Eastford, Windham County, Connecticut History

The town of Eastford, lying in the northwest part of Windham county, is about nine miles in length from north to south, and has an average width of about three miles. Its area would thus approximate twenty-seven square miles. It is a well watered town, the Natchaug river running through the length of it, and receiving within its bounds several tributaries, the largest of which are Bigelow river from the west and Bungee brook from the east. It has no railroad track within its borders. Farming and manufacturing are the chief occupations of the people. The town was formerly included in the territory of Ashford, which joins it on the west. Other boundaries of the town are Union on the north, Woodstock on the north and east, making an offset of about three miles square upon the northeast corner, Pomfret on the east and Hampton and Chaplin on the south. The population in 1870 was 984, and in 1880, 885.

In March, 1764, the inhabitants of the town of Ashford voted to divide the town into three ecclesiastical societies, as nearly of equal size as possible, for the better accommodation of the people in their religious privileges. When religious worship was maintained in the Eastford and Westford societies, they were to be relieved from the tax in support of the minister in the center. A bill passed the general assembly to this effect. Eastford did not use this privilege until October, 1777, when arrangements were made to have a settled ministry and a church in said society. In almost every interest, except holding town meetings, all proceeded much as though it was a separate town. In sharing town offices and sending representatives to the general assembly it was expected that Eastford would have her due proportion. The management of the schools, the appointment of school visitors and most of the local interests were under her supervision as much as desired. Ephraim Lyon, David Bolles, Stephen Keyes, John Paine, Anthony Stoddard, Captain John Stevens and many other prominent inhabitants of Eastford were among the early settlers in the town of Ashford wile most of the inhabitants of Eastford have from its earliest history been engaged in agriculture, they have also been quite largely employed in manufacturing. While it is a hilly town it has running through its central portion streams furnishing excellent water privileges. The Bigelow river forms a junction with the Natchaug near Phoenixville. This comes from the northwest, furnishing an excellent water privilege for the Snow mills. In the olden time a carding mill and clothiers’ works were here located, and Eliezer Snow did a thriving business, when the good house-wife spun and wove the cloth for the male portion of the family and sent it when finished to be dressed at Snow’s clothing works. A grist mill still does business at this place.

In Phoenixville, in the south part of Eastford, there was a carding machine at an earlier date than that of Snow’s, located where the Stone Factory now stands. When the Phoenixville Manufacturing Company was organized a stone cotton mill was built in 1831, consisting of three floors above the basement, 35 by 70 feet in size. The Phoenix Company also purchased the cotton mill which had been built by George and Rufus Sprague about 1812. This building was three floors above the basement, 36 by 50 feet. The original Phoenix Company consisted of Samuel Moseley, Smith Snow, Josiah Savage, James H. Preston, John Brown and Seth H. Tuthill. Both mills were well furnished with the best of machinery, and furnished employment for a large number of operatives. For many years a large amount of business was done by this company. In time the mills passed into the hands of Mr. Clifford Thomas, who carried on manufacturing with much energy and success. When he left the mills the business began to decline, the stone mill became a twine mill for a time, passed with the other property into the hands of the late Joseph B. Latham, and is now in the hands of his sons. But little business is now transacted by what was once the celebrated Phoenix Manufacturing Company.

At a little distance below the Phoenix Company’s mills was the Burnham silk mill. This did a considerable business for a time, having an excellent water privilege. This property passed into the hands of Mr. Alfred Potter, who used the buildings for a saw mill, grist mill, blacksmith shop and an iron foundry. Stoves and plow castings were here made, and a good business carried on. Since the death of Mr. Potter little business has been done by this establishment.

Near the Potter mill, lived a Mr. Swinnington, who was so confident that a rich mine of gold and silver was located there, that he built a dam, to turn the water through the gulch in which he supposed the precious treasure was deposited, expecting to wash out immense treasures, but all his expectations failed and he felt that his labor was lost.

