History of Grosvenor Dale, Connecticut

Two dams were built at North Grosvenor Dale, each a hundred feet in length-the second built at an angle with the first, designed to relieve the extreme pressure in time of freshets which were models of strength and mechanical adaptation. They were raised eleven feet, six inches above the previous Fisherville dam. The level of the railroad at this point being nearly parallel with the old dam, it was necessary to construct a dyke or embankment of stone and gravel about half a mile in length above the dam, which was done in the most substantial manner at very heavy expenditure. A capacious and beautiful reservoir was thus formed, extending up to the dam of the Wilsonville privilege. At the same time preparations were going on for building the great mill at North Grosvenor Dale. Another dyke was constructed leading to the site of the new building, half a mile long, a hundred feet wide at the bottom and twenty at the top, which from the height of the dam and the conformation of the land, was a work of great difficulty, requiring much engineering skill and a vast amount of labor.

All these works, together with the new building, were completed in 1872. This stately and beautiful structure is 464 feet long, 73 feet wide, with four stories and an attic; also an ell 128 by 67 feet, and a continuation of the same, 157 by 50 feet, with separate buildings for steam engine, boiler and gas works. The capacity of the whole building is 65,000 spindles. The power is furnished by three Jeuvel wheels of 270 horsepower each. There is also a Corliss steam engine of 450 horsepower to be used at low stages of water. • The machinery was of the most improved make, embracing the latest improvements. In respect of beauty, solidity, convenience and adaptation to the purpose for which it is designed, this North Grosvenor Dale mill is not surpassed by any in the country. To furnish homes for the large number of workmen many new houses were requisite, all of which were built by the company with the same good taste and liberal and judicious expenditure. The old Fisherville stone mill, with renovated machinery, is also operated.

The Grosvenor Dale Company now operates more machinery than any cotton manufacturing company in the state, and carries out the design of the original founders ii furnishing as desirable a grade of goods as can be found in the market. In 1883, Mr. Briggs sold his interest to the Grosvenors, having been compelled by ill health to relinquish his position. Mr. William Grosvenor, Sr., head of the firm and so prominently connected with all its interests, died in 1888, leaving the great manufacturing establishment in the hands of his sons, William and James B. M. Grosvenor. These gentlemen have developed marked capacity for business, and their careful training, experience and sagacity, guarantee the successful prosecution of the trusts committed to their hands. Mrs. Rosa A. Grosvenor preceded her husband a few years, a lady of rare excellence, whose. name will be ever associated with the building up and growth of this great manufacturing interest.

The changes wrought in the last fifteen years have been indeed marvelous. Former residents familiar with the old-time Masonville and Fisherville, as they see the stately factory buildings, the places of business, the array of dwelling houses, the new streets, the school houses, the Catholic and Swedish houses of worship, as they see the throngs of foreigners crowding the streets of a Saturday night, and hear a Babel of alien tongues, may well fancy themselves in a foreign land. Of the twelve hundred and fifty operatives less than two hundred are of New England origin; about seven hundred and fifty are French Canadians, and the remainder are Irish and Swedes. Alien in religion and character, as well as in blood and tongue, the Canadians were at first slow to assimilate with their surroundings, but within a few years a great change is perceptible, and a majority now prefer to remain in New England and become permanent citizens, as well as those of other nationalities. In all that tends to the physical and moral well-being of the workmen and their families, and to the up-building and prosperity of the two villages, the Grosvenor Dale Company manifests a wise and liberal interest. The present resident manager is Mr. Frank M. Messenger, of Cheshire county, New Hampshire.

Increase in trade and business inevitably follows increase of population. Many New England families have been drawn into the villages to help supply the needs of this army of workmen. North Grosvenor Dale has been particularly favored, having established three dry-goods or variety stores, one grain store, one hardware store, three markets, one carriage manufactory. One of these stores is is carried on by a lifelong resident, Mr. J. Nichols Upham, the first child born in Fisherville, whose father, Mr. Ransom Upham, helped lay the foundations of factory and village. Others are kept by Messrs. John Elliott, B. S. Thompson, Simon S. Parkhurst, Henry Paradis. The Grosvenor Dale store is carried on by Mr. Thomas Hutchinson. The carriage manufactory of Messrs. Arad U. and George E. Elliott is a very important industry, employing a number of workmen, and bringing into the village descendants of one of the substantial old settlers of the town. The partnership was formed in 1875, a blacksmith’s shop, store house and carriage house were soon erected. Wagons are built to order, and ordinary job work carried on. Messrs. A. U. and G. E. Elliott have served the town as representatives and selectmen and in other capacities. Another old Thompson family is represented by Mr. Oscar Tourtellotte, first selectman, who has been very prominent in school and public affairs. Nathan Rawson, who died a few years since, had served the town as justice and in various other capacities, and was a much respected and influential resident of North Grosvenor Dale. In the recent death of Constable William Cummings, so popular and prominent in civil and military affairs, Grosvenor Dale has met with a heavy loss.

