Articles From The Community

The membership of Wethersfield Historical Society is passionate about the town’s history, often inspiring individuals to conduct research on their own about topics of particular interest.

The “Articles from the Community” section of this website includes research and writing of the Wethersfield community representative of their interest and enthusiasm for topics related to Wethersfield history and culture. Articles are not edited by Wethersfield Historical Society staff and while we hope you find the contributions to “Articles from the Community” interesting and informative, they do not reflect the research, scholarly editing, views, or opinions of Wethersfield Historical Society’s staff, Governing Board or general membership as a whole.

Table of Contents

Articles from the Community by Time Period
(1600′s / 1700′s / 1800′s 1900′s)

1600′s

 

A Birdseye View of Wethersfield’s History: by Phil Lohman – Maps depicting, in fifty year increments, the development of Wethersfield.
Wethersfield: A History: by Rafael Fierro – From John Oldham and the Ten Adventurers – to Albert Hubbard and his houses – and beyond.
Rocky Hill: A History: by Rafael Fierro – Wethersfield begat three “daughter towns” – Rocky Hill, Glastonbury and Newington.  Stepney Parish, aka the “Lower Community” began its petitioning to become a separate entity in 1820 and officially became the town of Rocky Hill in 1843.
Religion in Glastonbury: The Congregationalists: by Henry Von Wodtke – The need for early Congregationalists to participate weekly in public worship was a major factor in causing Glastonbury to break away from Wethersfield.  Crossing the Connecticut River by boat in bad weather to
attend church was difficult.  As a result, within a few decades, those living on the Glastonbury side of the river sought to form their own town with its own church.
The Wethersfield Elms: by Jared B. St andish & John C. Willard – Wethersfield was known nationally as the home of many magnificent specimens of the American Elm tree – the most noted of which, the “Great Elm”, actually gained worldwide fame.
Griswoldville, Connecticut (1680_1987): by Donna Hemmann – its settlement in 1684, the development of the milling industry, the establishment of the town’s volunteer fire department and the Griswoldville Chapel
Wethersfield’s Top 10 Natural Disasters: by Jim Meehan – Would you live in a place that, in less than 300 years, has experienced: an earthquake, several floods, two major fires, a pair of blizzards, an ice storm, a hurricane, and two tornadoes – all within a thirteen square mile area?
One Branch of the Josiah Willard Family of Wethersfield: By Buzz Willard – Rachel Margaret Bugella, Granddaughter to Buz and Peg
Willard, is the 11th generation Willard to live in Wethersfield. Read about her and her ancestors.
Foodways: Starting at the Beginning, Preparing a Wongunk Meal: Foodways” is the study of the foods we ate and how we came to eatthem.  Culinary Historian Paul Courchaine begins the story of Wethersfield’s own “Foodways” with “Starting at the Beginning: Preparinga Wongunk Meal” (with recipes).
Foodways: The Middle Passage: African Americans  By Paul Courchaine – laves in Connecticut were more prevalent than we Northerners wouldlike to believe.  Many were brought to America by the merchants who sailed to the west coast of Africa where they exchanged their whiskey and firearms for gold, ivory, and black slaves captured in inter_tribal wars, which the guns helped perpetuate.  One of these merchants was a Wethersfield resident named Captain John Blackleach whose inventory at his death listed “A Negro woman (named Maria) and child sold for 36 (pounds) cash.”
Wethersfield Street Life: 1634_1995: by Nora Howard. We walk, whiz, or otherwise pass by these places daily or weekly.  We may go past them from season to season.  The names are familiar perhaps, but where did they come from?  Mill Woods, Treat Road, Great Meadow Road, and on and on.  Behind these names are good stories that help make Wethersfield life just a bit more wonderful.
