[The following article was written in 1987 by Donna Hemmann.]
“Griswoldville, Connecticut.” When did it come about? Where is it located? Having grown up in this part of Wethersfield and having lived in a house built by James Griswold, II, about 1820, this area of town has much interest to me.
This paper will discuss the history of Griswoldville by looking at its families, religious life, industry and firehouse from settlers to present day. The hope is that the reader gets from this paper a sense of the “Griswold Community Spirit” of earlier years. It is an aspect of American life that should be passed on.
Before discussion about Griswoldville, background information about Connecticut during this time period (1600-1900) will be provided. It should make the specific areas of Griswoldville easier to associate.
Life in Connecticut during the late 1600’s and early 1700’s was expanding. Families were large, often with ten to twelve children. Farmers were the largest class of people during colonial times. Wethersfield became known for its red onions. Tobacco was another crop grown in Connecticut and exported, although production declined after 1753 due to competition and regulation. 1750 brought a change from crop raising to grazing throughout the state. “Connecticut’s typical colonial family engaged in subsistence farming, kept some livestock, raised its own food, wool, and flax, made its clothing and tried hard to be self-sufficient”. (1)
Manufacturing became increasingly more important in the early 1700’s. The gristmill was generally the first step in manufacturing. They were designed for small scale use, as in grinding family grain. Legislation in 1662 put a miller’s toll on corn and other grains. Mills grew as the population grew. In 1640 a law was passed to encourage the making of woolen cloth and orders then followed for each family to grow hemp and flax.Fulling mills for finishing cloth appeared at this time. (2)
The market for cloth didn’t expand very rapidly and never became an industry of large scale production at this time.
Griswoldville was settled by Jacob Griswold upon his father’s death, in 1684. Jacob was given sixteen acres at Two Stone Brook (Griswoldville), which had been given to his father in 1674 by the town, and he purchased the other land. Jacob’s father, Michael, had settled in Wethersfield in 1641. Michael held the office of constable, assessor and appraiser of lands. He and his wife, Ann, had nine children between 1646 and 1666. Jacob married Mary Wright in 1685. They built their house on High Street (now Highland Street) about one-half mile up the road. Jacob and Mary had twelve children between 1636 and 1707.
The milling industry in Griswoldville was quite prevalent. These were established on Two Stone Brook, utilizing waterpower and sometimes wind power. The course of this brook has changed over the years due to removal of most of the trees, and also lessened the force.
There were three main types of mills during that period. Gristmills, sawmills and fulling mills.
For some two centuries after its founding, the average New England village was largely a self-supporting entity. Certain requisites – salt, rum, molasses, sugar, spices, iron bars for smithy, and such luxuries and essentials had to be brought in from elsewhere, but the basic foods and materials for clothing and shelter were normally produced locally by the inhabitants for their own consumption. Some of this material had to be processed before .it could be used, and this led in even the earliest days to building of little processing plants: gristmills, sawmills and fulling mills,the last used for finishing the hand-woven woolen cloth. All the operations of these little mills could be done by hand, but there was always a labor shortage in New England and hence a greater use of labor-saving machinery than was usual elsewhere in the American colonies. Almost every village of any size, if streams suitable for waterpower ran through its limits, had one or more examples of each of these mills. (3)
Jacob Griswold built what is reported to be the oldest Fulling Mill in 1681. The mill was built where the brook crosses Highland Street. This mill was used to prepare fleece for spinning, to dye yarn and surface hand-woven cloth and also to press hand-woven materials flat.
Jacob’s son Josiah and his wife Mabel Belding, carried on the business until military duties called him away. Their son, Daniel, took over operations in Josiah’s absence, and then Daniel’s son, Josiah, became proprietor. Josiah married Abigail Harris and their son continued the community mill service. The mill closed around 1840, after 159 years of service by one family at the original location.
The earliest mill was that of Leonard Chester, in 1636. This mill was the first for grinding grain in New England and was located by Mill Pond.This mill was powered by an overshot wheel, which is where the water entered at the top of the wheel. Power is created by the weight of the water plus the kinetic energy from falling water.
