Hidden Nearby: The Torrington Savings Bank

Alexander Hamilton (1755? to 1804), first United States Secretary of the Treasury

Alexander Hamilton’s envisioned an economic future for the United States in which the fledgling country would soon rival the great powers of Europe in industrial production. The introduction of factories to the new nation was dependent upon banks that could provide access to the money needed to fund such undertakings. The result was the Bank of the United States, which was chartered in 1791, and operated until its charter expired – and was not renewed – in 1811. Five years later the Second Bank of the United States was created by Congress and President James Madison. However, an extension of its charter was vetoed by Andrew Jackson in 1832, leading to the transfer of the Bank from federal to state control in 1836.

A political cartoon critical of Jackson’s 1832 veto of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States.

In the wake of the collapse of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836, banks across the country struggled with fraud, counterfeiting, and the lack of access to banks for many Americans. Banks were banned altogether in Wisconsin. In the states of the Northeast, where banking continued with few interruptions, industry thrived. This was not the case in other parts of the country. The National Banking Act of 1863 hoped to ensure consistent regulation of banks – and thus, consume confidence – across the country. This was especially important in the midst of the Civil War, as banks were the major purveyors of war bonds. With access to capital restored, American industry was poised to explode.

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This formed the backstory to the founding of the Torrington Savings Bank. Originally chartered as the Wolcottville Savings Bank in 1868, its first location was in the Granite Block, opposite today’s Warner Theatre. Francis Holley was the first president of the bank. In 1881, the bank changed its name to the Torrington Savings Bank. In 1938, the bank moved to its present headquarters, at the corner of Main Street and Mason Street, which had previously been the site of the George S. Weeks Grocery.

The Torrington Savings Bank, built 1938. Photo courtesy of Torrington Historical Society

The noted American architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) famously said that in architecture, “Form follows function.” This is evident in architect Carl Victor Johnson’s design, in which the sturdy brick and stone design is offset by colonial revival architecture, reminding passersby of the bank’s New England roots.

For more on the history of the Torrington Savings Bank building – and an excellent source for the history of Torrington – be sure to check out the Torrington Historical Society’s “Audio Walking Tour of Downtown Torrington.”

For more on the history of counterfeiting in Litchfield County, see my book, Wicked Litchfield County.

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Litchfield County at Gettysburg

I’ve just returned from my annual trip to the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, which led me to think about Litchfield County’s role at the battle. Gettysburg was not Litchfield County’s battle; the majority of volunteers from the northwest hills served with the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Their day would come at the Battle of Cold Harbor, nearly a year after Gettysburg. Still, a glance at the casualty lists on Charles P. Hamblen’s Connecticut Yankees at Gettysburg reveals the sacrifices made by some residents of the county in the Civil War’s greatest battle.

Robert McCarrick of Lakeville was 19 when he left the state to serve the Union cause, enlisting as a private in the 20th New York State Militia (also known as the 80th New York  Infantry). He was captured by Confederates on July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. He returned to the Union army and served through 1864.

Allen Brady of Torrington served as the major of the 17th Connecticut, which was primarily a Fairfield County unit. When Lt. Colonel Fowler was killed on July 1, Brady assumed command of the regiment, which bravely repulse a Confederate assault on Cemetery Hill on July 2nd. In this action, Brady was wounded by a shell fragment and was discharged from the army for disability. He received an honorary promotion to colonel.  With Brady on Cemetery Hill was Private Daniel Hunt of Bethlehem. He was captured by Confederates on the morning of July 3rd. Paroled in August, he served through the rest of the war.

Charles Squires of Roxbury, a private in the 5th Connecticut Infantry, was captured in the fighitng on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd. He was paroled in August 1863, but was killed in fighting at the coincidentally-named Culp’s Farm in Georgia in 1864.

Nathan Abbott of Watertown, a sergeant in the 20th Connecticut, was wounded in the fighting on Culp’s Hill on July 3rd. He recovered from his wounds and was promoted to be an officer. He served through the remainder of the war, returning home in June 1865.

 

 

Litchfield County’s most famous Civil War soldier was John Sedgwick of Cornwall. A West Point graduate and a major general, Sedgwick commanded the Sixth Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac, at 18,000 men the largest corps in the army. He led his men on a famous 34-mile march to Gettysburg, arriving in time for some of his men to go into action on July 2nd and 3rd. Following the battle, Sedgwick was tasked with leading the pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s retreating Confederate army. Sedgwick was killed at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864. He is buried in Cornwall, and monuments to his honor stand at West Point, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and in his hometown.

