treasures of copper and for being the first substantial stronghold for the criminals of the colony.
Few communities have been less subject to change of inhabitants than East Granby. Its lands are excellent, and those who are engaged in agricultural pursuits have very much to encourage them to remain. Of the families shown upon the map of ancient Simsbury to have been first settlers in the place, those of Clark, Phelps, Holcomb, Griffin, Stephens, Alderman, and Owen have always had successors of their respective names living in the town; and of Thomas Stephens, Samuel Clark, Joseph Phelps, and John Holcomb, their lineal descendants, Frederick F. Stephens, Charles P. Clarke, Richard H. Phelps, and Morton Cornish, are each respectively occupying the homestead estate of his ancestor.
Elmore Clark, now seventy-eight years of age, has been the clerk of the town since its organization, and occupies the same house built by his ancestor, Joel Clark, in 1746. Isaac P. Owen, recently deceased, was the last representative by name of that family in the town; he, too, occupied the homestead of his first ancestor in East Granby, and while living in the same house represented the towns of Windsor, Windsor Locks, and East Granby, in the legislature of the State. The families of Moore, Clark, Owen, and Forward came directly from Windsor to settle in East Granby; while those of Higley, Phelps, Holcomb, Viets, and Cornish came to the place from Lower Simsbury, where there was a settlement, mostly by Windsor people, more than forty years earlier than in the parish of Turkey Hills. In the death of Alfred Winchel, in 1879, that family name ceased to have a representative in East Granby. Dr. John Viets, the ancestor of one of the now most numerous families in the town, is said to have come to Simsbury in 1710, being physician to a mining expedition from Germany. There seems to be some reason to question the accuracy of this date, because at that time the copper mines had hardly begun to attract attention from abroad; and further, because his name does not appear upon the ancient map made about 1730. His grave is in the cemetery at Hop Meadow, in Simsbury. His son John was the first keeper at Newgate, and was probably the first of the family who lived within the limits of East Granby. The family names of Viets and Cornish do not appear upon the parish record of Turkey Hills until 1743 and 1744 respectively; those of Gay arid Thrall in 1751 and 1754. The first representative in town of the Gays, was Richard, who came from Dedham, Mass., and ever since there have been here lineal representatives of that name. The name of Bates is one prominently associated with the town since 1747, when Lemuel Bates came from Long Island, learned the saddler's trade, and built the house now occupied by his grandson, William H. Bates. The names of Hillyer and Skinner are not found upon the parish register until 1779. Colonel Andrew Hillyer, the father of Charles T. Hillyer, of Hartford, was probably settled in Turkey Hills about 1774. He was then a young man, a graduate of Yale College, Ä had served under Colonel Lyman, in the English campaign of 1760, against the French in Canada, amid was also a soldier in the expedition of Lord Albemarle against Havana. Such was the fatality by sickness in that expedition, that lie was, with one exception, the sole survivor of fourteen persons enlisted from Simsbury. He was one of the first to respond to the patriotic call to arms in the War for Independence; a lieutenant at Bunker Hill, he served throughout the war, holding successively the commissions of lieutenant, captain, and adjutant. His grave is in the old cemetery at East Granby. After the removal to Hartford of General Charles T. Hillyer in 1853, no representative of that family remained in town.
Of the many persons born in East Granby who have obtained distinction in business and professional life, perhaps no other has merited and attained to the renown of Walter Forward. He was the fourth, in order of birth, of ten children born to Samuel Forward and Susannah Holcomb. Time place of his birth (which occurred January 24, 1783) is shown upon the map of ancient Simsbury. He lived in Turkey Hills, receiving only the advantages of a common-school education, until in 1803 he removed with his father to Aurora, Ohio. Walter immediately went to Pittsburg, Penn., attended for a short time an academic school, studied law with Judge Young, and was admitted to practice at the age of twenty-four. While engaged in his law studies, in 1805, he also edited the "Tree of Liberty", a Jeffersonian paper, at Pittsburg. His success as a lawyer was immediate, and he soon ranked high in his profession. In 1822 ho was elected to Congress, where lie served three terms in succession. In 1837 he was a valuable member of the Constitutional Convention of the State. In 1841 he was appointed by President Harrison first Comptroller of the Treasury; and by John Tyler made Secretary of the same. After retiring from the secretary ship of the Treasury he resumed the practice of the law, in which lie continued until appointed by President Taylor Charge d'Affaires to Denmark, a position which lie resigned to accept that of Presiding Judge of Alleghany County. This latter he held at the time of his death, in 1852.
He was a man of most kind and generous nature, and interested himself to aid his younger brothers to education and position. His brother Chauncey, born in 1798, studied law in his office, and settled in Somerset, Penn. He was a member of both houses of time legislature of Pennsylvania, and three terms, from 1825 to 1831, a member of Congress. The daughter of Chauncey Forward became the wife of the Hon. Jeremiah Black, who also studied law in the office of Walter Forward, at Pittsburg. Two sisters, Hannah Forward Clark and Betsey Forward Fowler, lived to the advanced ages of ninety-eight and ninety-seven years respectively.
Of those born within the limits of East Granby, who have achieved great wealth and prominence in business affairs, may properly be mentioned Anson G. Phelps and George Robbins, of New York City, Allyn Robbins, of Chicago, and General Charles T. Hillyer, of Hartford.
The following persons, residents of the town, were soldiers in the War for Independence: Colonel Andrew Hillyer, Hon. Samuel Woodruffe, Isaac Owen, Lemuel Bates, Mathew Griswold, Roswell Phelps, Richard Gay, Joel Clark, Reuben Clark, Zopher Bates, John Forward, Hezekial Holcomb, John Cornish, Asahel Holcomb, Thomas Stevens, Jesse Clark, Joseph Clark, John Thrall, Luke Thrall, David Eno, Reuben Phelps, and Samuel Clark.
Soldiers in the War of 1812 were: Dan. Forward, Joseph Cornish, Appollos Gay, Orson P. Phelps, Calvin Holcomb, Alexander Hoskins, William K. Thrall, Erastus Holcomb, Gurdon Gould, Peultha Clark, Uriah Holcomb, Elihu Ancirus, John G. Manner, Alexander Clark, Abiel Clark, Chandler Owen, Sardius Thrall, Charles Buck, Elihu Phelps, Ephraim Shaylor, William Rockwell, Joseph Dyer, Jesse Clark.
The widows of Joseph Cornish and Gurdon Gould, aged respectively eighty-five and ninety-four years, are now living in town, and are pensioners of the Government.
Citizens of the town who enlisted as soldiers in the War of the Rebellion were: Colonel Richard E. Holcomb, Leeds Brown, Oliver K. Abels, Francis V. Brown, Wesley J. Fox, William W. Morgan, Lafayette F. Johnson, Henry H. Davis, Corporal Sidney H. Hayden, Robert Holmes, James Odey, Lewis S. Porter, Delos R. Pinney, Daniel W. Griffin, Homer Russel, Edward W. Pierce, Nelson W. Pierce, Newton P. Johnson, Lieutenant Edward Pinney, Sergeant Eugene C. Alderman, Corporal Henry W. Davis, Corporal Emery M. Griffin, Wagoner John 0. Holcomb, Lyman J. Barden, Luther W. Eno, Henry B. Griffin, James Boyle, Tryon Holcomb, Webster B. Latham, Alexander Patterson, Alfred A. Phelps, Lewis C. Talmadge, Charles W. Talmadge, amid James Jackson.
The town furnished more than one hundred men to the service; but the above list is believed to include all who were residents at the time of their enlistment.