Wethersfield: The ‘Cradle of American Seed Companies: by Nora Howard. When Wethersfield founder John Oldham died in 1636, the court at Wethersfield directed Thurston Raynor to preserve Mr. Oldham’s “corne”, known today as wheat or rye.  The “corne” had sprung from seeds planted in Wethersfield.  From obscure beginnings such as this have come close to four centuries of Wethersfield’s remarkable association with the seed industry – from Joseph Belden to Comstock, Ferre & Co. and Charles C. Hart Seed Co.
Connecticut at War: 1634 – 1781:  by Joe Duffy.  Connecticut’s first military episode was the Pequot War of 1637.  The Pequots were a war_like, break_away band of Mohegan Indians who had killed traders on the Connecticut River and raided a settlement at Wethersfield where they slew six men and three women and carried off two girls.  From that initial conflict, through the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, Connecticut distinguished itself out of all proportion to its size. Almost fittingly, Washington met his French allies in a series of meetings at Wethersfield to plan the decisive Yorktown campaign of 1781.
Dividend – Rocky Hill’s First Industrial Complex: by June Cook.When Wethersfield  was settled in 1634  the land areas of Rocky Hill, Newington and Glastonbury were part of the original Wethersfield settlement. The southern end of Wethersfield was first known as Stepney Parish, then later named Rocky Hill, probably due to the high basalt ridge that is predominant in the area.  June Cooke recounts the history of Rocky Hill’s first industrial park, located in the southern extremities of the town in an area known as Dividend.
“Wethersfield’s Glorious Baseball History: The Strange and Ancient Yankee Game Called Wicket, the Old Broad Street Grounds, The Life and Death of Charley Onions and Other True Stories from Wethersfield’s Glorious Baseball History:  by Gary “Pops” Goldberg_O’Maxfield SABR Member, Baseball Historian and Commissioner of the Friends of Vintage Base Ball, Inc.   While Silas Deane, Rochambeau and Washington have left their mark in the annals of this town’s history with stories and places that still survive – there is also a rich sporting history in Wethersfield that dates back to colonial times, and even earlier.  And one game in particular was all the rage.
Connecticut’s Witch Trials: by Chris Pagliuco. Connecticut’s 17th_century witch trials have long been overshadowed by the more numerous and better publicized proceedings in Salem, Massachusetts. In all, Connecticut heard 43 witchcraft cases, with 16 of these ending in execution. And Wethersfield, with nine documented accusations and three executions between 1648 and 1668, is where the story begins.
“The Woman Came to do Laundry”: by Melissa Josefiak. “Had woman for cleaning and laundry…she wasn’t much good,” writes Wethersfield housewife Ida Robbins in her diary, October 15, 1931.  Melissa Josefiak (former Assistant Director of Wethersfield Historical Society) explains the roles of domestic servants in the United States through four distinct periods: the Colonial era; the Revolution to 1850; 1850 to World War I; and from WWI to the present time.
“Wethersfield’s Homebuilders: 1634 – 1900″: by Jim Meehan. “There are no dividends to compare with the comfort and contentment, no returns equal to the personal pride felt by the man who owns the home that shelters his family.” (Alfred G. Hubbard).  The story of the men who constructed our town’s first wave of housing.
The First Church of Christ: by Henry von Wodtke. The congregation first “gathered” in 1635.  Influential Congregational minister Jonathan Edwards attended services from 1716 to 1718 while he attended Yale College classes conducted in Wethersfield by Rev. Elisha Williams. General George Washington worshiped here on May 20, 1781.
The Eel_Catcher’s Travels: by Carol Seeley Scott. Robert Seeley (1602_1667), one of the founders of Wethersfield, left no written records of his own from which today we can judge his character and personality, but from his life we can infer a number of attributes.
Governor Thomas Welles: by Charles baker. Governor Thomas Welles, in whose honor the building now known as the Keeney Cultural Center was once named, was one of the “founders” of Hartford; married Elizabeth Deming Foote, widow of Nathaniel Foote and moved to her house in Wethersfield; then became the first governor of the Colony of Connecticut.
1700′s

