Hidden Nearby: Rochambeau’s March through Southbury

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Following the great American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, Benjamin Franklin negotiated an alliance between the fledgling American nation and France. Motivated by a desire to weaken their British adversaries, and convinced that the Americans could not defeat the British with only foreign financial aid, in January 1780 France reversed its policy to not send ground troops to assist the Americans. In July 1780, General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, with and army of approximately 6,000 men. Two months later, Rochambeau traveled to Hartford to meet with Washington, who desperately wanted to French to aid him in his plan to assault New York City. However, even Washington was forced to admit that it was too late in the year to carry out such an operation.

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (1725-1807)

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau

 

In May of 1781, the two generals met again, this time in Wethersfield. (Note: It was for these two meetings that Washington traveled through Litchfield County, likely crossing Bull’s Bridge in Kent, resting under the Washington Oak in Gaylordsville, and spending the night in Litchfield.) Here, they decided that Rochambeau would indeed move his army to Westchester County, to cooperate with Washington in an attack on the British garrison of New York City. The line of march would bring them across Connecticut, a route known today as the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, administered by the National Park Service.

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Rochambeau’s forces began their march out of Rhode Island on June 18th. The general’s plan called for the men to march 12 to 15 miles a day. To avoid the heat of mid-day, the troops awoke at 2:00 am, and were on the march by 4:00 am. Marching was typically completed between 8:00 am and noon, at which time the men pitched their tents. The French army were treated as heroes by the Connecticut populace, who greeted them with music and dancing, and French soldiers long remembered the “beautiful maidens” they met on the march. Around June 30th, Rochambeau’s marched through Southbury, an event commemorated by the above marker. While this marker is situated between Route 6 and Mansion Hill Road, a National Park Service map indicates that Rochambeau’s forces did not take this route, instead picking up Route 6 further south.

Jonathan Trumbull’s Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. Rochambeau is the 12th (final) figure on the left side. The British general Charles O’Hara, tasked by Cornwallis with surrendering the army, initially offered his sword to Rochambeau, who refused in deference to Washington. Washington also refused, and directed O’Hara to surrender his sword to Benjamin Lincoln (on the horse at center), who had previously been humiliated by the British at Charleston.

 

Washington personally reviewed the French force after their arrival in Westchester on July 6th. After considerable discussion about how best to attack the British in New York City, the arrival of a French fleet off the Virginia coast compelled the two generals to change their plans and focus on the British force under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Within a few months, Cornwallis had surrendered, the world was turned upside down, and the Americans were on their way to independence. It was thus a victorious French army that marched back through Southbury in 1782, having done much to ensure American independence.

For more information on Rochambeau’s march, check out the National Park Service’s excellent brochure: https://www.nps.gov/waro/learn/news/upload/WARO-brochure-both-sides-2.pdf

 

 

 

DAR’s Memorial Window at Litchfield Historical Society

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One of Litchfield’s newest markers (along with the War on Terror monument on the green) was dedicated in September 2016. It commemorates the dedication of a stained glass window in the north side of the Litchfield Historical Society.

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The window was dedicated in 1907 by the Mary Floyd Tallmadge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a memorial to the more than 3,000 men from Litchfield County who served in the War for Independence. For more on the service of these men, click here.

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Frederic Crowninshield (1845-1918)

 

The Mary Floyd Tallmadge Chapter was founded as an independent branch of the DAR in 1899. Prior to that, it had existed as an adjunct of the Judea (Washington) Chapter. Elizabeth Barney Buel, the first regent of the chapter, spearheaded the effort to place a memorial stained glass window in the Noyes Memorial Building, which at the time housed both the historical society and the town’s library. It required considerable fund raising, both for the execution and installation and for the services of artist Frederic Crowninshield, who was president of the Fine Arts Federation and former instructor at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts School of Drawing and Painting. Crowninshield is perhaps best known for his stained glass window Emmanuel’s Land , depicting a scene from Pilgrim’s Progress, in Boston’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

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Crowninshield’s design for Litchfield depicts a young man with a sword in his right hand and a laurel branch in his left, symbolic of victory in the war. The full beauty of the artist’s design is visible when the window is illuminated at night.

 

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The Noyes Memorial Building, Litchfield Historical Society. The Revolutionary War Soldiers Memorial Window is at the far right of this picture.

 

In 1964, the library moved from the Noyes Memorial Building (named for Julia Tallmadge Noyes, a granddaughter of Mary Floyd Tallmadge) to its current location in the former home of Oliver Wolcott, Jr. This allowed for the Litchfield Historical Society to occupy the entire building on the corner of South and East Streets, where the young man with drawn sword in the window can guard the town’s history.

