The Constitution Oak

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Connecticut, the “Constitution State,” has a unique history of state constitutions.  The “constitution” that is celebrated on our license plates is the Fundamental Orders of 1638.  This document stated that Connecticut held no political allegiance to England, but rather was loyal to its local government.  In 1662 the Fundamental Orders were replaced by a royal charter exerting the King’s authority over the colony.  However, Connecticut residents paid little attention to this document and continued to abide by the provision of the Fundamental Orders.  This continued until 1818, when provisions establishing the Congregational Church as the official religion of Connecticut were deemed incompatible with the relatively recent First Amendment.  A new state constitution followed.

The Civil War monument in front of the state capitol was erected at the time of the convention in 1902.

The Civil War monument in front of the state capitol was erected at the time of the convention in 1902.

By 1901 it was apparent that there were significant flaws in the 1818 constitution.  Senatorial and House districts were set up according to geographic rather than population guidelines.  The end result was that Union, with a population of 1,000, had the same number of representatives as New Haven, with more than 100,000 residents.  In 1901, Connecticut voters called for a constitutional convention by a 2-1 margin.  The convention put forth a proposal that would award towns between one and four representatives based on population.  This was not enough for the cities, but too much for the small towns, and the proposal was voted down by another 2-1 margin.

Charles Andrews

Charles Andrews

That convention would be all but forgotten except that each of the 168 delegates (representing every municipality in the state) was given a pin oak seedling to plant in their town.  Charles Andrews, one-time governor (1879-1881) and then chief justice of the state supreme court was Litchfield’s representative and the presiding officer of the convention.  He planted his at the eastern end of the town green.

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Periodic surveys of these trees have revealed dwindling numbers.  Of the 168 original oaks, 110 were still standing in 1939 and 86 in 1986.  The last survey, conducted in 2002, revealed only 74 remain.  While a new state constitution was finally approved in 1965, Litchfield’s oak – a reminder of a failed constitution – still stands.

Periodic surveys:

1902 168
1937 110
1986 86
2002 74
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Hidden Nearby: The Kent Falls CCC Trail

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Kent Falls is one of Connecticut’s most popular state parks, with hundreds of thousands of people taking advantage of its picnic area and cooling waters every summer.  There remains at least one part of it, however, that is hidden in plain sight.

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Nearly all visitors who hike to the top of the falls do so via the paved path and steps.  At the northern end of the parking lot, however, is the red blazed trail.  Following this trail for a tenth of a mile brings the explorer to the yellow blazed trail.  The reward for the additional effort is a gradual switch-backed ascent to the top of the falls, with magnificent stone retaining walls supporting the trail (which is an old road bed.)

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The stone walls were built by the men of the Camp Macedonia unit of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.  The camp opened in June 1935 and employed 202 men.  While originally opened to build what would become Macedonia State Park, suitable land for a camp was not available near Macedonia Brook.  (The site of Camp Macedonia has only within the last five years been located; its location is not being shared as means of preserving it are determined.)

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In addition to the stone walls, the CCC also constructed the picnic area and the other trails to the top of the falls.  In exchange for their labor, the men received $30 per month, $25 of which had to be sent home to their families.  They were also provided with food, lodging, medical care and education, a desired commodity as most of the men had only an eighth-grade education.  Responsible men were paid an extra fifty cents a weeks to serve as leaders, helping the two army officers stationed at the camp with its administration.

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Most go to Kent Falls to admire its natural beauty.  It is appropriate, however, to also spend a moment reflecting on the men who made this natural beauty accessible to us.