Simsbury History

First Settlers of America

Simsbury is often considered to be the first western frontier over the mountain from the Connecticut River Valley.  Early settlers came from Windsor seeking land and employment in the pitch and tar manufactory, supported by the abundant pine forests which covered the area.  There were religious reasons for relocation as well.  Windsor did not honor the “halfway covenant” meaning that children of non-members were not allowed to participate in state-endorsed Congregationalism.  Many families sought a more welcoming area and settled within the Farmington River Valley.  “Massacoh,” as Simsbury was known until 1670, brought together many families whose descendants still live in the area.  Several early families and their stories are presented here; for more information or to research additional Simsbury families, please contact the Research Library and Archive.

THOMAS BARBER

Thomas Barber, an original patentee of Simsbury, was the son of Thomas Barber of Windsor who came from England with the Saltonstall party under Francis Stiles in 1635. Thomas Barber, Jr. probably learned the carpentry trade from his father. We know that he built the first meeting house, church and gristmill in Simsbury.

Barber received the commission of Lieutenant in the local militia. A famous story told about him is the incident of the drum warning. Apparently he noticed Indians surrounding the town and went onto his roof with a drum and beat out a warning that was heard by the militia company in Windsor who then marched to Simsbury’s defense.

Barber married Mary Phelps, the daughter of William Phelps, Sr. and Mary Dover Phelps, on December 17, 1663. Mary Phelps was born on March 2, 1644, in Windsor; when her husband died on May 10, 1713, she and five of their eight children shared his estate. Thomas Barber is buried in the Hopmeadow Cemetery near the site of the now lost meetinghouse.

Children of Thomas and Mary Phelps Barber
1. John (born 1 November 1, 1664; married Mary Holcomb; died 1 March 1, 1711/12)
2. Marcy also called Mary (born January 11, 1666)
3. Sarah (born July 12, 1669; married Lieutenant Andrew Robe)
4. Joanna (born 1670; married first Josiah Adkins; married second Benjamin Colt)
5. Annie (born 1671; married Jonathan Higley died November 15, 1722)
6. Thomas, Jr. (born October 7, 1672; married Abigail Buel; died 17 Jul 17, 1714)
7. Samuel (born May 17, 1673; married Sarah Holcomb; died December 18, 1725)
8. Infant (born 1677)JOHN CASE
John Case was born about 1616 in Aylesham, England, but had settled in Windsor by the 1650s.  By 1657 or 1658, Case had married Sarah Spencer, the daughter of William and Agnes Spencer of Hartford, CT.  In 1669, the family “removed” to the “Weatogue area” of Simsbury.  The General Court appointed John Case as Constable for Massacoh on October 14, 1669. He represented Simsbury at the General Court in 1670 and several times afterwards.

John and Sarah Case had ten children. Five of them were born in Windsor and five in Simsbury. Sarah died in 1691 at the age of 55 and John remarried Elizabeth Moore Loomis, widow of Nathaniel Loomis; John and Elizabeth (Moore Loomis) Case has no children.

Children of John and Sarah Case
1. Elizabeth (born 1658 in Windsor; first Joseph Lewis in 1674 he died in 1680; married second John Tuller in 1684; died 9 Oct 1718)
2. Mary (born June 22, 1660 in Windsor; married first William Alderman; married second James Hilliard; died August 22, 1725)
3. John, Jr. (born November 5, 1662 in Windsor; married first Mary Olcott on 12 September 12, 1684; married second Sarah Holcomb in 1693; died May 22, 1733 in Simsbury)
4. William (born June 5, 1665 in Windsor; married Elizabeth Holcomb; died March 31, 1700 in Simsbury)
5. Samuel (born 1667 in Windsor; married first Mary Westover; married second Elizabeth Thrall; died July 30, 1725)
6. Richard (born April/August 27, 1669 in Simsbury; married Amy Reed; died April 27, 1746 in Simsbury)
7. Bartholomew (born October 1, 1670 in Simsbury; married Mary Humphrey; died October 25, 1725 in Simsbury)
8. Joseph (born April 6, 1674 in Simsbury; married Anna Eno; died 11 August 11, 1748 in Simsbury)
9. Sarah (born April 20, 1676 in Simsbury; married Joseph Phelps, Jr.; died May 2, 1704)
10. Abigail (born May 4, 1682 in Simsbury; married Jonah Westover, Jr.)

JAMES CORNISH
James Cornish was a schoolteacher who traveled up and down the Connecticut River teaching in towns from Northampton, MA, to Norwalk, CT.  He also served as Clerk of the Courts in Northampton.  Cornish settled for a period in Westfield, MA, where he served as the first town clerk and at one time owned the area now known as Tolland and Granville, MA, supposedly purchasing the land from an Indian called “Captaine Toto” on June 10, 1686. It is believed he had a first wife but no record of her name or any issue has been found.

On one of his teaching assignments, Cornish met twice-widowed Phebe Brown Lee Larabee; they married some time before 1661 when he assumed the administration of the late Greenfield Larabee’s estate and the guardianship of his four children with Phebe.  James and Phebe (Brown Lee Larabee) Cornish had two sons of their own, Gabriel and James, before her death in 1664. James raised the combined family of six children (entries in the Diary of Joshua Hempstead, a grandson of Phebe, describe trips to Simsbury to see “Uncle James” and “Cousin James”).

By 1698, the elder James “Old Mr. Cornish” had relocated from Windsor to Simsbury with his son James and James’ family.  At his death on October 29, 1698, sons James and Gabriel Cornish inherited their father’s estate.  Gabriel Cornish died just a few years later in Westfield, MA; James Cornish flourished in Simsbury, becoming one of the first deacons appointed by the First Church and a trusted leader of the community.

Children of James and Phebe Cornish
1. James (born ca.1663; married first Elizabeth Thrall of Windsor on November 10, 1693 {their children were James, who married Amy Butler; Elizabeth born September 25, 1695; Joseph (Ensign); Benjamin born March 20, 1700/01; Sarah born April 19, 1709}; James married second Hannah Hillyer on April 15, 1715 {they children were Gabriel born May25, 1716; Jemima born November 20, 1718; Jabez born ca.1723; Mary; Phebe}; James died April 2, 1740

2. Gabriel (married Elizabeth Wolcott {their children were James born 23 October 23, 1687; Damaris born 19 February 19, 1691, who married William Tuller of Simsbury}; Gabriel died May 24, 1702

JOHN DRAKE
Various compiled records and many genealogists indicate that the patriarch of the Connecticut Drake family was the John Drake who sailed from Plymouth, England, to Massachusetts Bay on the John and Mary in 1630, however, the synthetic passenger list compiled in 1993* does not include a John Drake.  Additionally, further research uncovered another John Drake, who subsequently returned to England and has been confused with the John Drake who settled in Windsor, CT, appears in town records in1640, and dies on August 17, 1659.

According to Robert Charles Anderson in his The Great Migration Begins, the Connecticut patriarch of the family, John Drake, Jr., was born in Hampton (Warwickshire), England and received a land grant in Massacoh (Simsbury) in 1667, however there is additional confusion regarding the true recipient of the grant.  Incomplete and often confusing birth and land records, coupled with generations of “John Drakes, mean that the origin of this Simsbury family remains a mystery, but one ready for further research and clarification.  Regardless of his origin, we do know that the local family is descended from the John Drake who married Hannah Moore on November 30, 1648, in Windsor, CT.

* A synthetic list is developed from contemporary records when an historic list has not survived.  The synthetic John and Mary passenger list of 1630 was compiled by Robert Charles Anderson and published in his article appearing in the New England Historic Genealogical Society Journal, Volume 147 (April 1993).