The new elements in the manufacturing center bring new developments in church and school. In January, 1888, 876 children of school age were reported in the two Grosvenor Dale districts. A modern convenient school house was built in Grosvenor Dale in 1878. North Grosvenor Dale suffered much for lack of suitable ‘accommodations, and now rejoices in a most eligible modern school house, with four ample rooms and every needful convenience, on a sightly eminence removed from the bustle of the village, built at a cost of $7,835, by a’ tax upon the district, and opened for use in the autumn of 1888.

The first Catholics in the two villages attended service in the churches of Webster and Putnam. The first minister to visit and look after them was Reverend Father Duffy, of Pascoag, R. I. When Putnam parish was formed in 1866, Thompson was constituted an out-mission. Reverend Father Vygen then assumed charge and held services in the Masonville chapel, and later in a hall. In 1872 Father Vygen purchased twelve acres of land between the Grosvenor Dales, and immediately commenced the erection of St. Joseph’s church, a gothic wooden structure, costing $10,000. This church was solemnly dedicated by Right Reverend F. P. McFarland, September 29th, 1872; the sermon on the occasion was delivered by Reverend H. Martial, assistant pastor of Putnam. The following January a parish was formed, embracing the whole town excepting Mechanicsville, West Thompson and Quadic, under the name of St. Joseph’s Catholic Society, including about nine hundred worshipers. Father Martial was appointed its pastor; lay trustees, Patrick Kelley and Louis P. Lamoureux. A pastoral residence was completed the same year. In 1874 the cemetery was laid out and was blessed by Very Reverend James Hughes, V. G., administrator of the diocese, June 15th. In 1880 the’ parish was made to embrace the whole town, and Reverend A. J. Haggerty sent as assistant to Father Martial. During this year a church edifice was erected at West Thompson and dedicated by Right Reverend L. S. McMahon.

Father Flanagan took charge of the parish after Father Martial’s decease, assisted by Reverend J. H. Fitzmaurice. Other assistants in the field were Reverends A. J. Haggerty, T. R. Sweeney, J. P. Connelly, I. W. Fones, R. F. Moore, W. E. Flanagan. Reverend Thomas Cooney succeeded to the pastorate at Grosvenor Dale, February 14th, 1883, and soon instituted mission work at New Boston and Quinebaug. Land for a church edifice was given by Eben S. Stevens, of Quinebaug, and $300. Its architect and builder was L. P. Lamoureux; cost, $3,000.

This third Catholic church in Thompson, St. Stephens, was dedicated by Right Reverend L. S. McMahon, March 30th, 1884. February 2d, 1886, Mechanicsville and vicinity was constituted a distinct parish, with Pomfret as an out mission, Reverend W. E. Flanagan, pastor. A pastoral residence was built the following year, at a cost of $3,000. Father Cooney continues in charge at Grosvenor Dale. The Catholic population of the town numbers some 2,800. Since the erection of St. Joseph’s parish, there have been 1,600 baptisms, 380 marriages, 630 deaths. The school, established with much labor and personal sacrifice, is very flourishing. A substantial, three-story building, containing convent, . school and hall, was erected in 1881, at a cost of $12,000; architect and builder, Louis P. Lamoureux. This building was placed under the charge of ” the Sisters of Holy Cross,” for a free Catholic school; was opened January 2d, 1882, with an attendance of three hundred children. In addition to the branches taught in the common schools of the state, the children receive a thorough religious training, together with an elementary course in the French language. Present number of pupils, 400; average attendance, 360.

Next to the French the Swedes are gaining in numbers and readily assimilate with their new surroundings. The Swedish church in Grosvenor Dale numbers 320 communicants; a house of worship was erected in 188-4; their first pastor was Reverend Ludwig Holmes, a man much beloved by his people and respected by all. Reverend G. E. Fosberg, now a student, has been called to the Swedish pastorate.

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

4 thoughts on “History of Grosvenor Dale, Connecticut”

  1. Marie Phoenix King

    I enjoyed reading the history of N. Grosvenordale. I grew up in N. Grosvenordale and lived across the street from the Catholic Church 1940 till 1958 in the house which is now the convent. I attended St. Joseph Elementary and High School. We moved in 1958 because my parents work moved to Essex CT. Last time I visited was in 2011. I now reside in TX.
    Is there more history. Where was Fisherville and Masonville?
    Marie Phoenix King

    1. Sister Elaine Poitras, CSC

      I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, Marie, but I lived in that house too. I am a Sister of Holy Cross who spent almost a decade in North Grosvenordale…my favorite mission EVER and I’ve been a Sister for 54 years. The old school and convent were razed and we moved into what had been the home Bernard family. Are you related? Interestingly, Sr. Antoinette Bernard lived with us then. It was her last mission before moving to our retirement home in Manchester, NH.

      1. Well Sister Elaine, I finally did see it. My mother was a Bernard, and a sister of Sister Antoinette Bernard. My grandmother owned the house and sold it to both my mother and her brother, Henry Bernard. When we moved from N Grosvenordale, we sold our part to my uncle. My uncle Henry sold it to the parish. So interesting to find someone who lived in the house. I have such good memories of N Grosvenordale and St Joseph School. I have an email, mpking40@gmail.com, would love to hear from you.
        Marie Phoenix King

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