Hidden Nearby: Woodbury’s “Benjamin Franklin Mile Stone”

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Some legends become carved in stone, or, in the case of Woodbury’s milestone, cast in iron.  The small plaque accompanying a milestone along Main Street in Woodbury states, “Benjamin Franklin Mile Stone.” The milestone itself reads “XIV M,” or fourteen miles. While there is a long-standing tradition that Franklin had these markers laid out – sometimes the legend even states that Franklin himself was involved in the placement of the stones – he was almost certainly not involved.

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Certain facts about the legend are true. Franklin did serve as one of two deputy postmasters general for the British colonies from 1753 to 1774. Franklin did oversee the modernization of postal roads during his tenure. And, the cost postage in that era was calculated by distance. However, there is no evidence in Franklin’s papers to corroborate the story, and while Franklin did serve as deputy postmaster general for 21 years, he was actually in the American colonies for only 6 years. The rest of the time he was in England on business representing the Pennsylvania colony.

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Colonial post roads.

 A specific aspect of the legend claims that Franklin erected a series of milestones between Woodbury and Litchfield while on a trip to New England from June to November 1763. However, Franklin not only didn’t set foot in Connecticut on that trip, but neither Woodbury nor Litchfield had a post office at the time.

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Milestones had little to do with postal operations, being mostly “embellishments” set up in towns to aid passersby. Post riders were quite familiar with their routes, well aware of the mileages between different points. Still, there are mysteries surrounding the milestones. If it wasn’t Franklin, who did put them up? The series of milestones seems to be the work of different people, done at different times. And what does the distance relate to? Along modern Route 6, it is thirteen miles from Woodbury to both Thomaston and Newtown. Perhaps further study will reveal who constructed the milestone, and for what destination.

July 1989 Tornado

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This bell and plaque commemorate the United Methodist Church of Bantam, destroyed 25 years ago today by a tornado.

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On Monday, July 10th, 1989, a powerful family of tornados came out of New York State and ripped apart Cornwall’s Mohawk Ski Area, damaging every ski lift and carrying some of their chairs miles away.

Workers cleaning up the Cathedral Pines area after the tornado.  ctvisit.com

Workers cleaning up the Cathedral Pines area after the tornado. ctvisit.com

Atop any list of Litchfield County’s ecological treasures would have been Cornwall’s Cathedral Pines, at42-acres one of the largest stands of white pines and hemlocks (some reaching 120 feet high) east of the Mississippi. In one of the county’s first acts of ecological awareness, the Calhoun family purchased the land in 1883 to protect it from logging. The family donated Cathedral Pines to the Nature Conservancy in 1967. The tornado destroyed ninety percent of the trees in Cathedral Pines.

An early view of the Methodist Church in Bantam, destroyed by the tornado.  Bantam Historical Society.

An early view of the Methodist Church in Bantam, destroyed by the tornado. Bantam Historical Society.

Winds in excess of 150 miles per hour blew through Milton and Bantam, destroying homes, churches and stores.

Another tornado hit Watertown, and 12-year-old Jennifer Bike was killed when a tree fell on her tent in Black Rock State Park in Thomaston.

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Today, a small park at the site of the Methodist Church – built in 1901 – in Bantam commemorates tornado. Within the foundation of the church are benches are gardens, a far cry from the fury unleashed on Litchfield County 25 years ago.

I was sixteen years old, working at Lake Waramaug Country Club in New Preston that afternoon. I vividly remember the sky turning a greenish color and a vicious thunderstorm rolling through. Please use the comments area on this blog to share your memories of the tornado.