The Frances Howe Sutton Bridge

sutton bridge

The Frances Howe Sutton bridge on the Little Pond Trail in White Memorial Note the plaque on the right side of the bridge.

The most popular trail in the White Memorial Foundation is the boardwalk that encircles Little Pond.  The bridge in the photograph above, which carries a plaque honoring Frances Howe Sutton, spans the outlet of the pond, where the Bantam River turns toward Bantam Lake.

Wild Garden Map

A 1932 map showing the Litchfield Wild Garden. The Sutton Bridge appears at the bottom. “Map of the Litchfield Wild Garden” Litchfield Historical Society, Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library. Thanks to Linda Hocking at the Litchfield Historical Society for providing the digital image.

In 1922, the White Memorial Foundation leased 150 acres east of Little Pond to the Litchfield Garden Club for the “creation and maintenance of a wild garden containing trees, shrubs and flowers native to Connecticut and to Litchfield County.”  (The Garden Club paid $1.00 to lease the land for ten years.)  The garden club created trails through this area to allow visitors to access the flora.  This became known as the Litchfield Wild Garden.  In 1928, the Munroe Bridge was built to offer visitors access to the west side of the Bantam River as it flowed into Little Pond.  (This is the bridge near the Litchfield Country Club.)

suttonTen years later, Herbert L. Sutton financed the construction of a second bridge, which was built in memory of his wife, Frances Howe Sutton.  This bridge crossed the river as it flowed out of Little Pond, and gave visitors access to the Pine Island section of White Memorial.

sutton 3In subsequent years management of the Wild Garden passed from the Litchfield Garden Club to the Wild Garden Association and then to the Litchfield Hills Audubon Society.  In 1959, the boardwalk was completed around the entirety of Little Pond, in memory of Ralph T. Wadhams.  Finally, in 1975, the area of the Wild Garden reverted back to White Memorial.  While the trails in this area are no longer maintained, the careful observer can still locate where they once ran.

little pond

The view from the bridge.

In September 1985, flooding from Hurrican Gloria necessitated a rebuilding of the boardwalk.  Ultimately this project required 57,000 board feet of lumber, 2,600 hours of labor, tons of nails, and $73,000 to repair the 1.2 mile trail.  While entire sections of the trail and uncounted individual boards have been replaced since 1985, the structure of the boardwalk remains today.  Those who have ventured to Little Pond for birding in the spring or to admire the stark beauty of a New England winter understand why this trail remains White Memorial’s most popular.

For more information on the Little Pond boardwalk, see Keith R. Cudworth, The White Memorial Foundation:  The First 100 Years, The Legacy of Alain and May White (White Memorial Foundation, 2012).


Connecticut Tercentary Signs

Travelers entering Litchfield from the west encounter this tercentary sign as they pass Stop and Shop.

In 1935, Connecticut celebrated the tercentenary of its European settlement. It was an enormous undertaking, with over 3,000 events attended by more than 4 million people (the total population of the state was 1.6 million,which ranked it 29th in the country; in 2012, with 3.5 million residents, Connecticut still ranks 29th!).

The State Legislature created the Connecticut Tercentary Commission in 1929 to plan and oversee the commemoration.  Among its sponsored activities were special exhibits and ceremonies, musical events, pageants and parades, activities for schoolchildren, and special license plates.  Special coins were minted, and special stamps created.

Two undertakings of the Commission continue to serve their original purpose more than three quarters of a century later.  The first is the series of sixty pamphlets on Connecticut history published by Yale University Press for the Commission.  These pamphlets, authored by various Connecticut writers including Commission chairman Samuel Herbert Fisher, are all available at the Connecticut State Library.  Of particular interest to Litchfield are The Settlement of Litchfield County, The Litchfield Law School, 1775 – 1833, and Connecticut Portraits by Ralph Earl.

The east side of the sign between Stop and Shop and the Webster Bank. It bears Connecticut’s state motto, which translates to “He who transplanted still sustains” and the state seal, which shows three grapevines, one representing each of Connecticut’s three earliest settlements, Windsor, Wethersfield and Hartford.

More noticeable on the Litchfield landscape are the roadside historical markers erected by the Commission.  Thousands of cars pass Litchfield’s four signs every day, yet there is no indication on the signs about who put them up, when they were put up, or why.  There were 139 known signs erected to inform motorists about important episodes or people from Connecticut history.  However, as many of these signs were duplicate (for example, nine signs in Hartford told the passerby about a nearby 17th Dutch fort), there were 71 different historical sites marked by the Commission.

The west side of the sign located between Stop and Shop and the Webster Bank.

All the signs were 1.5 feet by 2 feet, and painted in the distinctive brown with white letters.  However, while most hung from poles, there was no uniform method for hanging the markers.

It is interesting to ponder, what sites were marked? What sites weren’t? In keeping with the historiographical attitudes of the time, it is not surprising to learn that many identified sites of military importance.  However, eleven of the signs identified sites of educational importance, and sites of literary importance were also well represented.  Litchfield’s markers reflect these trends.

This sign marking the Beecher homestead is located at the intersection of North Street and Prospect Street.

Signs mark the Litchfield home of the literary and theological Beechers …

Located along North Street. Note: If any town officials are reading, the tree around this sign needs to be trimmed!

… and Litchfield’s educational pioneers Sarah Pierce …

Located in front of the Tapping Reeve Home and Law School on South Street.

… and Tapping Reeve.  Yet no signs (at least no extant signs) mark the sites of homes of Revolutionary heroes Oliver Wolcott or Benjamin Tallmadge, further evidence that what is considered significant in history changes over time, and isn’t always cast in stone, or metal.