Harwinton derives its name from the fact that it was settled in 1726 by emigrants from Hartford and Windsor, and it was originally called “Hartford and Windsdor’s Town..” Those settlers from Hartford were given land rights in the eastern part of town, while those from Windsor were given the west side of town. A post was put on the dividing line, and that post evolved into the Harwinton’s well-known Sign Box.
An old image of the Harwinton green, courtesy of the Harwinton Historical Society.
The sign box was designed by Lewis Smith, who served as the town’s probate judge from 1844 to 1860. In addition to providing directions and distances to nearby towns, the sign box also provided residents a means of posting notices to their fellow townspeople in the days before other forms of communication.
In 2006 a wayward motorist destroyed the sign box, which was soon replaced. In May 2013, Larry Connors, a woodworker in town, constructed a more permanent structure and Amanda Surveski, a student at Lewis S. Mills High School, painted the letters, distances and directions.
While thousands of drivers pass it every day without noticing it, the Harwinton sign box is one of those landmarks that give our New England towns their character.
The Harwinton water trough stands a memorial to the original setllers of this part of town, and to the development of the Burlington Road/Harmony Hill Road Historic District area. Harwinton was originally Hartford and Windsor’s Town, a tribute to the original emigrants who settled it.
Next to the trough is this granite marker; it was once a drinking fountain.
Among those original settlers was Major Abijah Catlin (1715-1778), who was given a land grant here in 1738. While there is considerable debate about whether the Abijah ever moved to Harwinton, his family maintained homes and businesses in this area for five generations. His son, Abijah Jr., operated a store and an inn at the crossroads of Route 4 and Harmony Hill Road. Here, in 1780, Catlin served refreshments to George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, and General Henry Knox. One of his descendants, George Catlin, was educated at the Litchfield Law School and served in the United States Congress.
Photo courtesy of Harwinton Historical Society.
The Catlins placed a trough at this location at some point in the 18th century. It utilized a nearby spring and gravity to provide horses and oxen passing by with a source of drinking water. It operated until the early 20th century.
Much like the Goshen animal pound, the trough reminds us of the integral role animals played in the lives of those who lived in this area two centuries ago.