 

Wethersfield Enters the Revolution: by Ronna L. Reynolds – On April 19, 1775 in Lexington Massachusetts the “shot heard round the world” ignited the American Revolution.  Israel Bissell, postrider, set out from Watertown, Massachusetts with a notice giving the particulars of the Lexington engagement and stating that the bearer “is charged to alarm the Country quite to Connecticut.”.  The news arrived by rider in Wethersfield on April 21, 1775.
Wethersfield’s Maritime Contribution to the Revolutionary War: by Ronna L. Reynolds – Shortly after the Battle of Lexington in 1775 the
British established a blockade, which effectively destroyed the lucrative West Indian and Southern coastal trading that many of Wethersfield’s seafarers were engaged in.  These men soon expressed an interest in having their now inactive commercial vessels armed and refitted as privateers.
A Life of William Beadle: by James R. Smart – Wethersfield resident, highly successful merchant, loyal patriot, and murderer of his wife and three children
The Chesters of Blaby, Leicestershire, England: by Glenise Lee – Leonard Chester was one of the Ten Adventurers who founded our “most ancient towne” in 1634. But before there were the Chesters of Wethersfield, there were the Chesters of Blaby, Leicestershire, England.
The Contentious Life of James Wakelee: by Greg Cunningham – the story of one of Wethersfield’s more controversial early settlers – his participation in the early community; his marital issues; his prosecution for witchcraft; his place on Hartford’s Founders Monument; and more.
Reverend and Colonel Elisha Williams: by John C. Willard & John Oblak – A former Wethersfield resident was both a minister of the church and a military man, as well as being selected as Rector (President) of Yale College.  At one time he had more than half the college students studying under him at his home in Wethersfield.
Houses of Worship: by Joseph Laconte – The passion of American ministers for political freedom in 1776 reflected their belief in religious toleration.  This
way of thinking was exemplified by the actions of “fighting parsons” such as Rev. Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg of Woodstock, Va., and Rev. Elisha
of Wethersfield.
Black History in Wethersfield: by Nora Howard – We know tantalizingly little about Wethersfield’s early black residents.  What has survived only emphasizes the history that has sadly been lost.  Of the 5 free black families in the 1790 Wethersfield census, 3 were listed by just their given names: Caesar,
Pomp, and Guinea.  The other 2 families were those of Quash Gomer and Jephet Will.
London: A Black Governor of Connecticut: by Allison Golomb, Rachel Quish Zilinski and  Mary Pat Knowlton  Betty, the wife of London, a Black Governor of Connecticut, was one of the historical figures in the 2011 Wethersfield Historical Society Lantern Light Tour.  This article tells the story of London’s life and impact on his community during his tenure as Colonel John Chester’s slave and the Black Governor in 1760.  It is adapted from research and Betty’s script in the Lantern Light Tour.
Thomas Hickey by Jim Meehan: On June 28, 1776 Private Thomas Hickey was tried and executed for conspiracy to kidnap General George Washington. The question today is not whether he was guilty or innocent. The question is, “Was he a resident of Wethersfield?”
“The Conference State” by Ann Harrison and Mary Donohue: In 1780 the French army arrived in Newport , Rhode Island with a goal: knock the British off their high horse. But the French army would have to cross Connecticut to achieve that. For its role as a central location for plotting how and where the French and Americans would confront the British, the Constitution State could well have been called “The Conference State.” (Published with permission from “Connecticut Explored”.)
The Welles Family and the Establishment of Newington by Barbara Matthews: Newington is a daughter town of Wethersfield.  Like so many daughter towns, it was originally set out as additional farmlands for the inhabitants of Wethersfield then became a new parish and finally an independent town.
The Undoing of Silas Deane by Linda Pagliuco: Wethersfield’s own Silas Deane’s extraordinary role in making the War for Independence viable should have placed him among the illustrious pantheon of America’s “Founding Fathers”, but….
The Revolutionary Life of Samuel Blachley Webb by Linda Pagliuco: Wethersfield’s Joseph Webb house was the site of the Washington_Rochambeau Conference in 1781.   Fewer people know, however, that when George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the newly created United States of America, the Bible upon which he took his oath was held by one of Joseph’s sons, Samuel Blachley Webb.
History of Trinity Parish (Episcopal) by Richard B. Rouse:  In 1729, the Rev. Samuel Johnson of Stratford, Connecticut visited Westerly, Rhode Island and Wethersfield, Connecticut for the purpose of establishing Episcopal churches at these places. These initial efforts were unsuccessful.  In 1797, a church was organized and a building erected in the Newington section of Wethersfield by the Society of Protestant Episcopalians.
Colonel John Chester by Kassandrah Banks: 2014 Wethersfield Boards Scholarship Winning Essay. Col. John Chester is recognized for his success as a Lieutenant in the Connecticut Colony’s Militia in 1771, his leadership qualities shown during the Revolutionary War and later in state government.   He is commemorated today by the Col. John Chester Fife and Drum Corps.

 

1800′s

 Wethersfield Prison Blues by Amy Gagnon: In September 1827, the new Connecticut State Prison opened its doors to 81 inmates. During its 136_year history inmates killed two wardens and three guards. The prison closed in 1963 when the Connecticut State Prison was moved to Enfield.