Children of John and Hannah Drake
1. John (born September 14, 1649; married Mary Watson or Weston)
2. Job (born June 15, 1651; married Elizabeth Alvord)
3. Hannah (born August 8, 1653; married John Higley)
4. Enoch (born December 8, 1655; married Sarah Porter)
5. Ruth (born December 1, 1657; married Samuel Barber)
6. Simon (born August 28, 1659; married Hannah Mills)
7. Lydia (born January 26, 1661; married Joseph Loomis)
8. Elizabeth (born July 22, 1664; married Nicholas Buckland)
9. Mary (born January 29, 1666; married Thomas Marshall)
10. Mindwell (born November 10, 1671; married James Loomis)
11. Joseph (born 26 June 26, 1674; married first Ann Foster; married second Sarah Fitch Stoughton

JOHN HIGLEY
John Higley, son of Jonathan and Katherine (Brewster) Higley, was born on July 22, 1649 in Frimley (Surrey), England, and worked as a glove maker’s apprentice. He left England in 1665 and settled in Windsor where he was indentured to John Drake, a prosperous merchant and later father-in-law to Higley.

John Higley became successful in own right importing rum from the West Indies and manufacturing tar, pitch and turpentine. In 1684, he bought the Wolcott Homestead located north of present day Tariffville where he settled his family. Higley soon added huge adjoining tracts of land (the area was called “Higley Town” for more than 150 years in recollection of his purchases and the number of Higley descendents still in the area) and by 1705 was the richest landowner in Simsbury with holdings of approximately 500 acres. Higley held many town offices, was the first captain of Simsbury’s militia, the “Traine Band,” and active in the start up of the Turkey Hill copper mines in present day East Granby.

John married Hannnah Drake (August 8, 1653 – August 4, 1694), daughter John and Hannah (Moore) Drake on November 9, 1671. After her death, Higley married the widow Sarah Strong Bissell (March 14, 1665 – May 27, 1739), the daughter of Return and Sarah Strong of Windsor. Sarah Strong had married Joseph Bissell on July 7, 1687, in Windsor; their children were Joseph (born March 21, 1688) and Benoni (born December 7, 1689).

John Higley died on August 25, 1714, in Simsbury and is buried in Hopmeadow Cemetery; he left land and books to each of his surviving children.

Children of John and Hannah Higley
1. John (born August 10, 1673; no known marriage; died December 1, 1741)
2. Jonathan (born February 16, 1675; married Ann Barber; died May 1716)
3. Hannah (born March 13, 1678; died 1678)
4. Elizabeth (born March 13, 1677; married Nathaniel Bancroft; died 7 December 7, 1743)
5. Katherine also called Ketren (born August 7, 1679; married m. James Noble)
6. Brewster (born 1680; married Hester Holcomb; died December 17, 1775)
7. Hannah (b. 22 April 22, 1683; married Joseph Trumbull; died 7 November 7, 1768)
8. Joseph (born ca.1685; no known marriage; died May 3, 1715)
9. Samuel (born ca.1687; married Abigail (?); died 1737
10. Mindwell (born ca.1689; married first Jonathan Hutchinson; married second James Teasdale; married third Nathaniel Fitch)

Children of John and Sarah Higley
1. Sarah (born 1697; married Jonathan Loomis)
2. Nathaniel (born November 12, 1699; married Abigail Filer or Fyler; died Sept 1773)
3. Joshua (twin, born September 8, 1701; died April 2, 1702)
4. Josiah (twin, born September 8 1701; married Dinah Gillett; died May 31, 1751)
5. Abigail (born November 4, 1703; married Peter Thorpe; died July 1742)
6. Susannah (born 1705; married Elisha Blackman)
7. Isaac (born July 20, 1707; married first Sarah Porter; married second Sarah Loomis)

JOSHUA HOLCOMB
Joshua Holcomb was the eldest son of Thomas Holcomb, who immigrated to Windsor and died there in 1657/8. Joshua was born in April 1640. By 1667, he was living at Massacoh (Simsbury); on April 23, 1687, he received a Simsbury land grant from King Charles II for property east of the Farmington River near present day Terry’s Plain. Joshua Holcomb married Ruth Sherwood, possibly the daughter of Thomas Sherwood of Fairfield, CT, with whom he had ten children. Holcomb was known to be “one of the sound, substantial men of his time;” he was active in both civic and religious affairs until his death on September 1, 1690, in Simsbury.

 Children of Joshua and Ruth Sherwood
1. Ruth (born May 26, 1664; married John Porter)
2. Thomas (born 30 March 30; married first Elizabeth Terry; married second Rebecca Pettibone in 1666; died 1731)
3. Sarah (born June 23, 1668; married first Isaac Owens; married second John Case; died 1763)
4. Elizabeth (born 1670; married first William Case; married second John Slater; married third Samuel Marshall; died 1762)
5. Joshua II (born 1672; married first Hannah Carrington; married second Mary Hoskins; died 1727)
6. Deborah (born 1675; married Daniel Porter possibly Carter)
7. Mary (born 1676; married first John Barber; married second Ephraim Buell; died 1745)
8. Mindwell (born 1678; married Theophilus Cook)
9. Hannah (born 1680; married Samuel Buel; died 1740)
10. Moses (born 1686; died 1699)

SAMUEL WILCOX(SON)
Samuel was the fourth son of William and Margaret Wilcoxson who had sailed from England on the Planter in 1635 with their eldest son John, born 1633.  William and Margaret Wilcoxson settled in Stratford, CT, where Samuel was born about 1640.

Samuel Wilcox(son) was the sixth named patentee of Simsbury. He was a sergeant in the Simsbury militia, the “Traine Band,” serving with the militia periodically from May 1689 through May 1712. A distinguished citizen of Simsbury, he lived at Meadow Plain, and acted as town attorney in many land transfers. Samuel Wilcox(son) died in Simsbury on March 12, 13. His branch of the family dropped the final “son” of their name to become the Wilcox family.

Children of Samuel and Hannah Rice Wilcox
1. Samuel, Jr. (born April 15, 1666, in Windsor;  married Thankfull Mindwell Griffen {their children were Hannah born November 1, 1692; Samuel born April 20, 1695; John born April 10, 1698; Joseph born July 3, 1701; Mindwell born 1704; Ephraim born 4 Feb 1707}; Samuel, Jr. died September 17, 1713)
2. William (married Elizabeth Wilson January 18, 1699/1700 in Simsbury {their children were  Elizabeth born October 11, 1700; William born April 22, 1702; Martha born October 30, 1704; Azariah born July 27 1706; Amos born February 20, 1708/9; Mary born ca. 1713; Daniel born 17 January 17, 1717}; William died March 22, 1733 in Simsbury
3. Joseph (married Abigail Thrall April 29, 1703 in Simsbury {their children were Abigail born unknown and died 30 January 30, 1713; Joseph born 9 February 9,1705/6; unknown daughter born August 10, 1709; Sarah born April 2, 1712; Hezekiah born June 25, 1713; Abigail born December 15, 1715; twins Nathaniel and Marcy born 5 September 5, 1719}
4. Margaret (dies possibly in childbirth of son Benoni, born  December 7, 1714/15)

MAJOR JOHN TALCOTT and CAPTAIN BENJAMIN NEWBERRY
Although they did not reside in the town of Simsbury, no history of the early settlers would be complete without the mention of these two men. Both were original Simsbury patentees; Major Talcott obtained the deed from regional Native Americans and Captain Newberry laid out the lots.

John Talcott was born in Braintree, MA, and came to Hartford, Connecticut with his father around 1636. He married Helena Wakeman of New Haven on October 29, 1650.  Talcott served as a townsman and deputy, and succeeded his father as treasurer, a post he held until 1676, in Hartford.  He was also put in command of the troops raised for King Philip’s War and made a name for himself as a successful fighter.

The early inhabitants of Simsbury frequently called upon Talcott to intervene on their behalf with the Native Americans regarding land claims. Talcott also help sort out problems regarding the placement of the meetinghouse, the calling of ministers and land distribution.  In later negotiations, Talcott nearly doubled the original land grant area and received 300 acres for himself in present day Canton.   Talcott died on July 23, 1688.

Captain Benjamin Newberry was born before 1630, the son of Thomas Newberry of Dorchester, MA.  He settled in Windsor after the death of his father and married Mary Allyn on June 11, 1646; they had nine children. Newberry was an original Simsbury patentee; the land he owned became known as Newberry’s Plain and later as Westover’s Plain and Hoskins Station. In 1663, Newberry was appointed by the General Court of Connecticut to lay out the remaining Simsbury lots, giving preference to residents of Windsor who wished to relocate to Massacoh (Simsbury).

