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THE MIDDLETOWN (CONN.) PRESS, Tuesday Evening, October 29, 1974

Cromwell's History Long and Honorable

(Most of the following history was taken from a pamphlet prepared for Cromwell Old Home Day which was celebrated in 1961 to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the Town of Cromwell. [Planned 100th anniversary observances in1951 were postponed because of the Korean War.] The 110th anniversary article has been edited and augmented with information obtained in other papers made available by the Cromwell Historical Society and the Belden Library.)

    By whatever name these lands of Cromwell were called, they were here many thousands of years ago. So far as is known, a tribe of Indians lived in the area. Their chieftain was Sowheag and his territory was known as Mattabesett. His camp was on high ground back from the river, in the north part of Middletown. Indian Skeletons, together with kettles, bowls, implements of stone and arrow heads have been found in various sections of the town. Before the settlement, Sowheag had given to Mr. Haynes Governor of Connecticut, a great part of the township for which a consideration was given.
    The early history of Cromwell was closely linked with Middletown. The settlement began about 1650 to the North and South of Little River (Sebethe). There were always two distinct settlements known as Middletown (Lower House) and Upper Houses. At first, a ferry was maintained between them but as time passed, various types of bridges were built, one a covered bridge (1840-1883).
    Among the families who first settled in Upper Houses were the following: John Kirby, Anthony Martin, Thomas Ranney, Daniel Sage, John Savage, Samuel Stocking, Nathaniel White, Thomas Wilcox and John Wilcox.
    Settlement was made in the lower part of the village in the area known as Pleasant Street. It was a compact community for protection and social advantage. Outlying lands were divided into large lots for cultivation and were distributed as lands were surveyed and needs arose. The first houses were not much more than huts. Building materials, clothing, utensils and tools were made by the settlers and food was raised on their own land. In 1714 liberty was given Thomas Miller to build a grist mill on Chestnut Brook.
Trail to Hartford
    Pleasant Street was the first North and South Road. The earliest way to Hartford was not much more than a trail from Upper Houses to Wethersfield. In 1700 a highway 20 rods wide was laid out for a country road across the plains to Wethersfield bounds. The toll gatehouse probably built in the 18th Century was located on the northern boundary of Upper Houses. The toll man watched from basement windows for vehicles, but according to tradition some travelers found that toll could be avoided or shunned by detouring another way, which became known as the "Shun Pike," a much traveled highway today.
    In 1796 Dr. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, passed through the village and wrote, "The parish called Upper Houses is a beautiful tract of fertile land. The houses about 80 in number are generally well built and the whole place wears an air of sprightliness and prosperity."
Incorporated in 1851
    Cromwell was incorporated as a town in 1851 by the General Assembly and accepted as the 149th town in Connecticut. The first town meeting was held June 1, 1851. The list of voters at that time was 214 and the population 1275 persons/ (The present population is about 8,500).
    Several town meetings were held to decide upon a name, something of a difficult task since about twenty names were proposed. Upper Middletown, North Middletown and Glenwood received the most favor. According to legend a prominent, influential citizen who was a great admirer of Oliver Cromwell proposed the name of Cromwell and when the petition was granted, Cromwell was unanimously adopted as the name.
    The early inhabitants went to Middletown to Church at great inconvenience in time of high water. In 1703 Middletown agreed that Upper Houses might form a separate society to be known as North Society, provided they settle a minister and build a meeting house. They erected a building suitable for worship just north of the oldest cemetery. It was not until 1715 that Rev. Joseph Smith was settled and the church consisting of twenty-three members was organized. A larger meeting house was built in 1736 and was located on the present Memorial Green. This edifice stood until 1840 when the present First Congregational Church and Parsonage were erected.
History of Schools
    It is likely that school was maintained from 1683 on, although accurate records are difficult to trace. At the October 1709 General Assembly, the North Society was given permission to apply their own taxes to maintain a school for reading and writing, six months each year. At first school was probably held in private home. The first school house stood on the southeast corner of the turnpike and Quarry Roads approximately on the green now in the center of town.
    At one time a school of high grades known as the High School occupied the Academy, now the Belden Library. The town was divided into five districts; Lower (Bell), North (Plains), Nooks or Center, Brick (West) and Northwest. In 1811, 277 pupils were in attendance. Some years later, the South Center and West districts consolidated, attending the Academy until 1902 the year of the opening of the Nathaniel White, named for one of the founders.