 

 

LHRR Series: The Sixth Mile: The West Cemetery

Microwave Mile (Courtesy of Janet Serra)

Entering the sixth mile of the Litchfield Hills Road Race, runners encounter what is known as the “Microwave Mile.” Here the shade of White Memorial forests is left behind, and in the open the sun of a hot June afternoon is brought fully to bear. The scene becomes more ominous to those runners who take note of the West Cemetery alongside the course.

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Here, some of the town’s earliest settlers were buried. Current burials continue in the adjacent Saint Anthony’s Cemetery (an annex is across the street). The historian, however, is drawn to effigy markers, gravestones without accompanying bodies. One of these is a memorial to Joseph Harris, the first original settler of the town to die. In 1723, Harris was killed by  a group of Native Americans while tending to his fields. Shot dead and scalped, his body was found by neighbors the next day, sitting on the ground with his head resting against a tree. This was in the area of town where Litchfield Ford now stands. That area became known as Harris Plains.

Harris’s burial location is no longer known, but in 1830, Litchfield residents erected a monument to their ancestor in the West Cemetery. It reads:

In Memory of Joseph Harris who was murdered by the Indians in the year 1721. While plowing in his Field in the vicinity of the Alms House, he was shot by the Indians concealed in Ambush. He was found dead Sitting on the Ground, his Head and Body reclining against the Trunk of a Tree. To record the first Death among the original Settlers of this Town & to perpetuate the Memory of a worthy but unfortunate Citizen this Monument is erected 1830 by the voluntary Benefactions of individual Subscribers

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Effigy graves in the West Cemetery

A second example of effigy graves is in the area of the cemetery reserved for Civil War veterans. Initially, this land was donated as a potters field for those soldiers who could not afford a grave plot. Over time, it became a place for families to erect markers to their sons and husbands whose bodies did not return home from the war. In Victorian America, the idea of a “good death,” in which the stricken died at home, in their bed, surrounded by loved ones, gave comfort in times of grief. The Civil War, with young men dying in brutal fashion in unfamiliar surroundings posed an obvious but serious threat to this notion. A solution was the effigy grave, a place on which where families could focus their grief and prayers.

For more information on the history of the Litchfield Hills Road Race, see Lou Pellegrino’s book A History of the Litchfield Hills Road Race: In Smallness there is Beauty (now available at the Litchfield Historical Society).

 

 

 

Litchfield Then and Now: The 150th Anniversary of the End of the Civil War

archarchmodernApril 9th, the anniversary of the Lee’s surrender to Grant, marks the culmination of the Civil War sesquicentennial. Litchfield County soldiers served with the 29th Connecticut Infantry, an African American unit that was the first Union regiment to enter the Confederate capital of Richmond, and the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery that pursued Lee’s army to the surrender at Appomattox Court House. While the war ended in the early spring, it was not until August 1865 that many of Litchfield County’s veterans returned home.  That month a great celebration in Litchfield honored returning veterans from the county. The village was decorated with enormous national flags while the smaller flags of a dozen army corps flew from the giant pole on the Green. A triumphal arch, made of papier-mâché, was erected on East Street, near where the Litchfield Historical Society now stands. It had the Sixth Corps flag in the center and two divisional flags on the side, commemorating the army units to which Litchfield’s soldiers belonged.  Below those flags were the names of the battles in which the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery fought.

The returning veterans – 300 to 400 strong – arrived in East Litchfield by rail, marched to the town, and paraded through the arch – soldiers on one side, civilians once again on the other.

Colonel Elisha Kellogg of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery

Colonel Elisha Kellogg of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery

The local newspaper reported that “The reception of the 19th in this town on Tuesday was a most gratifying success.”  Residents of neighboring towns began arriving in the early morning.  Reverend Richards gave a benediction, and Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Smith of Woodbury gave a welcoming speech:

I will not recount the list of your battles – they are known to all present – from that               first bloody day to the last unparalleled march of over 100 miles in 22 marching                   hours – ending in Lee’s surrender.  These things – memories to you – are glorious             wonders to us!  We look upon you with emotion!  With joy and gratitude, and bid                 you welcome!

Congressman Hubbard, who lived on South Street and was a favorite of Lincoln’s who referred to the representative as “Old Connecticut, also spoke:

Your hard fare, your toilsome marches and constant exposure to wounds                            and death have been crowned by the highest reward ever gained by men at                        arms.  The conspirators against a people’s government are in the dust and                          freedom is triumphant.