After the burning of Simsbury on March 26, 1676 (King Philip’s War), Newberry helped decide where to rebuild houses based upon personal safety; returning settlers were also required to rebuild their home within six months of the committee’s determination or pay a fine of forty shillings per year.  Interestingly, Captain Newberry was summoned to court in 1681 to explain why he had not yet built a “mansion house.”  Eventually, Newberry sold his land in Simsbury and lived in Windsor until his death on September 11, 1689.

Simsbury: A Post Town

Simsbury, a post town, is situated twelve miles northwest from Hartford. Simsbury was settled in 1670; the first settlers being from Windsor, of which it then formed a part. About six years after the settlement, the inhabitants, consisting of about forty families, were so alarmed at the hostility of the Indians, that they buried their effects, and returned to Windsor. The settlement being abandoned, the Indians burned the houses which had been erected and destroyed almost every vestige of improvement, which distinguished the infant settlement from the wilderness which surrounded it: so that, when the settlers returned, they could not find the spot where they had deposited their goods. This was in the spring of 1676, at which time Simsbury was a frontier settlement, although but about ten miles from Connecticut River. It was incorporated as a town at an early period, and has since been divided twice, by the incorporation of the towns of Granby and Canton; both of which belonged principally to the original town of Simsbury.

This township, at present, has an area of about 37 square miles, being seven miles in length, and about five and a half miles in breadth upon an average estimation; and is bounded north on Granby, east on Windsor, south on Farmington, and west on Canton. It is strikingly diversified, being intersected by the Farmington or Tunxis River, and embracing the range of the grindstone mountain, which here is elevated and lofty. This mountain generally has a gradual declivity upon the east, whence it is usually covered with timber. Upon its eastern, you discover clay slate, but it is generally covered with trap or grindstone. Upon the west, it presents a bold and elevated mural precipice, wholly covered with green stone. The rock is exhibited in broken & disordered fragments, and towards the summit is entirely naked; having no covering of earth, and not sustaining the growth of the smallest shrubs.

The Tunxis River, on approaching this mountain, ranges along upon the west of it, until it finds a chasm where it forces its passage through, forming the boundary between this town and Granby; but the mountain does not subside, but immediately rises in Granby, and soon attains its usual elevation, and presents its usual features.

Upon the Tunxis River within this town, there are tracts of meadow or alluvial of considerable extent and very fertile. West from the river, the elevated lands are a light sandy plain, but considerably well adapted to the culture of rye.

East of the declivity of the mountain, the soil is generally a gravely loam, but there are some sections of argillaceous loam; and although hilly, and somewhat stony, it is fertile, and very favourable for orcharding. This section of the town is perhaps best adapted to grass; it affords also goods crops of Indian corn, and the declivities of the mountain good pasturage.

Formerly salmon and shad were taken plentifully in the Tunxis River; but for some years past, the former have disappeared altogether, and the latter are only taken in small quantities, which renders the business of fishing no object to the inhabitants.

The principal manufactures of the town are principally domestic, which receive great attention; the inhabitants being industrious and economical. In addition to which there are one small Cotton Factory, three Tin ware Factories, three wire Factories, two grain distilleries, three gristmills, four Saw Mills, two Carding Machines and two Tanneries. There are four Mercantile Stores.

The town contains one located Congregational Society, and an Episcopal Society, each of which is accommodated with a house for public worship. It also contains 10 Schools districts, in each of which a school is maintained for the greater part of the year.

In 1810, the population of the town amounted to 1966; and there are now 250 Electors, two Companies of militia, and 290 dwelling houses. The taxable property, including polls, amounts to $34,009.

There are in Simsbury 1 Physician, 1 Clergyman & 1 Lawyer.

A Gazetteer of the States of Connecticut and Rhode-Island
John C. Pease and John M. Niles
Hartford, 1819

Martin Luthur King: His Time in Simsbury, Connecticut

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia January 15, 1929. He took a test at the end of his junior year in high school to gain early admission to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. It was this summer, 1944, at the age of 15 he came north with a group of Morehouse students to work for the Cullman Brothers in their Simsbury area shade tobacco fields. (He returned to Simsbury to work for Cullman Bros. again in 1947 between his junior and senior years at Morehouse.)

Simsbury in 1944 was a rural community dependent on agriculture (dairy, corn and shade tobacco). The other industry in town was Ensign-Bickford that had been making safety fuse since 1836. Trains carried residents to Hartford and a horse and buggy was not uncommon among farm families. World War II service had taken much of the young male workforce.

The importation of labor from the South for seasonal agricultural work had a long history in Connecticut. The partnership between Morehouse College and the Cullman Bros. had benefits for each. Cullman was assured of a workforce that was motivated – their salaries went towards tuition at Morehouse and their board – and the chance to travel to a non-segregated area of the United States was attractive to college students – their train fare was paid if they stayed until the harvest was complete. Morehouse students had an opportunity to travel and interact with a community that allowed more personal freedom than most had ever encountered before.

The students lived in the Morehouse boarding house or camp on Firetown Road near Barndoor Hills. The actual structure has burned down and a housing development is now on the site. Here 100 or more black students spent the summer with teachers from their school. They rose at 6AM and worked in the fields Monday to Friday from 7AM to 5 PM or later with few breaks then return home for dinner that was served in a communal dining room. Dr. King and several other students recounted that extra food could be obtained by helping in the kitchen. The work was hot and exhausting as they worked under the gauze tents which held in the humidity and kept out any cooling breezes. After dinner there was time for baseball or basketball but most fell into their beds to get as much sleep as possible before starting over the next day. Lights were out at 10 PM.

Within this group in 1944 was a young man who was expected by his family to continue the family tradition of Baptist ministry. That summer in Simsbury he reverted to the name Michael King. (This was his birth name and he shared it with his father who changed both of their names to “Martin” several years before he came to Simsbury.) He had worked hard to convince his parents that he was old enough to go on such a journey. His friend Emmett Proctor (“Weasel”) also came north with him. His mother was still not convinced when she put him on the train for Hartford.

The journey was an eye opener for Dr. King. From Atlanta to Washington, D.C. the railroad cars were segregated and blacks were seated in the dining cars behind a curtain. From Washington north he could sit wherever he wished. In his autobiography he writes: “After that summer in Connecticut, it was a bitter feeling going back to segregation. It was hard to understand why I could ride wherever I pleased on the train from New York to Washington and then had to change to a Jim Crow [racially restricted] car at the nation’s capital in order to continue the trip to Atlanta.”

Despite the hot, dusty and exhausting work, summer in Simsbury was often described by the students as “the promised land.” On Friday evenings they might venture into town (although most students agree it was never past the Methodist Church and commercial block where Vincent’s sporting goods is today.) They could attend the movies at the Eno Memorial Hall or stop at Doyle’s Drug Store for their first opportunity to have a milk shake. (In the south they would not have been served at the white owned businesses.) Saturdays were usually spent in Hartford where they could shop, attend live musical shows and eat in any restaurant they chose. “Yesterday we didn’s work so we went to Hardford we really had a nice time there. I never thought that a person of my race could eat anywhere but we …ate in one of the finest resturant in Hardford. And we went to the largest shows there. It is really a large city,” Dr. King wrote to his mother on June 18 1944.

Sundays were first and foremost a religious day. Most of the students attended black churches in Hartford if they could. They found the Simsbury church services too plain and quiet. Those who did attend Simsbury churches are remembered as being very nice young men and always dressed in jackets and ties. Most frequently religious services were conducted in their dormitory because they were working a portion of Sunday. “We have service every Sunday about 8:00 and I am the religious leader we have a Boys choir here and we are going to sing on the air soon,” he wrote to his father on June 11 1944. Dr. King’s father wanted him to attend Hartford churches where he might be exposed to other black preachers. According to the Rev. King T. Hayes, pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Hartford who was in the Morehouse program in 1946 and 1947 it was not uncommon for the young men to walk both ways to Hartford saving money on train fare. “We went to church in Simsbury and we were the only negro’s there Negroes and whites go to the same church,” King wrote his mother on June 11, 1944.