    Nathaniel White School is still in use as a middle school. Cromwell High School was opened in 1956 and Edna C. Stevens Elementary School in 1959.
Early Industry
    In early days agriculture was generally pursued. Commerce was carried on with the West Indies and other parts of the world. Exports were horses, mules and hay: Imports, rum, molasses, sugar, fruit and mahogany. Shipbuilding became a thriving industry. At one time there were three shipyards, two wharves and ropewalk to supply rigging for new vessels. In 1824, General LaFayette on his visit to Middletown, disembarked at the dock in Upper Houses from the Ship Oliver Elisworth. He was met by an escort of Calvary from Middletown.
    When maritime trade declined some families turned to the fishing industry, catching principally shad and alewives.
    The biggest manufacturing industry was J. & E. Stevens Co. which was started in 1843 in the Nook Section of Cromwell. The company started manufacturing such hardware as hooks, screws and axes, but later concentrated more on iron toys, penny banks and cap pistols. Its toys and mechanical banks are now collector's items. In 1880 the company employed about 125 people. The company went out of business about 1950.
    Other early industries included Stevens & Brown, manufacturer of tin toys, and the Warner & Noble Hammer Shop, which survived from 1847 to 1931. Many Cromwell farmers worked part-time in the latter company. A fine variety of silver plated ware was made by the Cromwell Plate Co.
    At one time Cromwell had two brownstone quarries. The Connecticut Free Stone Quarry Co. which employed 120 men at its peak, opened in 1852 and was located about half a mile from the Connecticut river. Brownstone was transported by boat and by rail. A spur track from Meriden - Waterbury Railroad extended to the company dock on the river. Stone was shipped to all parts of the U.S. Later, in 1886, the New England Brownstone Company opened a quarry adjacent to the river and also employed more than 100 men. Both quarries ceased to exist prior to World War I.
    The A. N. Pierson Co. started in 1872, became one of the largest wholesale horticulture firms in thw world and is still a large operation. It has survived for over 100 years. A. N. Pierson was one of the first Swedes to settle in Cromwell and many of his first employees were from Sweden. Later more of the workers came from Italy and Puerto Rico.
    In the days of the stage coaches between Boston and New York, arrival was announced by blasts of the stagehorn. A stopping place for a change of horses was built in 1797 and a tavern in those days.
    In 1868 the town aided in the construction of the Hartford Connecticut Railroad known as the Valley Road. At one time a terminal of the Meriden Waterbury Railroad was located near the river at South Street, ending in a turntable. These lines, along with boats plying between Hartford and New York afforded good transportation facilities. Passenger trains on the Valley Road were discontinued some years ago. The passenger station was demolished and the freight depot is now a hardware store.
    The first Electric Trolley passed through Cromwell in the early 1900's. Busses took the place of the trolley about 1930.
    Although the Congregational Church was the church of the Pilgrim founders, in time other denominations also established churches. The Baptist Church was organized in 1802. In 1803 a meeting house was built on the west green.
     In 1908 members of the Lutheran Evangelical faith held services in the former Methodist Church. They purchased the building in 1910 and in 1958 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the organization. Today the church is known as the Bethany Lutheran Church.
    On June 3, 1877 the Rev. F. P. O'Keefe celebrated the first Mass ever said in Cromwell. In 1881 the corner stone of St. John's Catholic Church was laid by the Right Rev. Bishop MacMahon, assisted by a member of the clergy of the Diocese. Until the dedication of the new church in 1883, Mass was celebrated in a public hall. In 1953 the church burned to the ground. During the rebuilding the Nathaniel White School was used for Masses. The present modern edifice was dedicated October 17, 1954.
    In the summer of 1890 the Swedish Evangelical Society was organized for the purpose of bringing the Gospel to the Swedish people in their native language. At first services were held in the Congregational Church. In 1891 it was decided to build a church. A. N. Pierson donated the corner lot at Main Street and Northland Avenue and early in 1892 the Church was completed and dedicated. On Oct. 17, 1892 it was reorganized and became incorporated by the name of the Swedish Congregational Church of Cromwell. Later the name was changed to the Covenant Congregational Church.
    From 1891 to 1948 the town offices were located in the rear half of the ground floor in the building directly north of Oberg's store. The room was used for the Selectmen's office, a court room and town meetings. Cromwell's fine Memorial Hall on West Street, facing Memorial Green, was dedicated November 13, 1949.
    For most of its history Cromwell was periodically flooded in low-lying areas along the river and even on lower Main Street. In recent years flooding has been much less severe as the result of flood-control projects upriver and the construction of dykes along the river banks.

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