Major General John Sedgwick

Major General John Sedgwick

Thousands of people attended the festivities, which consisted of bands, food and drink, and performances.  An exhibit hall was set up with relics from the war, including the coat with the bullet hole that killed General John Sedgwick of Cornwall, captured swords, battlefield artifacts, paintings and photos of Henry Dutton (killed at Cedar Mountain, John Hubbard (the Congressman’s son), the three Wadhams brothers (killed at Fort Darling, the North Anna, and Cold Harbor), and Colonel Elisha Kellogg (killed at Cold Harbor).

At dark, an illumination allowed the festivities to continue until the lights went out at 10 p.m., when the crowd dispersed.

Hidden Nearby: New Milford’s Underground Railroad Monument

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Two leading figures of the abolitionist movement, John Brown and Harriet Beecher Stowe, were natives of Litchfield County. As such, they would likely have been pleased by the county’s role in the Underground Railroad.  While much of the history of this secret route by which fugitive slaves were ushered to Canada is clouded in myth and legend, there is substantial documentation for a route that passed from the coast to Waterbury, then to New Milford, Washington, Torrington, Winchester and Winsted before crossing into Massachusetts.

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New Milford’s Quaker Meetinghouse, at 300 Danbury Road (Rt. 7).

Quakers took the lead in operations in New Milford, and the Old Friends’ Meetinghouse, which still stands on Route 7 south of town, was a prominent center of activity. Two Centuries of New Milford, an early 20th century history, documented the role of other locations in town in the Underground Railroad:

In the later days of slavery in the South there were several stations of the Underground      Railroad in this vicinity. Mr. Charles Sabin’s house in Lanesville was one, and the                house of Mr. Augustine Thayer on Grove Street in this village was another. Mr. Thayer      and his good wife devoted their lives to the Abolition cause. They helped many poor            slaves on their way, rising from their beds in the night to feed and minister to them, and      secreting them till they could be taken under cover of darkness to Deacon Gerardus          Roberts’ house on Second Hill, from there to Mr. Daniel Platt’s in Washington, and so        on, by short stages, all the way until the Canadian border was reached.

A second prominent stop in Washington was at the home of Frederick Gunn, who established the Gunnery School in 1849.

As fugitive slaves reached Torrington, they likely sought refuge at the home of Isaiah Tuttle and his son, Uriel, who lived in the Torringford section of town. Uriel was president of the Litchfield County and the Connecticut Anti-Slavery Societies. Of his anti-slavery activities, Deacon Thomas Miller wrote, “His efforts and undying zeal in the cause of emancipation are too well known to the public in this state to need a delineation… His house was literally a place of refuge for the panting fugitive, and his purse and team were often employed to help him forward to a place of safety.”

Isaiah Tuttle House, on Torringford Street, Torrington. Courtesy of Connecticut Freedom Trail

Isaiah Tuttle House, on Torringford Street, Torrington. Courtesy of Connecticut Freedom Trail

Other reported stops on the Underground Railroad include the home of Joshua Bird, a deacon at the Bethlehem Congregational Church who lived on the town Green. Henry Terry, grandson of the clockmaker, lived on North Street in Plymouth. An ardent abolitionist, he allegedly had tunnels running from his cellar to an outbuilding to whisk slaves to safety. The presence of tunnels like these fed Southern fears about Northern complicity in helping slaves escape, and the belief that the election of Lincoln in 1860 would lead to legalization of the Underground Railroad were major factors in the decision of southern states to secede from the Union in the winter of 1860-61. Interestingly, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued almost two years into the war, the number of fugitive slaves making their way to the north dropped precipitously, as they only needed to reach Union lines, not Canada, to achieve freedom.

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Looking to commemorate her town’s role in the Underground Railroad, New Milford resident Frances Smith conceived the idea of a monument at the head of the town green, in the shadow of the Civil War monument. Sculptor Ray Crawford provided the design, which depicts a broken chain, symbolizing the end of slavery. The monument was dedicated on November 17, 2013.

Hidden Nearby: New Milford Public Library’s Memorial Hall

2013-11-29 12.46.47New Milford’s first library was established in 1796.  Housed in the homes of five different “public spirited citizens” it was ironically known as the Union Library.  The library was open only five days a year, and consisted of 350 books.  A century later, the New Milford Library Association was founded and the collection was relocated to the town hall.

