Hidden Nearby: The U.S.S. Pittsburgh Bell in New Milford

The monument in Honor of Admiral Henry Shepard Knapp on the New Milford green.

A granite shaft with a bell adorning it stands at the center of the New Milford green. It honors an American naval officer with deep family ties to the town.

Henry Shepard Knapp was born in New Britain in 1856, and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1878. He served in the navy for the next 42 years. Gaining combat experience in the Spanish-American War, in 1908 he was given command of his own ship, the cruiser U.S.S. Charleston. In 1915, Knapp was named to command the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and in 1916 he proclaimed the American occupation of the Dominican Republic, of which he would be named the military governor in 1917. He was promoted to rear admiral a week before World War I broke out.

During the war, Knapp was commanded American efforts to protect shipping from German U-Boats and was awarded the Navy Cross for this “meritorious service.” After the armistice Knapp served as naval attache in London, then commander of all American naval forces in European waters. During this time the U.S.S. Pittsburgh served as his flagship. He retired in 1920 but was so highly esteemed that he was kept on as a consultant and unofficial diplomat in handling crises in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and taught summer courses at the United States Naval Institute until his death in Hartford in 1923.

The bell of the U.S.S. Pittsburgh. It is interesting to note from the inscription that the bell had been used on a ship before, the Steamer Pensacola, which was commissioned in 1859 and decommissioned at Mare Island Navy Yard in California (visible on the bell) in 1911, a year before the Pittsburgh was commissioned. 

In 1951, New Milford’s Ezra Woods Post 31 of the American Legion erected the monument to Knapp on the town green. (Woods was New Milford’s first resident killed in World War I.) Knapp had owned property in town – including a commercial building on Bank Street – and spent summers in  New Milford at the family’s ancestral home.

In 1956, the Knapp house was donated to the New Milford Historical Society by Mary Clissold Knapp in 1956. This was the house of cobbler Levi Knapp who purchased it from Royal Davis in 1838. Parts of the house date to 1770, while much was of it was built in 1815. The house stands at the northern end of the green on the historical’s society’s property.

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Knapp’s flagship, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh. Not that the caption states the name as the Pennsylvania. The ship’s name was changed in 1912 so that Pennsylvania could be used for a new battleship.

Knapp’s flagship, the Pittsburgh – on which the bell once rang – was a 504 foot long cruiser, armed with 54 guns and when fully manned had a crew of nearly 900 men.  The New Milford monument is not the only memorial to Knapp’s service to the U.S. Navy. In 1943, the WWII destroyer USS Knapp was named for him

 

 

 

 

 

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The Colvocoresses Oak

A small marker sits beneath a stately oak tree on the western portion of the Litchfield Green.  It is located in close proximity to the post office, restaurants, and the historical society, yet one wonders how many people stop to read its simple text:  “The Colvocoresses Oak.  A memorial of the Battle of Manila Bay.” Upon examination, the curious passerby asks why this small monument to a largely forgotten event of American history stands in the center of a small Connecticut town.

George Partridge Colvocoresses was born in Norwich, Vermont in 1847.  His father, also George Colvocoresses, was the son of a prominent Greek businessman.  At the age of six, he, along with other members of his family, was kidnapped by Turks.  While six of his his brothers were killed, George was sold into slavery.  His father was able to purchase his freedom, and the son was sent to America.  He was adopted by Alden Patridge, who founded the Norwich Military Academy in Vermont, from which George graduated in 1831.

The U.S.S. Supply, in left background.

The elder Colvocoresses enjoyed a distinguished career in the United States Navy, achieving some fame for his exploits on blockading duty during the Civil War.  While in command of the U.S.S. Supply, Colvocoresses was joined in the service by his son, George Patridge, named for the family’s American benefactor.  Following the war, the elder Colvocoresses was made captain and retired from the service, moving to Litchfield.  He was murdered in Bridgeport in 1872.

George Patridge returned to Norwich and graduated from the school in 1866.  He embarked on a distinguished naval career of his own, serving in many foreign ports, at the Naval Hydrographic Office, and as an instructor of drawing at the United States Naval Academy.  In that capacity he designed the monument to the crew of the U.S.S. Jeanette that stands in the Academy’s cemetery.

Colvocoresses’ crowded hour came at Manila Bay on May 1st, 1898.  While Congress declared the Spanish-American War on April 25th of that year, two months earlier Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt had sent a coded telegram to US Asiatic Fleet commander Commodore George Dewey to attack the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay should war be declared.  In seven hours of fighting, Dewey (who had opened the battle with the famous phrase, “You may fire when ready, Gridley!”), had secured the surrender of the Spanish fleet and Manila Bay, at the cost of ten American casualties and one damaged ship.  When the war ended, the Philippines became an American colony, which they remained until granted independence in 1946.

At the battle Colvocoresses served as the executive officer aboard the U.S.S. Concord, which sank the Spanish vessel Mindanao.  His actions were noted by a superior, who wrote, “Each and every one of my subordinates did his whole duty with an enthusiasm and zeal beyond all praise. I am particularly indebted to the executive officer, Lieut. Commander George P. Colvocoresses, for the cool, deliberate, and efficient manner with which he met each phase of the action, and for his hearty cooperation in my plans.” He was later transferred to the Olympia, Dewey’s flagship. For his service in the battle, Colvocoresses was awarded the Dewey medal.

The Dewey Medal

There is nothing on the small marker to indicate when it was erected.  However, the following appeared in the New York Times on November 11, 1899:

Alain White’s history of Litchfield indicates that Colvocoresses himself planted the tree using a silver trowel ordered for the occasion by Mary Quincy.  Perhaps the maker was erected in connection with this event as well.

Following the war, Colvocoresses served as the commandant of the United States Naval Academy.  He retired to Litchfield.  His children and grandchildren continued the family legacy of attending Norwich and serving in the United States military.  George Partridge Colvocoresses died on September 10, 1932, and is buried in Litchfield’s East Cemetery.  His services at Manila Bay live on, however, commemorated by a small marker and a stately oak tree on the Litchfield Green.