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: 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.