Dr. King left Simsbury on September 12, 1944 after the Hurricane of Sept. 8th to return to Atlanta. It had been a summer of freedom from his family as well as the racial constraints of the segregated south. While his presence as a fifteen year old tobacco worker went largely unnoticed by the residents of Simsbury and even most of those students who lived with him, the impact of a non-segregated Simsbury and Hartford made a lasting impression on the young man. The return was difficult for him and has been described by him as pivotal in laying the groundwork for his later civil rights work. “The first time I was seated behind a curtain in a dining car, I felt as if the curtain had been dropped on my selfhood. I could never adjust to the separate waiting rooms, separate eating places, separate rest rooms, partly because the separate was always unequal, and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self respect,” Dr. King writes in his autobiography.

The following two summers found Dr. King working as a Pullman porter and in a factory against his father’s wishes. In 1947 he returns with the Morehouse program and again works tobacco. A more mature student he is struggling with his call to the ministry. His friend, Emmett Proctor tells the story of Dr. King calling home from Simsbury to tell his mother that they have had a minor run-in with the police over a prank and cushioning the news by first announcing that he has decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. After his graduation in 1948 from Morehouse College, Dr. King attended Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He received a doctorate from Boston University in 1955. While it is documented that he returned to Hartford during his time as a civil rights leader, it is not known if he ever visited Simsbury again.

Early District Schools in Simsbury

It is interesting to explore the educational opportunities available to early colonists’ children in Simsbury. After constructing their meetinghouse, the next order of business for the settlers was educating their children. Schooling was a priority in Connecticut and New England but not for the same reasons as it is today. Learning was centered on religion and the ability to read the Bible. The writing and mathematical skills to keep merchant accounts were also important to students and their families.

Connecticut towns were charged with providing a common school if there were twenty-five families or more plus a grammar school if over 50 families. The term ‘common’ referred to the shared Congregational Society religious beliefs taught in these schools that were the free, publicly supported schools of the 19th century. A ‘grammar’ school would correspond to today’s secondary or high schools. All pupils were charged tuition. For those too poor to pay it the choices were either no school or getting the town to pay the tuition.

In the 18th century towns in Connecticut that had grown to include several parishes were required to have a school in each. These parishes later became the districts school in towns and cities. By 1798, the legislature removed the control of schools from the Congregational Societies and placed them in the hands of secular school committees each of which governed a particular school. These committees were responsible for hiring school teachers, building, repairing and maintaining a school building, setting tuition, arranging for books and supplies as well as heat and sanitation needs.

The school districts in Simsbury expanded and shrank along with the population. Students were both male and female and the teachers included women as early as 1797 when Hannah Wilcox was hired “to keep a school in Hopmeadow district so long as we can furnish scholars sufficient to support the same” at the sum of four shillings per week.

The original Hopmeadow District School was located near the Center Cemetery. In 1799 a new school was built by joiners Elias Vining and his son, Elias Vining Jr. The agreement made by them with the school committee provides an intriguing look into its construction. It had clapboard siding, a shingle roof, a balcony, sixteen windows (twelve of which contained twelve over twelve glass panes each six by eight inches), four windows with twenty squares of glass, and a large front door. The interior had molding, fireplaces, encased timbers, a double floor on the first floor and “a single floor in the Chamber and half door.”

School operations consisted of both winter and summer sessions. The winter session ran from December 1st to April 1. The summer sessions ran for six months from March 1st to October 1st. Because of agricultural demands on men’s time during the growing season, male teachers were often hired for the winter term with women taking the summer session.

There have been as many as twelve or thirteen school districts in Simsbury reflecting the population settlement within the town. Hopmeadow District was disbanded in 1838 and reformed into a new Hopmeadow District and Center District as the residents increased. Among the other district names were the Northwest, East Weatogue, West Weatogue, New District, Union District, Tariffville, Farms, Bushy Hill, Terrys Plain, Westover Plain, Middle, Case’s Farms, and West Simsbury. In the 1830s when there were eleven districts a total 640 students attended, the most in Tariffville at 276, followed by West Weatogue at 63 and the fewest in Terrys Plain at 17.

Each district had its own school committee. The Terrys Plain committee at a meeting on November 18, 1811 agreed that each student provide one-third cord of wood and “voted that those who do not get their wood by the time [December 2nd] shall be debarred the privileges of the school after that time until they do comply.” A total of 32 students were expected that year.
Just like today teachers were licensed and in the archives of the Simsbury Historical Society are examples of those licenses from the 1800s. One licensed the future wife of Jeffrey O. Phelps, “We approve of Miss Pollina Salome Barnard as an instructress of Schools, and hereby license her to teach a school in the School Society of Simsbury the current year. Simsbury 16th May 1815 [signed] Benjamin Ely, John Owens Pettibone, Visitors of Schools.

”Visitors of schools or school inspectors made trips to the various districts to report on their condition and the quality of the education received by the pupils. Edgar Case served as an inspector in 1886-7 of the West Weatogue and the Simsbury Center District Schools. His remarks make interesting reading, “Nov., 10, 1886 13 Scholars. Very quiet. Not many unnecessary questions. Scholars seem to demand much respect for their teacher. The desire to excel seems quite prevalent. School appears to be quite successful.” His remarks on the Center school are quite different, “This school is one in which I feel very much interest it being the school that the present vacancy be filled by Miss Butterfield. Was very sorry to see the condition in which the school was in. The scholars had lost all respect for their teacher. The consequence was not very pleasing to me who chanced to spend a few minutes in visiting it.”

Most of the district schools, except those with a large enrollment like Tariffville or West Weatogue, were what are now remembered as one-room schools and were used until the 1930s when the state legislature required consolidation. Many of these smaller Simsbury district schools survive today housing businesses or private residences.

Simsbury Goes to the Movies

Those who lived in Simsbury some scant ten years ago can remember when going to the movies meant a long drive out of town to Hartford, East Hartford, Enfield or even West Springfield, Massachusetts. Then multiplex theaters came to East Windsor and Bloomfield. Parents of newly licensed teenagers relaxed as trips to the movies with friends no longer involved the interstate highway system. Now the local cinema is just down at the corner of Bushy Hill Road and Route 44 it is hard to remember the “suffering” to go to the movies.

As an offshoot from the Society’s oral history project Voices of Simsbury, two remarkable men returned to Simsbury to tell their stories. Lifelong friends, Ray Joyce and Don Andrus spent several hours on a sultry summer day talking about their childhoods and telling their story of Simsbury with humor and emotion. Mr. Andrus’ father was a local barber whose shop was located on Hopmeadow Street just south of today’s Vincent Sporting Goods. There, the men of Simsbury came for a haircut and a shave using their owned gold lettered shaving mugs. But it was Mr. Joyce’s father’s occupation that seemed so unusual. He brought the movies to Simsbury. He was a projectionist.

Less a year after an influenza epidemic had turned the Casino, a community hall and dance pavilion, into a hospital, Mr. Raymond Joyce of Unionville contracted with the town to show movies there. His first photoplay in May 1919 was the silent film, “Tess of the Storm Country,” starring Mary Pickford. Until 1931 when the Casino was demolished to build Eno Memorial Hall only “silents” were shown with a musical accompanist.

During this time, Mr. Joyce also showed movies in Tariffville and Avon. His family came to live on Seminary Street and there his son met his life long friend, Don Andrus. The price for the movies until the 1940’s was, according to the junior Ray Joyce, 35 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. Starting in 1926 Mr. Joyce brought the movies to Westminster School and charged $25.00 to $35.00 per show. What that averaged out to per student is unknown. An additional source of income for him was the advertising slides that flashed local advertisements on the screen. They cost 25 cents per flash per night.

While Eno Memorial Hall was under construction, Mr. Joyce showed his films at the Simsbury High School now the Belden Town Offices. By this time talkies were the rage and also a headache for the projectionist. Sound was not a track imbedded in the film but came as a disk which was played like a record and led to sometimes amusing consequences when the vibration of a passing train (and yes Simsbury had quite a few) caused the needle to skip and men utter soprano speeches while delicate women spoke in gruff baritones.

More exciting than the unsynchronized sound was the flammable and explosive quality of the silver nitrate film. (Storage today of this highly dangerous film is in special freezers.) Using a portable booth made of asbestos to keep any fire or explosion contained, he would project the film onto a screen several nights each week.