75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Photo of Litchfield War Monuments - Litchfield, CT, United States

This December 7th marks the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and while Litchfield County residents tend to think that it was the Revolutionary War that had the greatest impact on our region, the World War II monument on the Litchfield green identifies 480 men from the town who served in the American armed forces. Nearly 250 men from Litchfield County died in the war. Additionally, many area factories were converted to production for the war effort, and many of our towns’s landscapes were altered as a result.

And while many of our town greens have notable World War II monuments, touching memorials also appear in out of the way places, like this one inside Washington’s Congregational Church:

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or this one along Route 202 in New Milford, which is particularly noticeable at Christmas time:

As the anniversary of Pearl Harbor allows us to reflect on the war, let’s be sure to remember those sacrifices by our Litchfield County ancestors.

 

Hidden Nearby: The Old Waterbury River Turnpike in Winchester Center

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With the end of the American Revolution, Connecticut needed to reframe its transportation infrastructure from one dependent upon the British fleet to one that utilizes roadways to connect the state to major markets. The challenge faced by the fledgling state was that because it was heavily in debt from the war effort it lacked the funds to build roads, and in the wake of the revolution, it didn’t dare tax its citizens to pay for them. The answer to this transportation and economic dilemma was privately built turnpikes.

Map from Frederic Woods’s The Turnpikes of New England (1919)

The last two decades of the 18th and first decades of the 19th saw dozens of state-chartered but privately built turnpikes criss-cross the state. Turnpike corporations undertook the high costs of building the roads – clearing forests, grading the roads, building bridges if needed – in exchange for the rights to operate two tolls along their route. (Paths around these tolls, known as shunpikes, soon dotted the landscape.) Profits were limited to 12% return on investment; anything more was taken by the state. The most successful of the turnpikes, including the Greenwoods Turnpike between Norfolk and Winsted, reinvested their excess profits in their road, continuously improving conditions.

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The Waterbury River Turnpike Company ran one such road that began at the Massachusetts border, ran through Colebrook and Winchester to Torrington and ultimately Waterbury. (The Waterbury River refers to what we know as the Naugatuck River.) There is, perhaps, no better place to see what these turnpikes looked like than in Winchester Center. Designed in a French style, turnpike engineers looked to minimize curves. They also desired broad roadbeds; the section of the Waterbury River Turnpike pictured above, however, demonstrates that this was not always achieved.

 

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The turnpikes were at the heart of the nation’s market revolution in the early 19th century, providing the means for increasing numbers of Americans to access the goods being produced in a booming economy.  Testimony to this stands in the interpretative marker (seen above) that stands in Winchester Center. The fees charged indicate that these roads were used to transport livestock, goods, and people. By the 1850s, most of these turnpikes had their charters revoked and became property of the state, but their importance in helping to build the nation’s economy cannot be understated.

 

Dam Remains along Butternut Brook

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Remnants of a stone dam along Butternut Brook in Litchfield. This is a common feature on the Litchfield County landscape.

These remnants of dams are on Butternut Brook, along Duck Pond Road in Litchfield. They transport the explorer back to a time when the region’s many small industries were powered by water, an era historian Kenneth Howell has called an “empire over the dam.”

A grindstone, most commonly used in a gristmill to grind wheat into flour, or more commonly in New England to ground kernels into corn meal.

Water power was cheap and usually – except in droughts – reliable. Dams would hold back enough water to turn the water wheel, which in turn powered the drive shaft. Attached to the shaft was a vertical gear, which in turn transferred power to a horizontal gear. This, in many Litchfield County mills, turned the grindstones that turned wheat or corn into flour.

The Butternut Brook crosses Brush Hill Road (called Ripley Road on this older topographical map). The dams are located near Duck Pond Road’s intersection with Milton Road.

While Litchfield proper never saw industry rise above the level of small grist and saw mills, greater sources of water power in Milton and Fluteville (a section of town along the Naugatuck River bordering Harwinton, now lost to the Northville Dam) larger operations blossomed, powering lathes, blacksmith shops, and clock making. And of course, the dams in Northfield fueled that borough’s knife shop.

The streams of Litchfield County are dotted with hundreds of remnants of old dams, a reminder of the small industries that helped make life in this once isolated corner of Connecticut a little easier.

Look for a future post specific to Milton’s industrial heritage.

Bantam’s World War II

Bantam Lane, now Bantam Lake Road (Rt 209), in January 1942.

Our first house was in Bantam. Built in 1940, it was part of an expansion of that section of Litchfield resulting from the nation’s preparation for World War II. The area on Route 209 that we lived in was called Parrotville, as the houses were built on what was once the Parrot farm. These were built for the families of the managers at the Warren McArthur Corporation, which during the war produced most of the seats used in American military aircraft. In remodeling that house, we found ration books hidden behind the moulding, one more vestige of the impact that the war had on the community.