In 1880 M. F. and J. E. Latham built a twine mill a little north of the Phoenix cotton mills, 30 by 50 feet, two floors above the basement, where they had ten feet of water on a 40 inch Leffel wheel. This mill is now doing successful work. All the dams of the several mills in. Phoenixville are in good condition and ought to be in full use. Latham’s saw mill, grist mill, and shingle mill, are doing a large and successful business, and use the water privilege of the upper Phoenix mill to good advantage. The stone dam here bids fair to stand for ages, from its excellent construction.

Smith Snow was a son of Bilarky Snow, who owned a large tract of land in Eastford. Smith Snow married Sally Hyde. He was a decided business man, and gave but little time to the social conventionalities of life. The story is handed down of him that when he wedded his wife he returned from the wedding, `which is supposed to have taken place at the home of the bride’s sister, Mrs. William Sherman, in the western part of Pomfret, changed his clothes and went to work in his mill, completing his day’s work. Having done so he returned home at evening and found his house filled with guests met to properly celebrate the occasion. But he was not be thrown out of his usual habit even by such an innovation. When his usual bed-time came, which was early in the night, he disrobed in the kitchen and tucked himself away in the bed, telling his new wife that she could come when she got ready and take the back side, as he should take the front side of the bed himself.

The Phoenix Manufacturing Company, which succeeded Mr. Snow in the ownership of this mill, sold the Snow sawmill to Joseph B. Latham, who removed hither from Johnstown, R. I., when he was twenty-one years of age. He married Percy Bullard, a daughter of Zuinglius Bullard. Mr. Latham was a prominent man in Eastford, and represented the town in the legislature two or three times. He died April 21st, 1872, being seventy years of age. The mill is now owned by his son M. F. Latham, and it is occupied in grist grinding and sawing.

In the center of Eastford, there are also excellent water privileges. The Crystal lake, in the north part of the town, about half its contents in Woodstock, the rest in Eastford, is not only a beautiful place for excursions from the surrounding country, a favorite resort for fishermen, but its waters have been raised by a dam at its outlet, so that it is an excellent reservoir for all the mills on the stream below it. Early in its history, Eastford village had clothing works, doing a good business. These were burnt in 1837, and soon after, within the same year, Captain Jonathan Skinner built the cotton factory still standing. It was 36 by 60 feet on the ground, two floors above the basement, and employed some twenty hands. Cassimeres and jeans were manufactured. After the death of Captain Skinner, this mill passed into the hands of 11. and James Keith, and has been used as a cotton mill, in the manufacture of woolen yarn, making of wooden wares and as a grist mill. It is now owned by James M. Keith and is used in the manufacture of woolen yarn and as a grist mill. Five or six hands are kept employed. Its business is said to be successful. A few rods north of this mill stood the Red Woolen mill. There Mr. Mumford, early in the history of the village, built and ran the mill, doing a good business in the manufacture of woolen cloths. Afterward it passed into the hands of Mr. Ormsby, who continued the business for many years, when the Arnold Brothers came into possession, built a large addition, and engaged in the making of cart and wagon wheels, and other wooden manufacturing, and the carriage manufacturing business. They did an extensive- business for many years, but since they gave up the business but little has been done with the mills. The firm of Skinner & Hewett built a substantial stone cotton mill a short distance above the Mumford mill, 35 by 80 feet, two stories above the basement, employing some twenty operatives, and doing a good business. This mill was burnt in 1850 and has not been rebuilt. A large tannery has also been in operation in the village for more than half a century. Mr. Dodge did business here for several years, when the stand passed into the hands of Deacon Joseph Barrows. He enlarged the establishment, increased the amount of business, and for more than forty years has done a large business. A few years since he took his son, Clark Barrows, into the firm, a steam engine of twenty-five horse power was procured for use in the building, and the leather of the Barrows Company stood high in the market, and still commands the best of prices. A large boot and shoe manufacturer, employing a large number of hands, either in the establishment or in shoe binding at their homes, did for many years a thriving business. Mr. Hiram Burnham was at the head of this establishment. Near the close of his life the manufactory was burned, containing a large store of shoes and other goods, and the business was never resumed except in a small way, and at .Mr. Burnham’s death the business ceased.