The opening of the Eno Memorial Hall on Decoration Day (as Memorial Day used to be called) was cause for celebration by the residents of Simsbury. Built using a gift from Antoinette Eno Wood, this neo-classical building was dedicated by her family and friends. The highlight of the day may have been the Will Rogers picture shown using the latest sound technology by Western Electric from the fireproof projection booth.

The building was dedicated in the midst of the Depression. Not many had the luxury of spending 35 cents on the movies and this was a grim time for most. Mr. Joyce recalled his father saying that all he had to do was show a Shirley Temple film to fill the auditorium. Many days a crowd of young boys gathered to help Mr. Joyce bring in the big billboard that stood out on Hopmeadow Street. Legend has it that Mr. Joyce would let any boy who helped carry in the sign come see the show for free. It often took as many as eleven boys to move that sign. To lure adults to the movies there were often giveaways of dishes and glasses.

To advertise the coming movies to Simsbury, Mr. Joyce would send out programs for a month’s worth of films. It was his son’s job to cut and fold the programs so they could be mailed and often Don Andrus helped. Musicals and westerns lured residents to the Eno on weekends for 7:30 PM shows and 2:30 PM matinees.

Getting the films required meeting the train or driving to Hartford to pick them up. Mr. Joyce remembers the custodians of the Eno, Pearl Rust and Frank Soule who collected tickets on movie nights. Joe Gagnon, stationmaster for Simsbury, received the films. And of course the police helped keep order including Chief Austin and Ed Fellows.

Movies at the Eno finally died out after the 1950s when Mr. Joyce sold his business. Hometown entertainment soon consisted of television. For those fortunate enough to grow up with movies each week at the Eno, the pictures were an escape from the daily grind and a chance to socialize with their fellow townspeople over a new feature each week.

The Suffragettes and Rabbi Stephen Wise

Abigail Adams encouraged her husband to “remember the ladies” (and their rights) as he worked on the Declaration of Independence in 1776 but the Cult of Domesticity in the first half of the 19th century gave rise to stereotypical ideas of women’s roles as the nurturers of men but also needing their protection when it came to personal property, education and politics. The right to vote remained the exclusive privilege of the white male in America. The women’s rights movements in the 1800s made universal suffrage and women’s enfranchisement their main goal. Other issues embraced by the movement were, anti-slavery, temperance, birth control and property ownership for women. These later issues often drew opposition from varied segments of society including other women. Their peers often saw the female proponents of these causes as less than ladylike.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 to work for universal suffrage. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 identified citizens and voters as “male”. Disagreements over the amendment within the Women’s Movement led to the founding of two organizations one in New York and one in Boston to work for universal suffrage. By 1870, black men had received the vote under the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The last quarter of the 19th century saw peaceful action take a more radical turn as women attempted to obtain ballots and vote by any means possible including marches, protests and hunger strikes.

It was impossible for Simsbury to be untouched by such an important national issue and it had supporters for and against universal suffrage. One of the strongest of the Simsbury proponents of women’s rights was Antoinette Eno Wood, daughter of Amos Richards Eno, the Simsbury farm boy who made his fortune in the mercantile and real estate markets of New York City. It does not appear that the men of the Eno family shared her sentiments as evidenced by a letter written to her in Simsbury by her brother, Amos Frederick Eno, on October 20, 1915 from his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City prior to a large suffragette parade on that street.

“My dear Sister: On Saturday I will go out of town and do not understand how a Russian lady can care to see the Suffragette. However there are defferent (sic) kinds of people some good and some misled. Let your friend come to the house, Mrs. Desperins [his housekeeper] will take care of her – and at the time will see that there are no suffragette symbols hung out from the house I do not want to have the house have a bad name. Hope the weather will be so good that I can make you a short visit. With much love –Your affectionate Brother, Amos F. Eno.”

In the archives of the Simsbury Historical Society rests the records of the Simsbury Equal Suffrage League. In them are recorded the founding and minutes of the League. Begun on November 29, 1915 at 3:30 PM at the home of Mrs. Wood, the organization had three speakers at its first meeting including Mrs. Thomas Hepburn, President of the Connecticut Woman’s’ Suffrage League. (The wife of Dr. Thomas Hepburn of Hartford Hospital and mother of four at the time including actress Katherine Hepburn.) She “urged the necessity of energy & persistence & gave many interesting & helpful hints as to how to meet and cope with the different types of people. She spoke also of the vicious interests in opposition to Equal Suffrage.”

A constitution comprised of six articles including “The object of this association shall be to secure the enfranchisement of the women of Connecticut.” It also gave two levels of dues: one dollar for any man or woman who believed in woman suffrage and fifty cents for “study members”. Among the officers elected that day were: President, Mrs. Josiah Bridge; Vice-President, Mrs. Jonathan E. Eno; Treasurer, Miss Mary H. Humphrey; Secretary, Miss Julia E. Pattison. They elected nine women and three men as directors. Mrs. Wood was elected Honorary President “as an appreciation of the fact that we have one of the strongest equal suffrage leaders with us.” Forty-two Simsbury residents including two doctors and the Congregational minister signed on as members that day. The meetings were often held at Mrs. Wood’s “cottage” at the corner of Hopmeadow Street and Library Lane, a building that she often allowed community groups to use for meetings.

The next two months were spent preparing for their first “mass meeting” to be held on January 31, 1916 at The Casino (a community building torn down to build the Eno Memorial Hall) with “Miss Helen Todd of California” to speak. Described by fellow suffragettes as “a striking-looking artist” she spoke in the room decorated with the banners of the Equal Suffrage states. One hundred and fifty people attended and nine “signed at once for membership.” Six young women from the high school served as ushers. Her talk attempted to rebut the arguments against women’s suffrage showing that women took very little time away from their household chores when they voted and that the “effect of voting upon a woman is no more coarsening than upon a man.”

Other business discussed in the minutes were the delegates to the Connecticut State Convention November 16-17, 1916. Ten members were sent including Mrs. Wood, Mary Morgan, Rev. Croft, Mrs. Farren Fenton, Mrs. Josiah Bridges, Mrs. Jesse Farren, Elma Farren, Mr. and Mrs. C. B. Rowe, Isabel St. John and Julia Pattison. Alternates included Mr. and Mrs. R. P. Barry, Mrs. Willis Chidsey and Mary Winslow.

World War I encouraged suffragettes. Women saw their vote as being crucial to keeping the United States out of future wars. Asked to part with their husbands and sons they felt more strongly that they should have a right to elect those candidates who would prevent future occurrences. The Simsbury League began to help out the Red Cross and other organizations with the war effort and decided to call on a powerful national speaker to their public meeting in May 1917 at the Casino. It not know what the expenses were to bring him to Simsbury since Mrs. Wood covered them herself or even where he would stay that night but Rabbi Stephen Wise was coming to Simsbury.

Stephen S. Wise was born in Hungary in 1874 and immigrated to New York as a child. He attended the Jewish Theological Seminary and became a reform rabbi. He worked in 1914 with Louis Brandeis in the American Zionist movement and towards the creation of a Jewish homeland. As Hitler rose to power he attempted to turn public opinion against the Nazis. He was active in establishing the World Jewish Congress in the 1920s. As the Zionist Movement became more militant after World War II he moved away from it and died in 1949. His gifts as a speaker were legendary and for many years he had a Sunday radio program broadcast from Carnegie Hall where he spoke on issues of national and world importance.

On May 7, 1917 he came to Simsbury and delivered an address on “The World War for the Liberation of Humanity” to a standing room only crowd. So many people turned out to hear him that his lecture was delayed as chairs were sent for to accommodate the standing crowd at the rear of the hall. “It was the most successful mass meeting held in Simsbury”, wrote Julia E. Pattison, League Secretary. No other records have been found of his stay in town.
There is a story attributed to Rabbi Wise that upon meeting a rather aloof New England gentleman with ancestors that he wore on his sleeve the man announced that his antecedent had signed the Declaration of Independence. Rabbi Wise paused and replied that his ancestors had signed the Ten Commandments.

The records of the League end on December 10, 1919. The issue of women’s suffrage was winding down and the Nineteenth Amendment extending the vote to women would be ratified August 26, 1920. The national suffragette organization forms the base for the League of Women Voters, an organization that continues today.