The mill left the hands of the Chester family after Leonard’s death in 1648, but was eventually bought back by the family and carried on. There were several new mills built in roughly the same spot. This mill also served as a cider and gristmill. (4)
In 1827 Albro Griswold and his brother-in-law Elisha Wolcott formed a company to manufacture woolen goods. They were able to raise only enough money to build the first story of their building, further upstream from Jacob Griswold’s mill. Unfortunately, their company failed.
Arnold Bailey utilized the building making hand forged hammers and axes, under the watchful eye of blacksmith Albro Griswold. Arnold Bailey and Oliver Wolcott formed the “Bailey and Wolcott Co.” and utilized the Old Fulling Mill, which they bought from Jacob Griswold in 1840.
In the early 1800’s sheep growing stimulated the establishment of woolen factories. During the years from 1812-1815, it was considered highly patriotic to open a new fa
ctory. After the war, Britai
n manufacturing tried to regain old markets and flooded the market with low-priced goods. Cotton and wool companies failed in large numbers. In 1817, the assembly gave cotton and woolen factories, whose sites were less than five acres, a four-year exemption from taxation and their employees freedom from poll tax and military service. (5)
The woolen industry received large government orders during the Civil War.
There was another mill further southwest of Highland Street belonging to Captain Thomas Williams. He bought it in 1866 to control water privileges at Mill Pond, for his new mill. He closed it in 1868 but reopened it in 1876 as a gristmill under the management of John Knapp. It was operated until 1890.
The Justus Griswold Mill was located in roughly the same spot as Captain Williams’ mill.Records are not clear, but it was said to have been built about 1815 and had been used for dyeing and preparation of home woven cloth. There were four Justus Griswold’s involved with the mill. The third Justus Griswold was believed to be the thirteenth child of Ozias Griswold. He and his brother, Thomas, who had gone to Hartford to learn the clothing trade, introduced the first power looms into Wethersfield around 1831, under the name of Thomas Griswold & Company.
Justus Welles, who had learned the weaving of woolen cloth and linens from his father’s mill, kept up this business and in 1849 was knitting under- garments in small quantities. He and his bride, Louise Standish, left Wethersfield.
The Griswoldville Manufacturing Company was begun by Albro Griswold, Elisha Wolcott and others in 1834.With the support of the Dunham Mills, the reservoir was built. Forty or fifty people were employed at the enlarged mill, which in 1843 had done 43,000 yards of satinette. Underwear and cloth stockings were also produced. There was a fire in 1854 which destroyed the mill.
During the Civil War, this mill, under the supervision of Austin Standish, made underwear, stockings and shorts for the U. S. Army. 300-500 mill hands were employed at this time.
Another small but significant part of industry in Griswoldville, was the beginning of the Griswoldville Water Company. Mr. S. W. Woodhouse and Mr. R. Griswold loaned use of several large springs of the purest water. Water was carried to the homes by windmill power and later by ram. (6)
There were no references made to the reasons for the end of milling in Griswoldville. As previously mentioned, the market had been flooded with British goods, family run mills failed due to disinterest, financial problems and when steam power came about, small mills tied to fixed locations couldn’t compete with larger steam powered factories. These small mills played an important role in their time, and served their community well.
After the Civil War, agriculture changed from subsistence farming that existed from the 1630’s to more commercial agriculture. Many families no longer needed to make their own clothes. Larger urban populations required more food production.
Fields became quite fruitful due to the clearing of land.Griswoldville became a center for fruit growers. Apple and peach orchards, Horseradish and dairy farming were found in the area. Harry Griswold, who died in 1985,raised vegetables which he sold at a stand in front of his house. He also raised horseradish. His son, H. Newton Griswold is cultivating strawberries this year, as well as horseradish.