Wethersfield in the Civil War by Wes Christensen: The American Civil War is generally accepted as themost traumatic event in this nation’s history. Wethersfield’s population was 2705 in 1860 and nearly one half of the eligible men served in the war – 6 were killed, 17 died of wounds or disease, 5 died in prison, 1 was shot for desertion and 19 were wounded.

A Whaling Family by John C. Willard: Who says that Wethersfield is a quiet place with no adventure?  Certainly not Captain Thomas Williams, (one of the youngest captains of the whaling fleet in the 1860′s) or his wife, Eliza Azelia Griswold, who accompanied him on a three_year’s voyage from 1858 to 1861in the Pacific Ocean.

Sgt. Major Robert H. Kellogg by Danielle Johnson: “I wonder if they know at home of our real condition here.”  There were many horrors of Civil War prisons, and Wethersfield’s Sgt. Maj. Robert H. Kellogg was one who witnessed them and lived to write about them.

Who Was Charles Wright? by Joyce Rossignol: His portrait hangs in the lobby of the school that bears his name, but his distinguished life isn’t told here..  Who was Charles Wright that a school is named for him?

Sophia Woodhouse’s Grass Bonnets by Melissa Josefiak: Inventor and businesswoman, Wethersfield’s Sophia Woodhouse (1799_1883) was one of the first female entrepreneurs of the Greater Hartford area.  Known internationally, her bonnets were widely admired by socially prominent women, and worn by two former First Ladies, Dolley Madison and Louisa Adams – the latter’s husband, John Quincy Adams, calling it “…an extraordinary specimen of American manufacture.

Wethersfield Illinois by Larry Lock: In addition to our daughter towns of of Rocky Hill, Newington, and Glastonbury – Connecticut’s “Most Auncient Towne,” has a younger sister.  Wethersfield Illinois was founded in 1836 by the Connecticut Association of Wethersfield, Conn.  Led by Rev. Caleb Jewett Tenney of Wethersfield, the association was one of several Protestant organizations that established colonies in Henry County Illinois.  Col. Sylvester Blish and Elizur Goodrich were sent west in 1836 to purchase land and later that year Rev. Joseph Goodrich, John F. Willard and Henry G. Little came to lay out the village of Wethersfield.

They Even Survived Rocks On The Tracks by Abbie B. Dunn: One hundred years ago “rapid transit” meant the horse railway.  Wethersfield was the first town adjacent to Hartford to have this service. The Hartford & Wethersfield Railway Co. was chartered June 18, 1859.

Wethersfield Almshouse by Nora Howard: “Love your life, poor as it is.  You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.  The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode.”  In 1811, two years before Connecticut required each town to establish houses for the poor, Wethersfield opened its own.

Joseph Emerson: Pioneer in Women’s Education: by Francis Wells Fox. Wethersfield’s Emerson Williams Elementary School is named in honor of  the Reverend Joseph Emerson (a pioneer in women’s education) and the Reverend and Colonel Elisha Williams ( “New Light” minister and a famous teacher in colonial America).  This account of the life of Joseph Emerson was written by Francis Wells Fox in 1934 for presentation to the Women’s Saturday Afternoon Club of Wethersfield.

 1900′s

 