Talcott Mountain Boys

Musical bands have played a role in the history in Simsbury since the town militia’s fife and drummers lead volunteers out of town to answer the Lexington Alarm at the onset of the Revolutionary War. The stirring sound of the drum and fife still recalls those marching off to fight for independence from New England towns. At various times formal and informal groups of musicians joined together and played in parades, at agricultural fairs and town-wide celebrations. They were called upon to welcome home the heroes who served in war and to bid good-bye to those who perished in those wars. Little exists to chronicle the efforts of these early groups except the occasional photograph. Deposited within the Simsbury Historical Society’s manuscript collections is the minute book and miscellaneous papers of a short-lived musical attempt that speaks to the social nature of such efforts. On November 24, 1908 four young men met in Simsbury in for the purpose of “organizing a drum corp.” Jeffrey O. Phelps IV was elected chairman while Charles E. Curtiss 2nd acted as secretary and treasurer. Joining them were Joseph B. Shea and J. William Shea. By the second meeting in December it was decided that Phelps, who had previous experience as a drummer at school should contact his drum instructor and determine what would be needed for a drum corps. Writing by-laws was assigned to a committee and “The Talcott Mountain Boys” were born.

The initial response from the instructor suggested “4 fifes, 6 snare Drummers, 1 Bass Drummer and one cymbalist.” And that he could supply the necessary drums for $15.00 each that appeared to be too expensive for the group since “Mr. Phelps will write again to ascertain what a cheaper drum will cost and to find out if we place an order now if he will send the sticks now and let the drums follow.” This third meeting on December 8, 1908 took care of accepting the by-laws, electing officers and assigning other members to look into securing the other instruments. John C. Eno, James B. Johnstone, John Helm, Ed Kelly, Durham Floyd, Amos Shaw, A. B. Selby, Arthur Andrus, Ed Holcomb, George Hart and William Kane are listed in December minutes as prospective members of the fledgling drum corps. Membership age is set at eighteen.

By January 1909 the group begins to take a gastronomic turn and meets in East Weatogue at a cabin owned by Jeffrey Phelps’ uncle, James Crofut, to enjoy pickles, ham, oysters, crackers, olives, cheese, coffee as well as macaroni and cheese supplied by Jim Johnstone while initiating new members and creating their own password and “grip.” The neatly typed notice for this meeting included this post script, ” The initiation will start at 7:30 P. M. Be sure and be there before this time. A spread will be served after the initiation. If you miss this meeting you will miss one of the best times of you (sic) life.”

In April of 1909 Howard Stickles and Ralph Lattimer were elected members. A larger “spread” was planned for the May meeting featuring three dozen sausage rolls supplied by Wilcox & Co. A clambake was planned for August at the cost of $1.50 per member. Within the aging minute book are the receipts of the event. L. D Barbieri supplied a case of soda; from C. P Case they purchased one and one-half bushels of calms, 25 small lobsters, 10 pounds of blue fish and chicken, sweet potatoes, onions, corn, bread, butter, salt, vinegar, a box of cigars and the miscellaneous equipment. From A. E. Lathrop’s Pharmacy came the paper goods.

The clambake was followed by a suggestion to have a “banquet” at a hotel. Other business covered the rejection of a prospective member due to his well-known “degradation.” There was some concern that the business of the Talcott Mountain Boys was being discussed with non-members. Clarence J. Marks and Henry R Case were invited to join and a committee formed to prepare a banquet. In November 1909 the club purchased a pool table. More “spreads”, “banquets” and clambakes follow.

The minutes indicate that the organization continued through December 1910 with no mention of any musical activities taking place and the by-laws amended to exclude as a member qualification, “He must be musically inclined.” Additional members included E. Cooley, Oliver D. Tuller, W. Griffen, Ernest Farren, Lewis Smith, Carl Gauss and Evert Sime.

Whether the drum corps was ever launched or performed is unclear from the recorded minutes. Those of the last meeting recorded in December 1910 do not refer to anything relating to music but rather end as follows: “Motion made and seconded that the Club buy a Pigeon Trap. Motion made and seconded that the Club get the required rules for a gun club the coming season. Meeting adjourned for lunch.”

A Company Town

Most historians point to the surreptitious introduction by Richard Slater of the English loom technology in the early 1800s as the spark that ignites the Industrial Revolution in New England. The United States, first as a colony, then as a possible competitor of Great Britain is unable to share her burgeoning technology. Slater’s model that spreads rapidly from Rhode Island to neighboring states propelled the establishment of fabric and carpet mills. Simsbury of the 1800s moved eagerly to embrace manufacturing and the economic benefits it brought to this rural area.

The former “one small Cotton Factory, three Tin ware Factories, three Wire Factories, two Grain Distilleries, three Gristmills, four Saw Mills, two Carding Machines and two Tanneries” of Simsbury listed in a 1819 Gazetteer are quickly outpaced by construction of new fabric and carpet mills in the Tariffville area. Skilled weavers from England and Scotland immigrate to the region placing increased burdens on housing and schools.

Yet, it is another English technical achievement that has over the past 170 years provided work and community benefits to the town of Simsbury. Prior to the introduction of the safety fuse explosives were detonated using gunpowder filled goose quills and paper which did not allow for a margin of error. In 1831, William Bickford was granted Royal patent No. 6159 for “Safety Fuze for Igniting Gunpowder used in Blasting Rocks, Etc.” Initially the safety fuse which consisted of cotton strands twisted together with a black powder core was used in Cornish tin mines. Soon it traveled to the United States with Richard Bacon who was an authorized agent of the Bickford, Smith & Davey Company.

The tariffs and duties raised the price of the fuse to 50% more than was paid for it in England. Bacon eventually negotiated a partnership with the English firm to bring the process to the United States and to Connecticut where he was involved in copper mining with the Phoenix Mining Company at the Newgate Prison site. Soon a fuse works was built in the East Weatogue section of town. In 1839 the British partners sent a young Cornish bookkeeper to Simsbury to represent their interests. His name was Joseph Toy.

Bacon and Toy endured an uneasy relationship punctuated by mistrust and misunderstanding. After a fire in 1851, Toy was advised by the home office to dissolve the partnership with Bacon and set up his own manufactory – Toy, Bickford & Co. With the help of Jeffrey O. Phelps, Toy purchased the present Simsbury site of the Ensign-Bickford Company that had water power from the Hop Brook. Soon the factory was producing safety fuse for America’s westward expansion by railroad as well as for farmers who often blew up the trees on their property to clear it for agricultural production.

The demand for safety fuse led to increased hiring of both men and women. Often as young as 14, girls worked the fuse making lines and nimbly counter wrapped the textile fuse. In spite of stringent, for the time, safety measures, working with gunpowder always is accompanied by risk. On December 20, 1859 an explosion and fire claimed the lives of 8 young women and injured several other workers when a keg of black powder placed too close to a coal stove exploded. The brownstone shaft monument in the Simsbury Cemetery stands as a reminder of the dangers of the workplace in the pre-Civil War period.

Joseph Toy rebuilt his factory after this tragedy and continued to supply material for the war effort. Yet, it was the Civil War that caused him the greatest pain, the loss of his son, Capt. Joseph Toy Jr. who died of disease at Camp Carollton Louisiana on June 21, 1862. With no son to succeed him, the elder Toy turned to his son-in-law Ralph Hart Ensign for help. In 1867 a California branch was established in Alameda California to meet the need for fuse in the mines. By 1870, the invention of the blasting cap called for a more precise fuse manufacturing process to meet the tolerances required. Joseph Toy met the challenge and controlled all parts of the manufacturing process from raw material to finished product and distribution. After his death in 1887, the firm became known as The Ensign, Bickford & Co.

The town of Simsbury lost much of its Tariffville manufacturing after a disastrous fire in the 1860s. The carpet mills moved further east in Connecticut. The coming of the railroads meant an easier distribution for mill products. Previously, wagons carried materials to Hartford to be loaded on steamboats and then dispersed to the larger markets. The continued operation of Ensign-Bickford in Simsbury meant that for many years fire protection for the town were often provided by the company. E-B supplied the capital and management to start up both the Simsbury Electric Company and the Village Water Company.