For about half a century the carriage and blacksmith shop of William E. Cheney did a good business. In the last years of his life he added an undertaker’s office, and kept an assortment of coffins, with a hearse, much for the convenience of the community. At his death in 1884, the establishment ceased to do business.

Usually one or two stores and a post office have existed in Phoenixville, some three or four stores and a post office in Eastford Center, and a store and post office in the section still called North Ashford. Several blacksmith shops have usually done business, and one in the Center was used for several years as an axe and hatchet factory. Captain Jairus Chapman did quite a thriving business in this factory, a fine trip-hammer being run by water power. In the olden time there eras an axe factory in the northwest part of Eastford, and that section of the town still bears the name of the Axe Factory. Captain Jairus Chapman had carried on the same business before he sold his shop and removed to Eastford Center. His business was located in the west part of the town, where he manufactured scythes, broad axes, axes and hatchets. This business proved quite profitable, and the goods manufactured had a high reputation in the market. This shop was sold to Hon. Edwin A. Buck, now of Willimantic, and Hon. John Dean, who used the water privilege in preparing plow beams, plow handles, etc. Large quantities of oak timber, growing. extensively in the vicinity, thus brought good profit to the farmers of the neighborhood. This business closed when the timber was used up. Mr. L. M. Whitney is now running a bobbin factory in Eastford Center, making about 1,000 bobbins a day, which are sold to the manufactories in the region. A ten horse power steam engine is used in this factory.

The town of Eastford was incorporated in May, 1847, being taken from Ashford; population, 855; principal industry, agriculture. It is reached by stage from North Windham on . the New York & New England railroad, from Putnam on the same road, and the Norwich & Worcester division of the same, daily. A Masonic lodge was established early in the present century, meeting for many years in a room in the mansion of the late Benjamin Bosworth, Esq. It is now united with the lodge in Putnam, where the meetings are now held. A grange of some sixty members, called the Crystal Lake Grange, has been established here. Ashford and a part of Woodstock unite with Eastford in sustaining this organization. A temperance society exists and holds regular meetings in the place. Distinguished men have been born in Eastford. Judge Andrew Judson, member of congress and district judge of the U. S. court; Hon. Elisha Carpenter, judge of the supreme court of errors in Connecticut; Hon. Jairus Carpenter, judge in Madison, Wis., lecturer on law and dean for the faculty in the State University of Wisconsin; Hon. Alvan Preston, for many years a partner and manager of the glass works in Ellenville, N. Y., and many others. General Nathaniel Lyon, who fell in the battle at Springfield, Mo., is buried in Eastford, by the side of his parents. His burial was attended with military honors, and was the largest assembly probably ever gathered in Windham county. Governor Buckingham, of Connecticut, and Governor Sprague, of Rhode Island, with other distinguished men in military and civil office, were present to honor the memory of one who probably saved the state of Missouri from joining the secessionists in the late rebellion. The mother of General Lyon was a niece of Colonel Knowlton, who took an active part in the battle of Bunker Hill, and who is reputed to be the prominent figure in the picture of that battle. It was his plan in the novel breastwork-two rows of rail fence parallel to each other, with the packing of fresh mown hay between-which probably made that battle an essential victory to the Americans. Lieutenant Daniel Knowlton, an elder brother of this Colonel Knowlton, was General Lyon’s grandfather. The father of General Lyon was a mathematician, his mother had the energy of the Knowltons. An amusing anecdote is related of her. When a girl, she attended an evening party with her affianced lover. When the hostler of the tavern brought the sleigh to the door, the young man who waited upon her had become too much intoxicated to lift his foot over the side of the sleigh, and she saw her mates giggling at the position she was in. Quick as thought, she sprang into the sleigh, seized his collar with both hands, drew him into the sleigh, set him down with a firm hand, took the reins from the hostler’s hands, and drove rapidly homeward. He became more and more helpless, but she drove directly to his father’s house, opened the door, pulled him into the entry, aroused the family, said the young man had a fit or something, jumped into the sleigh, drove to her father’s house, and sent her brother back with the horse and sleigh. When he came back with promises to reform, she wisely considered the prospect too forbidding, and waited for a better offer.