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In 1893, the General Assembly of Connecticut passed a bill “authorizing the Town of New Milford to erect a library building and memorial hall,” honoring the 267 soldiers and sailors from New Milford who served in the Civil War. The legislation further specified that the structure was “also to contain the tablets, emblems, and inscriptions commemorative of those soldiers who enlisted from said New Milford, and for meetings of the Grand Army and for other literary, patriotic, and historical purposes such as the town may prescribe.”

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The “Grand Army” was the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization comprised of veterans of the Union Army.  Founded in Decatur, Illinois in 1866, the GAR became among the first – and arguably one of the most successful – lobbying organizations.  At its peak it consisted of 490,000 Civil War veterans.  The GAR supported voting rights for African American veterans, furthered the careers of Republican politicians, and pushed for Congress to establish veterans pensions. (The GAR was so successful in this last endeavor that as of 2013, one pension is still being paid – $876 a year to the daughter of a Civil War veteran born around 1930!)

General Emory Upton, for whom New Milford's GAR post was named.

General Emory Upton, for whom New Milford’s GAR post was named.

Egbert Marsh, a prominent citizen, offered the town a lot on Main Street and $10,000 toward the construction of a new building, with individuals contributing the balance. Marsh donated additional money to purchase books for the collection. The library building was erected in 1897.  The reading room opened in January 1898, and the circulation of books began two months later. The second story of the building served sat the headquarters of the GAR’s Upton Post, which was organized in 1882 with 26 charter members.

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Egbert Marsh’s grave, Center Cemetery, New Milford

Egbert Marsh died in 1896 and never saw the completed structure.  The second story of the library, devoted to public lectures and meetings, is still called Memorial Hall, however, and its walls are decorated with prominent images and documents from the Civil War.

Hidden Nearby: John Sedgwick’s Grave and Monumenthttp://youtu.be/PVDBNIzGi6ghttp://youtu.be/PVDBNIzGi6gPVDBNIzGi6ghttp://youtu.be/PVDBNIzGi6g

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Author’s note:  See a related video about Litchfield and the Civil War done in cooperation with litchfield.bz here:   http://youtu.be/PVDBNlzGi6g

Along Route 43 in Cornwall Hollow lies the grave of one of the highest-ranking Union generals killed 150 years ago in the Civil War, Major General John Sedgwick.

The battles of the Mexican War in which John Sedgwick participated, from the monument in Cornwall Hollow.

The battles of the Mexican War in which John Sedgwick participated, from the monument in Cornwall Hollow.

Sedgwick was born in Cornwall Hollow on September 13, 1813. From a military family, he enrolled at the United States Military Academy after attending Sharon’s one-room schoolhouse. Graduating from West Point in 1837 he fought in the Seminole War and the Mexican War. While serving on the Kansas plains in the 1850s he received word that his family’s Cornwall Hollow home had been destroyed in a fire. He took leave from the army to build the house that still stands near his grave.

Major General John Sedgwick

Major General John Sedgwick

Sedgwick’s star rose rapidly after the firing on Fort Sumter. He was commissioned a brigadier general, then was promoted to command a division and ultimately the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He was beloved by his men, who called him “Uncle John.” One of his soldiers described him as “an old bachelor with oddities, an addiction to practical jokes and endless games of solitaire.” He fought at some of the war’s most famous battles: Antietam (where he was wounded three times), Chancellorsville, Gettysburg.

"The Death of General Sedgwick, Spotsylvania, May 9, 1864" by Julian Scott.

“The Death of General Sedgwick, Spotsylvania, May 9, 1864” by Julian Scott.

Commanding his corps at Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, 1864, Sedgwick was surprised to see his men dodging the fire of a distant sharpshooter. “What, what!” he proclaimed. “Men dodging this way for a single bullet? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line. I am ashamed of you.” Laughing, Sedgwick announced, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Almost instantly a bullet struck “Uncle John” just under the left eye. His lifeless body fell into the arms of his chief of staff.

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Sedgwick’s body was taken to Washington, DC, where a military procession was held. Another procession was held in New York City. More than 2,000 people turned out for the Cornwall Hollow funeral. In 1892, the Grand Army of the Republic marked the grave with an obelisk bearing the Greek Cross, symbol of Sedgwick’s beloved Sixth Corps. In 1900, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, friends of the general’s sister, erected the monument across the street, which bears the names of the Mexican and Civil War battles in which the general fought, and the inscription “the fittest place where man can die is where man fights for man.”