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.
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.
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