Childhood Memories of the Wethersfield Homefront, Wethersfield during WWII by Dr. Tom Gworek – “The thing I remember most about the war was how pervasive it was.”  Uncle Al joins the Army. Victory Gardens, banners with stars, and window stickers with letters of the alphabet decorate
the landscape. Newsreels and movies tell the story to the folks at home.
The Story of Connecticut’s Italians by Rafaele Fierro: “I was told that in America the streets are paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: one, the streets were not paved with gold; two, the streets were not paved at all; and three, I had to pave them.”   The beginning of the twentieth century brought an intensification of Italian immigration nationwide. Connecticut’s Italian immigration increased proportionally.
Wethersfield Summers by Dr. Tom Gworek: In 1935 Wethersfield a was still a very rural community that was slowly awakening from the farming town it had been for 300 years. Without T.V., movies, or organized sports, kids had to amuse themselves.  From running through the cornfields to unsupervised
swimming at Shep’s pond – a boy and a town come of age.
284 Brimfield Road by Jim Meehan: Each neighborhood is its own unique tale, filled with its own singular collection of characters, and its own distinct set of happenings. The interweaving of all these individual narratives is the story of a town.
Wintergreen Woods by Jim Meehan: Wethersfield’s 110_acre nature preserve, began as a series of Pingos created by the Wisconsin Glacial Episode; made itthrough the “four_fold division” of land by our town’s founding fathers; survived being devoured by the Boston to Washington Megalopolis; and
became “a unique and priceless asset” for our town.
A Boyhood Visit to G. Fox & Company by Thomas H. Alton: Before shopping became synonymous with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” there was G Fox & Company – Hartford’s largest and most prestigious department store.
The Wethersfield Meteorites by Jim Meehan: The odds of your house being hit by a meteor are 182,138,880,000,000 to 1 – unless that is you happen to live in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
Mill Woods Park by Jim Meehan: “We have in our reaches a piece of property whose acreage includes wood dales, ponds and brooks that less fortunate towns would spend a mil to acquire.” “I,M. Soldonit” proclaimed to the editor in the 3/25/1944 Hartford Courant.
A History of Franklin Avenue by Rafaele Fierro: What seemed an everlasting Italian community has proven to be ephemeral much like Front Street before it. Patterns of ethnic history–the newest cycle belonging to Puerto Ricans, Ukrainians, Albanians, and Bosnians–reveal the fleeting nature of immigrant culture.
Horseradish King by John C. Willard: Harry Leslie Welles was the oldest of eight children born to dairy farmer John Leslie Welles and Mary Helen Griswold.  As an adult he delivered mail by horseback, served in the state legislature, and played a major role in Wethersfield’s “Horribles” parades.  But he
was best known as the town’s “Horseradish King”.
Fairway 6 by Raymond Hamel & Jim Meehan: One airplane crashing onto a golf course is an aberration.  But is two plane crashes in the same place ineleven years a trend?  Explore one of Wethersfield’s least known history mysteries in “Fairway 6″.
Town’s Biggest Fire by Doug Maine: It is was early on a Friday night, May 20, 1955, and Gerard Stewart was dressed up and on his way to a greater Hartford Jaycees function when horns sounded, summoning volunteer firefighters. The fire at the Wethersfield Lumber Co. at Jordan Lane and the Silas Deane Highway, would turn out to be the biggest in the town’s history.
“Frank and Lou” by Elizabeth Abbe: Frank and Lou Casale and Doris and Bob Abbe were not social companions, but they were much more than neighbors.  Elizabeth Abbe tells a story of immigration, acculturation and enduring friendship in Wethersfield from the 1930′s to 1970′s.
“Twentieth_Century Wethersfield” by Lois M. Wieder: Marked by periods of rapid growth and change, the twentieth century has been the most exciting period in Wethersfield’s history.  In 1928 The Swan Report, prepared for the newly established town plan commission, predicted “But yesterday Wethersfield was a rural community; today it is semi_rural; tomorrow it promises to be one of Hartford’s densely built suburbs.
History of Wethersfield Library by Frances S. Shedd: Frances S. Shedd was Director of the Wethersfield Public Library from 1922 to 1946. “As I see it,” she said, ” a public library exists only as a public servant and only by the service it gives may it justify its existence.”
“Wethersfield’s Homebuilders: 1900 – 1930″: by Jim Meehan. In the first half of the twentieth century many men were involved in the transition of Wethersfield from “a mere village of scattered houses with its surrounding farms into a fair_sized residential suburb”  _ building “on spec” and developing substantial portions of many of today’s neighborhoods.
“Wethersfield’s Homebuilders: 1940 and Beyond”: by Jim Meehan. Of the nearly 9,900 housing units in the
town of Wethersfield approximately 1,000 were constructed in the 1940s (nineteen single_family dwellings in 1945, fifty_four in 1946, 108 in 1947, 149 in 1948 and 150 in 1949) and two_thirds were built after 1950 and more than fifty percent of that two_thirds occurred between 1950 and 1970.“A History of Temple Beth Torah”: edited by Phil Lohman. The Jewish Community Group of Wethersfield, forerunner of the present Temple Beth Torah, originated in December 1954, when eighteen families convened to discuss the possibilities of forming such a group.  On June 4, 2005 Temple Beth Torah celebrated its golden anniversary.
“Meet Mr. Wethersfield: Alfred W. Hanmer”:edited by Abbie B. Dunn. Serving as First Selectman for 46 years, Al Hanmer had a hand in just about everything that happened in town – from appraising damages done by stray dogs to keeping the inmates of the town farm contented.