Franklin Sibley is a successful physician in one of our Western states, and two of his brothers were in good practice, but died in early life. Andrew J. Bowen is a lawyer in good practice in Willimantic, one of his brothers is a physician in the West, and Stephen Bowen, another brother, has been sheriff of the county, and is a large dealer in horses, bringing hither several car loads of western horses every year. Preston B. Sibley has filled the office of sheriff for several years, and is now quite a popular and successful keeper of the county jail in Brooklyn. Godfrey Works for several years was a manufacturer and a successful business man after his removal to Providence, R. I. Benjamin Bosworth was a large landholder, a merchant and a liberal contributor to objects of benevolence and charity. Benjamin Green, a successful manufacturer in the state of Maine, who paid half the price of the pipe organ in the Congregational church in Eastford, was also a native of the town.

The selectmen of the town are Munroe Latham, Charles Warren and George Lyon; Doctor Elisha Robbins is judge of probate, and Frank Bowen, collector.

Reverend Solomon Spaulding was born in Eastford, educated at Dartmouth College, preached in western New York, and when out of health, for diversion, wrote a legendary story of the Indians, which is supposed to have furnished the basis of the Book of Mormon. His brother Josiah, who was with him when he wrote the legendary tale, and heard him read his manuscript, said they were so similar, that when he read the Mormon Bible, he usually knew what was to come before he read the pages. Rigdon, an elder, afterward high in office, borrowed the manuscript of the widow under the alleged purpose of using it to refute Mormonism, but would never return it to the owner.

Captain Joseph B. Latham should be named among the prominent business men of wealth in Eastford, also his son Eugene, a master machinist, recently killed instantly in Windsor Locks by being caught in the machinery in a mill. A few years since the firm of Smith, Winchester & Co., commissioned him to go to Egypt to put up machines in that distant country. Master John Griggs was a famous school teacher. When 75 years of age, he was still pursuing his favorite vocation. He taught over fifty terms in his own and neighboring towns, and is said to have had altogether more than three thousand pupils under his care. He wrote excellent poetry, as did his son Lucian, born in Eastford, remarkable for his memory. It is said that when he attempted it, he could repeat a lengthy speech or sermon nearly word for word, or a poem after once carefully reading it. An amusing anecdote is told of him in his days of early manhood. A schoolmate of his received proposals from a young gentleman, wishing to cultivate an acquaintance with matrimonial views. With a blushing hesitancy and apology, she said to Lucian, after stating the proposal, “You are well acquainted with him and I am not, what is it best for me to do? If he is an estimable man, I might like a further acquaintance.” Lucian paused for a little, and then said, ” He and I have always been good friends and I do not wish to say anything to his injury. I will give you a couplet in poetry, and you can draw your own inference. Trust not in any man, trust not in any brother; so girls, if you must love, love one another.” She understood his advice and followed it. Lucian Griggs bid fair to become an eminent lawyer, practiced for a few years in Indiana, where he died, greatly lamented by his friends and the community.

The Eastford Creamery is a co-operative concern with a capital of $2,000, organized as a joint stock company. The directors are: J. M. Herendeen, D. M. Bent, H. K. Safford, M. F. Latham, C. O. Warren, E. W. Warren and S. O. Bowen. C. O. Warren was chosen secretary, and also acts as superintendent. The company was presented with a piece of land (by S. O. Bowen) on the highway leading from Eastford village to Phoenixville, with the privilege of digging a well, and conveying water from a favorable point above the site of the building, which gives a good fall and great abundance of water.

The benefits of a creamery were first agitated in the Grange, which interested many of the leading citizens of this community and some of the farmers of Woodstock, which culminated in the agreement to establish a creamery. The building committee was J. E. Latham, J. M. Herendeen and Henry Trowbridge, who commenced work soon after the ground opened in the spring.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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