Simsbury Shopping

Surprisingly the shopping opportunities in Simsbury have historically been very diverse. In the 1700s you could find general merchandise shops throughout the town that sold up to twenty-one different types of fabrics as well as crockery, wines, rum, tea, pepper, spices, drugs and medicines. You could pay in cash or grain, beeswax, tallow, cotton, linen rags, white pine boards and shingles. Whether you lived in West Simsbury, Weatogue, Tariffville or Simsbury the shopping was there. In 1791, Ebenezer S. Gleason advertised in the Connecticut Courant “a general assortment of India and European goods; which were purchased with cash and will be sold for cash as cheap as any store in America” at his store “near Messrs. Mills and Case taverns in West Simsbury.”

For those who wished a wider selection there was Hartford to draw from where several Simsbury residents owned general stores. Thomas Belden, a Simsbury distiller, had a store near the ferry to East Hartford. There he sold such exotic goods as French Brandy, Holland Gin, Virginia Hand Tobacco and Suchong and Bohea Teas. Merchants like Amos Eno and many of the Phelps family got their start in the mercantile establishments of Hartford. For those unable to reach Hartford there were peddlers who traveled the back road settlements and brought their goods in wagons and were willing to take special orders.

The coming of the Farmington Canal, an inland waterway that ran through Simsbury from 1828-1849, brought goods regularly along its route from New Haven to Northampton, Massachusetts. With the advent of rail transportation in 1849, local stores were able to further broaden their inventories. The railroad express offices were the depots for purchases ordered from catalogues such as Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. They were also where the hearse from Weed’s Blacksmith Shop met the coffins for burial in Simsbury that arrived on the incoming trains.

The Farmington Valley Directory for 1917-1918 provides us with a glimpse of retail life in Simsbury over eighty-years ago. Shopping centers were yet to come but stores were often found in “blocks”, a building containing multiple shops.

In East Weatogue, J.C.E. Humphrey & Co was a butcher shop. Louis Case, who worked as a meat cutter there, also owned a florist, which closed within the last decade.

Lucius Bigelow was listed as a tin “pedler” while Frank S. Butler ran the general store and post office near the bridge in Weatogue.

Tariffville had six grocers; George Bull, Joseph Gwiazda, Charles Nichols, William Smith who ran the Tariffville Grocery Company, John Starr and Joseph Tomolonis. Dominic Burnett sold men’s furnishings. Roman Zawispowski ran a bakery and Margaret Felix had an ice cream store,

In Simsbury center, the grocery stores were: J. H. Shea’s who sold meat and The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. The Holcomb block had Quinn’s Variety Store; Arthur Lathrop ran a drug store; William O’Connor had a drugstore along with a general store,; Ruben Norwitz and John Varjensky also ran general stores; Samuel T. Welden was a Florist and Seedman also selling hardware, sporting goods, bicycles and motorcycles. Hall Bros. sold electrical and lighting supplies, Andrew Roth sold and repaired shoes in the Welden Block. Charles Marmot ran a second shoe repair. Many of these stores were located near the railroad depot on the bustling streets of Railroad, Wilcox and Welden.

Serving the Ensign-Bickford workers who lived near the factory on South Main Street were Thomas Kozlowsky who ran a grocery store and Frank Zablocki who had a dry goods store.

In West Simsbury, Leon Rowley had a general store, Louis Barbieri ran a fruit and candy store and Mrs. Joan Toletti was a grocer.

In addition to these choices there were lumber, grain and feed mills, farm produce stands, a steam laundry, poultry dealers, dairies, and garages. Although many of the buildings that held these commercial institutions still exist, they now house non-retail businesses. Shopping malls that began to sprout after World War II lured shoppers away from in-town shopping. Many Simsbury residents remember these earlier stores and speak of them and their service fondly. Today the retail areas of Simsbury are blossoming again with restaurants, specialty shops, jewelers, grocery stores, hardware stores, garden centers and retail farm outlets offering products from vegetables to ice cream to wine.

Newgate Prison

If you travel on CT Route 20 to East Granby and turn onto Newgate Road you will come to the tourist attraction as Old Newgate Prison Museum. The road passes through the center of the complex with stonewalls to your left and the still standing Viets Tavern on your right. For those brave enough there can be explorations from May through October of the dark caverns and tunnels that served first as a copper mine and then a notorius prison. It is difficult to imagine as one passes the site, which now resembles an ancient fort nestled in verdant landscape, the severe uses of the site.

It was in December 1705, when East Granby was an area of Simsbury known as the Turkey Hills that a report was made to the Simsbury selectmen that a silver or copper mine had been found within the limits of the township. By 1707 people listed on the 1706 tax list of Simsbury were allowed to participate in the mining venture. Sixty-four taxpayers became proprietors of the mines and were not allowed to dispose of their shares to non-residents without the consent of the others. One tenth of the profits from the mining venture were to be used for “pious purposes” which translated into two-thirds of that for a schoolmaster for the town and the other third to support the school that would become Yale. The area became known as Copper Hill and the mine, the first chartered copper mine in America.

Ore from the mine was shipped to Boston and England to be refined as well as being smelted locally. Until 1772, the mine passed through a series of owners and mining syndicates. In that year the lease was purchased by James Holmes of Salisbury, Connecticut a town known for its iron furnaces. In May 1773, the Connecticut General Assembly began looking at using the less than financially successful mine to house prisoners in an atmosphere where escape would be impossible. They purchased the remainder of Holmes’ lease and created an underground room 15 by 12 feet with a new iron gate at the top of the shaft, which led to it.

The name of the new colonial prison eventually became New Gate (the preferred spelling at that time) and its first keeper was Capt. John Viets. Along with overseers Major Erastus Wolcott, Capt. Josiah Bissel and Col. Jonathan Humphrey, he tended criminals who had committed burglary, counterfeiting, highway robbery or horse stealing and were compelled to perform hard labor. They continued to mine ore. As the American Revolution heated up they were joined by British loyalists, British soldiers and court-martialed Continental soldiers. While no well-known Tories were held here, New Gate became notorious in England for the underground conditions of dampness, vermin, insects and darkness.

As more prisoners were incarcerated, the need for punitive work expanded their hard labor to include making hand wrought nails. Buildings such as guardhouses and workshops were added on the surface. The remains of many of them are still visible today. Now prisoners came to the surface at 4 AM to begin their daily toil in the workhouse while their underground accommodations remained about 50 degrees year round. Escapes were frequent but prisoners’ clothing of mismatched socks and shoes were easily identified and led to recapture.

In 1824 a “stepping mill” or treadmill was introduced which allowed those with no skills or serving short sentences a way to labor. The male prisoners would spend 10 minutes walking while holding on to an overhead bar then 5 minutes resting. Approximately 20 men at a time were on the mill. The power it produced was used to grind grain or corn and run various machines. It was short lived since the prison closed in 1827 when a new above ground facility was built in Wethersfield.

Several attempts were made to resume mining on the site including the Phoenix Mining Company, which had links through Richard Bacon to Simsbury’s Ensign-Bickford Company based on the use of safety fuse. Phoenix attempted to use technology such as steam and waterpower to increase production. The Panic of 1837 caused it to fail. Two more companies, The Connecticut Copper Company and the Lenox Mining Company took the mining efforts into 1901. Then private individuals, who saw a new use for it, purchased the site.

Since its inception the tunnels and passageways of New Gate have attracted the interest of the curious and those simply looking for unusual entertainment. Initially by paying a small fee to the prison keeper or a guard visitors would be accompanied down into the underground cavern. Even families would picnic on the grounds before or after an underground tour. By 1857 tourism was encouraged by the private owners who supplied candles and maps to the brave visitors. A wooden observation tower was built which allowed views of Massachusetts. The Viets Tavern or Newgate Inn located across from the prison served tourists meals. In the 1920s and 30s a dance floor installed in an old guardhouse attracted visitors or a romantic evening of dancing as well as an exploration of the tunnels on Saturday nights.

Its current incarnation as an historical destination began in 1968 when the State of Connecticut purchased the site and began interpreting it to new generations of visitors who can feel the chill and thrill of its damp tunnels and the memories of those who struggled to mine copper ore from the mineral rich rock for themselves or for the prison they called home.