Another industry of the area was “Ice”. Risley’s Pond and Griswold’s Pond were used to harvest ice to sell. It was felt that the quality of ice was better than that from the Wethersfield Cove. Most farms had their own ice house, which had wooden walls with an airspace and was tightly clapboarded. The ice, when stored, was covered with saw dust as an insulator. The ice was necessary for storage of milk – so this was an important industry to the dairy farms of
Religious life in Connecticut was predominately Congregationalist. This time period saw the Halfway Covenant and the Saybrook Platform. In the 1740’s the Great Awakening occurred. It produced a deep split between the old and new. This caused many to leave the Congregational Church due to internal bickering and join the Baptists or Anglicans. (8)
In 1750, there was a revision of Connecticut’s Law Code, which omitted all acts of religious persecution. Also, during this time period, the Anglican Church grew.
The Griswoldville Chapel was begun in 1860. Many residents of the area did not attend any Sunday services due to the distance to the churches in the center of Wethersfield. The consensus among the elders was that Griswoldville needed a Sunday School.
During the first year meetings were held, with the average attendance of forty-one. Meetings were held at the school, which was located on the north end of Thomas Griswold’s property. It was utilized as a school until the Griswoldville School was built in 1921. In 872 average attendance was fifty-four, outgrowing the school.
At this time, there was a need for a place to meet, so the decision to build the chapel was made. It was a community effort, with residents making many sacrifices to raise money. All the labor was done by the men. The foundation stones were hauled from Cromwell by cattle. The women in the neighborhood sold butter and eggs, often not using them for their own families, so that there was more to sell. Another example of sacrifice was by Mrs. Franklin Griswold, who went without a wanted velvet cape in order to contribute that money.
The building was dedicated November 30, 1872, and included a bell donated by Miss Annie Griswold, the library case made by Henry White, and a lovely clock, given by Horace Wolcott.
The Mission Circle, consisting of a group of women from the community met for Christian fellowship, to socialize and to promote the best interests of the Chapel. They brought their chairs and the carpet. There were entertainment evenings as fundraiser. When the Chapel needs had been met, the group broadened its work. They sent contributions and barrels of clothing to various missionaries.
The Chapel was used actively until the 1960’s. It is currently  used by the 4H Club and Boy Scout Troop 50. The Griswoldville Ladies Aid, (initially the Mission Circ
le), is still active and meets monthly. They currently sponsor different Christian activities and also Chapel suppers. Suppers are held twice a year, in April and November, and open to the public. There have been weddings, receptions and church services held tin the Chapel since its decrease in service.
The Wethersfield Volunteer Fire Department was chartered in 1803, as in the oldest volunteer fire department still in continuous existence. In 1925, Company Two began its service to the town, and more specifically, Griswoldville. It was organized as a community meeting on March 31, 1925. Meetings were held monthly at the Griswoldville Chapel until the school was renovated to house Company Two. It was not until July 3, 1925 that the first meeting was held in the new firehouse.
The firehouse was a place of social gathering for the men. Their first purchase of a recreational nature was a pool table to $100.00. Each member was assessed $5.00 to help pay for it. The firemen held card parties within the company and other volunteer fire departments. The ladies id also donated money that was raised for the firehouse.
In 1926, inspections of building were started by the fire department. The Republic Fire Truck that had been given to Co. 2 when it started broke down in October. It was not replaced until July 1927. During the transition between trucks, Edwin Griswold and Fred Shepard offered the use of their trucks. This was yet another example of community spirit.
A tragic accident occurred on January 20, 1928. Capt. J.S. Welles, who had been Captain since the organization of Co. 2, was killed while responding to a fire alarm. He was struck by an automobile.
Company Two has grown from a one-truck company, with twenty members, to a company with two engines, one truck, a rescue truck and a boat and a capacity for thirty members. There are 23 members currently .
In 1925 they answered seventeen calls and had 60% of the 20 members respond for duty. Chief Hanmer presented a short talk on controlling crowds that gather at a fire. In comparison in 1986 the Fire Department answered 555 calls. They have regular drills for hands-on training and also attend fire school. The current building housing Company 2 was built in 1959 to accommodate the growing area. It’s a source of real community pride.
