by Jim Meehan
Wethersfield’s most recent dinosaur footprint find occurred during the construction of the Church of the Incarnation in 1965. (Please see “History of the Church of the Incarnation” on this website.) Those twenty pieces of shale however are not Wethersfield’s only prehistoric reptile relics.
According to the Hartford Courant of September 2, 1956 Leonard Hungerford, a “concert pianist, part-time lecturer on ancient Egyptian art and amateur paleontologist” along with six of his piano students removed “a score of slabs with three toed bi-pedal prints” from the ledges at Wethersfield Cove and brought them to their homes in Larchmont, New York.
Hungerford dated the tracks about 180 million years ago to the Triassic era and says the “Wethersfield dinosaurs looked like kangaroos, being about the same size and shape, standing between three and four feet high.” He called the Wethersfield Cove area the ”most productive place for dinosaur tracks in southern New England” because dinosaurs gathered on the left riverbank of the Connecticut River to drink. The Wethersfield Cove itself was not formed until around 1700 when floods and ice jams changed the course of the river.
This was Hungerford’s fourth expedition to the Cove. On his third visit he was stopped by the “local constabulary” but released with the assistance of town manager Albert Gray, Jr. This trip was prompted by Hungerford’s impending one-year world tour and the imminent construction of a bridge on “his favorite hunting ground.”
Asked why a concert pianist should have such a strong interest in paleontology Hungerford replied, “My good friend Dr. Edwin H. Colbert of the Museum of Natural History in New York likes Bach – why shouldn’t I like rocks?”
But one set of tracks has a prominent, permanent home in Wethersfield – although where they came from is not entirely clear. A bench in Standish Park at the corner of Nott Street and Hartford Avenue has a set of three dinosaur footprints. The relic found its way to its current location from the Silas Deane House at 211 Main Street via the Deming Standish House at 222 Main Street.
Here is that part of the story as reported by the Hartford Courant on November 3, 1928. The “former Standish property” referred to in the article is the current site of Lucky Lou’s Restaurant. The Town of Wethersfield purchased the property for $1.00 on October 10, 1928 and today it is managed by Wethersfield Historical Society.
“Post Office Stone Will Be Removed
“Served As Step For 80 Years and Will Soon Be Used As Seat in Standish Park
“The historic stone long used as a stepping stone in front of the old Wethersfield Post Office on the former Standish property, will be removed to a new location soon. It is to be preserved as a resting place or seat in Standish Park at the intersection of Nott Street and Hartford Avenue. The stone, which is considered of historic value, was removed from the old Silas Deane property (formerly the Thomas Chester place) about 1844 to its present location where it has remained for the past 80 years. Three distinct dinosaur footprints are distinguishable on the stone. The footprints have been verified by several geologists from Yale University. The moving contract has been given to the Brazel Company and the foundation will be furnished by George Murray of Wethersfield.”
But how did these prehistoric impressions make their way to the center of Old Wethersfield? A pair of unrelated documents from the Wethersfield Historical Society archives offers two different explanations.
Another Hartford Courant piece published December 16, 1928 briefly recounts the newspaper’s October 10th account of the move of the “Post Office Stone” and then goes on to give a detailed story of how the rock slab began its journey.
“This huge stone [eight-ton according to this Courant article] was originally brought from Cromwell by a team of 20 yoke of oxen, its transportation taking a number of days, and was delivered to the Thomas Chester place in Wethersfield (later the Silas Deane property) about 1750”
Meanwhile an April 9, 1983 column from the Wethersfield Post newspaper written by Lisa Leombruni, an APEX student in the Wethersfield School system, avows that “it was quarried in the Wethersfield Cove around 1770…”
Neither article provided sources. Both stories have their problems – and their possibilities. Stone was not regularly extracted from the Wethersfield Cove – but it is the ”most productive place for dinosaur tracks in southern New England”. The Cromwell tale has more detail (“20 yoke of oxen”) but doesn’t offer a reason for the stone’s ten-mile trip.
The author contacted George Chester, descendent of Thomas and a family historian.
“Unfortunately, I have never before heard of this huge stone and the dinosaur tracks so cannot be of any help to you.
“Indeed, before your letter, I had no idea that Thomas Chester owned the Silas Deane property at least 20 years before Deane showed up. I did know that, shortly after Deane departed Wethersfield, Stephen Chester bought the property at a tax sale and apparently lived in the house for many years.
“Ironically, it was called the ‘Chester Mansion’ for many years thereafter, with no apparent recognition given that America’s first diplomat — the one who personally signed up Lafayette in France to join the Patriot cause — had built and lived in the house.
“I have several 20th century postcards and articles of the ‘Chester Mansion’ with a porch on the front, telephone poles going down a dirt street, etc. Take away the front porch and it is the identical house that is there today, at least on the exterior.”
We now know much about the dinosaurs that spent time in the Wethersfield area millions of years before the founding of the town. But paradoxically, even though it occurred during the time of recorded history, the question of how some of their prints arrived at the doorstep of the Thomas Chester House remains unanswered – at least for now.