Great Pond

There is a place in Simsbury where regardless of season or weather one can experience the incredible natural beauty that is unique to this community. Here one can walk noiselessly along a path thick with a carpet of pine needles through towering white pines and imagine the footfalls of long-ago moccasins before the European settlement of Simsbury. Cresting the hill, a vast pond spreads out below with small island sanctuaries for migrating birds. Two beaver lodges are establishing themselves on the earth dam that serves as a walkway to the other side of the pond.

There are perfect days when the temperature reaches a certain equilibrium that makes it difficult to tell where one’s skin ends and the air begins. In the fall a flock of nearly two dozen wild turkeys passing through sends a dog into a state of alert that makes the uninitiated reconsider the wisdom walking alone in the late afternoon. The mid-summer covering of blossoming water lilies brings images of the Monet’s Giverny to life.

Whether you are a birder or simply looking for a place to walk the family dog, the Great Pond offers a new experience each time it is visited. The various trails take walkers around the pond or through the forest paths. The paths seem to have existed for centuries. Certainly the pond has been there since the arrival of the first settlers from Windsor. But, the woodland oasis surrounding it exists because of the vision of one man, James L. Goodwin.

In 1930, Goodwin, a forester and conservationist, purchased the Great Pond from Sherman W. Eddy of Avon, CT. Those 25 acres of pond and 75 acres of adjacent woodland were just the beginning. Over the next thirty years he added various additional tracts to his original purchase. By the time James Goodwin deeded the site to the State of Connecticut in 1967, it totaled 280 acres.

The woodland lushness is the work of a carefully planned forestry program. In 1931 twenty-acres of Red Pine was planted. Then a nursery was established to produce the planting stock for both Great Pond Forest and James L. Goodwin State Forest in Hampton. It was decided to dedicate the forest to White Pine timber. The first American Tree Farm in Connecticut was established here in 1956. A plan was drawn up to establish stands of White Pine by thinning the existing hardwood and encouraging the growth of both the pine seedlings and larger, older trees. Establishing the stand that includes trees from one to one hundred years of age took about twenty-five years. Cutting cycles of eight to ten years assure the continuation of these stands.

In the past few years, logging and storm damage left the forest scarred and visitors unhappy. But as has happened in the woodlands since the beginning of time, nature continues on and the balances of the area’s natural beauty have been restored. Once again the sylvan wonderland provides an outdoor classroom for children and adults.

The actual Great Pond is no more than a shallow depression believed to have been left behind by glacial activity. Mr. Eddy had attempted to drain the pond and convert the peaty soil underneath to grow celery. The project proved too great and was abandoned. Mr. Goodwin, upon acquiring the property, attempted to improve the pond. He had the bog, which consisted of a “floating” two-foot thick mat of turf over three feet of water with two to twenty-five feet of peat beneath that, gathered together and three islands built. The six-foot earthen dam at the south end of the pond was constructed. The idea that the pond would then fill with water and run over the concrete spillway appeared to be a poor one. Since only underground springs and rainwater feed the pond, there was not enough feed to keep it filled. The natural evaporation that occurs caused the pond to remain at a low level.

It is an attractive spot for waterfowl and wildlife. Migrating birds make this one of their stops. Some nest here each year and raise their young. The year-round incursion of Canadian geese has driven off some species. But the avid and patient birdwatcher can still see ducks, egrets, herons and various woodland birds. Since the forest has become a dog-walking haven, it a bit more difficult to see those birds that scatter or hide at the sound of a dog barking. Early morning and evening provides a quiet time to observe the permanent occupants.

In mid-March when the days turn warm and the last of the ice breaks up on the pond and the surrounding swampy bogs, an event takes place that can be very disconcerting to the uninitiated. The amphibious residents make their way to the surface calling out to acknowledge the onset of another spring. The cacophony resembles the sound of wagons being driven over plank roads. One expects to see construction equipment crash through the woods. However, after a day or two it subsides to be replaced by the sound of “peepers”.

In 1942, the pond made news when a box turtle was found with the initials C.E.B 1877 carved in its shell by John Flamig. Inquiries led to the carver, Clayton E. Bacon who had indeed carved the initials some 65 years earlier in 1877. Mr. Bacon was 83 at the time of the discovery. The turtle was left at the Great Pond but no records of any further sightings remain.

James Goodwin’s gift to the citizens of Simsbury and Connecticut is commemorated in a marker placed in the chapel area of the forest where numerous outdoor weddings have occurred. But the true spirit of the gift exists in the pine stands, rhododendron and mountain laurel walkways and the ever-changing seasons of the Great Pond.

White Memorial Fountain

On a late summer afternoon in 1892, the friends and neighbors of Dr. Roderick White came together in the village of Weatogue to remember him. The Simsbury Band played, speeches were made and prayers offered as a magnificent Victorian fountain overflowing with pure spring water was dedicated in his honor. Dr. White had with his horse and rig traveled about Simsbury ministering to the sick and dying, educating his patients about disease and its prevention, discussing their diets and daily habits for almost fifty years. He often treated those suffering from water borne illnesses from contaminated wells and streams. Now fresh drinking water would be his tribute.

Roderick White was born on October 24, 1809 in Enfield, Connecticut to Roderick White of Springfield, Massachusetts and Delight Bement. He received his medical training at Yale. He practiced in Manchester, Connecticut and East Granville, Massachusetts before coming to Simsbury about 1842 to work with Dr. Shurtleff whose practice he eventually took over. He married Elizabeth Hungerford of Wolcottville (Torrington) in 1844 who, at age 27, joined him in Simsbury where they lived for the rest of their lives. Mrs. White appears to have become an invalid and spent a large portion her life housebound. Dr. White died December 2, 1887 and was followed two years later by his wife.

It was Mrs. White’s will that carried the provision for the fountain. “I desire to leave a memorial of my late husband in the community where he so long lived and practiced his profession, and for that purpose I have determined that it would be suitable and proper to erect in the village of Weatogue a memorial fountain supplied with running water.” She appointed her brothers Edward and Frank Hungerford and a neighbor, the Rev. Charles Pitman Croft, as trustees to erect a fountain.

The question was where to put such a fountain and how to get water to it. When Dr. White came to town in 1842, the Farmington Canal was coming to the end of its useful life and much of its route was used to create railway beds which today have become part of the rails-to-trails program. The highway, as Hopmeadow Street was known, passed through Weatogue along Winslow Place where the remnants of the old road still exists. Another road ran south of the Fountain towards Bushy Hill. Here sat the district school on a piece of land given to the town by the Pettibone family. The proximity to the school meant that students could have safe drinking water from the fountain.

It was agreed to site the fountain on a portion of the school plot and on an abandoned right of way where pipes could be laid to bring water from D. Stuart Dodge’s spring a mile away. Another feature was a watering source for animals which was fed from an outlet at the base of a street lamp and provided water for horses, dogs, birds and other animals much to the delight of the Connecticut Humane Society and a neighbor who made it a condition of granting a right of way. The horse trough portion remains today.

The fountain was created from granite quarried in Monson, Massachusetts by the W.N. Flynt Granite Company. The ground basin has rock work called rip-rap. Above it is mounted a large basin with lion heads that serve as the discharge for the water. Three circular basins above that allow the water to spill over from the central discharge pipe at the very top of the column. At the base of the fountain was placed a portrait medallion of Dr. and Mrs. White, a bas-relief of the Healing Serpent (symbol for medical profession) and an inscription honoring Dr. White. It reads: “In Memory of Roderick A. White, M.D., who died Dec. 2, 1887. The beloved Physician of this town for nearly fifty years. Erected by his wife, Elizabeth Hungerford White. Defunctus adhunc ministrant”

At the dedication in September 1892 speakers included: The Reverends D. Stuart Dodge, E. C. Hoag, Charles Pitman Croft, Edward Hungerford, Horace Winslow and Charles E. Stowe ; Doctors Gurdon W. Russell, Horace Fuller, Henry P. Stearns, Melancthon Storrs and Frank Hungerford, Esq., W. N. Flynt and Rodney Dennis of the Connecticut Humane Society. Music was provided by the Simsbury Band and the audience sang America.

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