The Bantam Manufacturing Company opened its doors at what is now the intersection of routes 202 and 209 between 1900 and 1905. By 1917, the popularity of the automobile led to an increase in the demand for ball bearings, and the Bantam Ball Bearing Company took over the building in 1917. In 1938, the Warren McArthur Corporation acquired the factory to produce their sleek metal chairs, which epitomized the art deco style of the 1920s and 1930s. With the coming of the war, however, the company was asked to make seats for military aircraft.

Housing built for Warren McArthur workers on what is now Circle Drive. The government report that this photo accompanied stated that “as the automobiles and tires of workers in Bantam’s defense industries wear out, it is probably that additional housing facilities will be needed.”

A look inside the Heath family’s home, one of the units built for defense workers. Advertised as a five-minute walk from the plant, the Heaths played thirty dollars a month in rent.

Despite rationing and shortages of oil and tires, more than half the workers commuted to the plant, as evidenced by this photograph of its parking lot.

The urgency of the war effort led to the plant operating an average of sixteen hours a day, and on several occasions ran around the clock. This resulted in a need for labor, and soon workers from Torrington, Winsted, and other area towns began commuting to Bantam. But with the shortages of oil, gas, and rubber tires, housing within walking distance of the factory became a necessity. The federal government stepped in and oversaw the construction of sixty duplexes – what is now Circle Drive – a boom that increased the number of housing residences in Bantam by a third.

Jean Brunetto, described as “auburn haired” by the Office of Emergency Management, was a 1938 graduate of Litchfield High School who worked at Warren McArthur, along with her sister. Here Jean polishes the aluminum of a seat for a bomber.

The Bantam Fire Company had a bowling alley in its basement, which was rented out to a different organization each night of the week as a fundraiser.

Even following the surrenders of Germany and Japan, the Warren McArthur Corporation continued to make airplane seats. The company was acquired by PTC Aerospace, which built a new facility on Route 202 in the 1960s, but kept the old factory operating on a limited basis until 1990. Ultimately, PTC Aerospace closed its doors in Bantam in 2002 and moved operations to Northern Ireland.

Bantam had an airplane observation post in the northern part of the borough. It was manned twenty-four hours a day, usually by defense industry workers on their off hours. Here Charles Kilbourne watches the skies.

The Warren McArthur Corporation was not Bantam’s only defense industry. Here workers at the Dante Electric Company make parts for submarines. Dante Electric was located on Bantam Lane, now Route 209.

Bantam’s experience in World War II lives on in an amazing collection of photos taken by the Office of Emergency Management in January 1942. Some of them accompany this post; others are available by searching “Bantam, Connecticut” on the Library of Congress’s website, http://www.loc.gov.

 

 

 

Hidden Nearby: Charles Grandison Finney’s Birthplace

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Monument at the birthplace of Charles Grandison Finney on Cunningham Road in Warren.

There were no great battles fought in Litchfield County, nor were any presidents born here. The county has, however, left an indelible mark on American history, perhaps in no area as great as in religion. The county was the home of Joseph Bellamy, Lyman Beecher, Horace Bushnell, and Michael McGivney. Another extremely prominent American religious leader who called the county home was Charles Grandison Finney, born in Warren in 1792. Finney was the youngest of fifteen children, and the family moved to upstate New York soon after his birth.

Charles Grandison Finney

Charles Grandison Finney

Finney has been called the “Father of American Revivalism,” and the area in western New York in which he operated became known as the “Burned-Over District” for the intensity of the religious revivals there. The high point of Finney’s revivalism was 1825-1835, and they were particularly popular in towns like Rochester that were undergoing dramatic economic transformations brought on by the opening of the Erie Canal.

Rochester, NY 1830

Rochester, NY 1830

Finney preached salvation through faith alone, but also wrote of the role of the individual’s will in achieving salvation. Finney’s religious views led him and his followers to promote social reforms, especially abolitionism and educational opportunities for women. These beliefs led him in 1835 to Oberlin College in Ohio, which accepted both genders and all races. Finney would go on to serve as the school’s president from 1851 to 1866.

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Getting to this monument is very challenging; it is advised that those seeking it walk or mountain bike down Cunningham Road. Thanks to Warren historian Ellen Paul and the dog walker I fortuitously met along Cunningham for the directions! Thanks also to Jason and Amanda McGrew for their assistance.

For more on Finney and his revivals in Rochester, see Paul Johnson’s wonderful A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837.