The decade after World War I brought many changes. The automobile assisted with suburban growth. The trolley from Hartford to Middletown provided a link with the city in 1907.
Griswoldville had always been considered a ‘rural” area. They had their own Chapel and therefore didn’t need to go to the center of Wethersfield. Many foodstuffs, including dairy products were available in the neighborhood. School was also part of this neighborhood. The one room school that the firehouse took over, was replaced by the Griswoldville School.
One way to relate the community pride in Griswoldville is to discuss some of its residents.
Mr. Harry Welles, the son of John L. and Mary Griswold Welles, was the oldest of eight children. His father was a dairy farmer, however none of the children had any interest in continuing the dairy business. Harry Welles continued to live in the family homestead along with his wife Emma. They had not children. Harry raised and sold horseradish and became know as the “Horseradish King of New England”. This horseradish had quite a reputation and was sold all over New England. Harry also conducted retail sales from his home. He left a bucket on the back step, a tin cup to measure the horseradish and a jar to deposit the payment. Mr. Welles was active in town politics and had a reputation as the “town character”. He tended to be against everything.
Harry became the first rural mail carrier for this area. It was approximately twenty miles by horseback or by buggy.
Harry was said to have had a way with the neighborhood children. He kept candy ready when the kids came around and he had nicknames for them as well.
During the 1930’s, for recreation, the kids played hockey on the ponds, worked on the farms and tunneled in the hay in Harry Welles’ barn.
About 1935, parents got together and formed a league for baseball in town. Mr. Myron Baldwin Jr., with whom I spoke, believed that it was the forerunner to the town’s Little League. The age group was twelve to fourteen. The Griswoldville was known as the Griswoldville Union Chiefs (sponsored by the Chapel and the firemen). There had always been a rivalry between Griswoldville and the other teams. They proved to all, that they were more than country folk, by winning the championship.
The neighborhood was not all angelic. Three boys from Highland St. were on their way to school, and vandalized and set fire to the firehouse.
Many of the children also worked on neighborhood farms. The Morgan farm was a dairy farm. It was unique, in that cows were raised, milked and the milk delivered. The milk was Grade A Guernsey Raw Milk. Pasteurization was done first at the Hayes farm in Rocky Hill and later on the premises at Morgan’s. Today the Morgan farm is known as Winding Brook Turf Farm. It is run by Mr. Douglas Morgan, who, when he was growing up, saw the end of dairy farming and the upswing of their turf farm. Dairy farming became quite expensive without the return.
The Wethersfield Country Club was organized in 1916 and remains a viable part of the community.
After World War I, land was sold and housing increased. The area near the country club was first to be developed and then the land behind the brook on Griswold Rd. was developed. There is very little open space left. The Morgan Farm and the Kycia Farm on Highland St. are the only farms left.
In conclusion, this paper discussed the beginning of Griswoldville by one family and its expansion since that time. The industry that existed was a vital part of its growth. People worked together for their survival. Another example of community needs. They sacrificed and worked together toward a common goal. The Griswoldville Chapel remains today, a vital link with the past and the future, as a historical landmark of community life and worship. The need to develop community services was met with the beginning of Wethersfield Fire Department Company 2, and the Griswoldville School (later named Stephen Mix Mitchell Elementary School). The firehouse was recently added on to, due to the growth of the area, and Mitchell School has recently become Mitchell House for Senior Citizens.
The Griswold’s, while not present in large numbers in the area now, have left their mark. There is evidence of their presence through the old houses that are still standing and by families in the community that have a link.
The Baldwin family remains a solid member of Griswoldville. They also are related to the Griswolds, as are the Willards and the Morgans. My father, who was born in Griswoldville in 1929, lives not far from his homestead, in a Griswold house.
Griswoldville has been a community since 1680. The community spirit of the area has narrowed somewhat, but remains ever present in the families of those that remember the closeness of a neighborhood.
About the Author: Donna Hemmann