History of Industry in Ashford, Connecticut

Ashford was favored with a post office as early as 1803. David Bolles, Jr., was appointed first postmaster. The usual representatives of the town in assembly about that time were William Walker, Abel Simmons, Jr., Josias Byles and John Palmer. An instance of the natural aversion to anything like corrupt measures in political campaigns, with which the people were imbued is seen in the fact that the election of Mr. Jason Woodward in 1802 was contested on the ground that he had obtained it “by distributing liquor; had treated the selectmen with four bowls of sling, and given to the people about his store four bottles of liquor,” but fortunately for him and the credit of the town, the charges were not substantiated in the evidence. In the census of 1800 this town is reported as having a population of 2,445, and a grand list of $61,367.41.

A number of taverns were kept during the early years of the century, by Messrs. Clark, Richmond, Palmer, Preston, Burnham, Howe, Woodward and others. In 1818 there were in the town eight mercantile stores, six grain mills, nine saw mills and five tanneries. Josias Byles was still continued in the office of town clerk, and David Bolles and his son retained the post office. The town now had seven churches, and some manufacturing was carried on. Four carding machines had been set up in different parts of the town. Rufus Sprague, Edward Keyes, John N. Sumner, Benjamin and Mason Palmer were incorporated in 1815 as the Sprague Manufacturing Company, for the manufacture of cotton wool into yarn or cloth. Read, Stebbins & Co., engaged in a woolen factory, advertising the same year for eight or ten young men to learn to card, spin and weave. Benjamin Palmer also engaged in the manufacture of tin ware, which he offered, of any description, plain or japanned, as low as any one in the state.

A probate district was organized here and the office established in Ashford village in 1830. David Bolles was made probate judge, but he died during the year mentioned, and the office was then placed in the hands of his successor in legal practice, Ichabod Bulkley.

In the march of modern improvement and change, Ashford seems to have suffered somewhat. Railroads have evaded this section. Her advantage of position on the great thoroughfare of New York and Boston travel by turnpike and wagon road is a thing of the past. But Ashford may cherish an honorable record in the past, and many honorable names in the country have had their ancestral roots here. Her living sons are found everywhere outside of their own town. One of these wandering sons, -who achieved success and fortune, has shown his interest in his birthplace by devising liberal things for its benefit leaving it the sum of six thousand dollars, the income of which is to be expended upon its musical and intellectual culture. The Babcock Brass Band, with facilities for continued improvement, the Babcock Library, free to all the inhabitants of the town, have resulted from this considerate bequest of Archibald Babcock, late of Charlestown, Mass. With such substantial remembrances from those who owe it allegiance, it may be hoped that the home of Knowlton, Dana, the Notts, the Bolleses, and other illustrious sons, will continue to maintain an honorable position among its sister towns.

In the early years of settlement the Connecticut Path was the only recognized highway or thoroughfare by which this town was approached or had communication with the outside world. But the need of more accommodations in the line of roads and bridges was soon felt, and commendable effort was made to supply this need. In 1728 it was voted ” that the town will butt the west end of the lower or south bridge over Bigelow River from the land part to the stream with solid work with stones, or logs, or both, and if the bridge over the stream be judged defective, then to build it all anew.” All the inhabitants of the town were warned to assist in repairing this bridge. A cart bridge over Bigelow river was also ordered 11 by Humphrey’s saw mill,” as well as a bridge over Mount Hope river, on the Hartford road. Another bridge was ordered to be built ” over the great brook by Daniel Bugbee’s meadow,” and also a horse bridge over Mount Hope river, in Corbin’s land.

During the years that followed the town was greatly interested in the improvement of its public highways. Toward the close of the century a committee was appointed to confer with a committee appointed by the assembly “to lay out a highway from East Hartford to Massachusetts or Rhode Island line.” The Boston Turnpike Company was incorporated in 1797, and within two or three years the great Boston and Hartford turnpike, running through Mansfield, Ashford, Pomfret and Thompson, was completed and opened to the public. James Gordon, Shubael Abbe and Ebenezer Devotion were appointed to oversee repairs, gates and collections on this road. About half a mile to the east of Ashford village, this road connected with another great turnpike leading to Providence, constructed a few years later by the Connecticut and Rhode Island Turnpike Company. Unlike some other towns, Ashford made no opposition to these improvements, but willingly paid the needful impost to gain better accommodations and increased travel. Daily stages passing to and fro over these roads gave the town quite a busy air. Chaises and other vehicles were now coming into vogue. A large amount of freight was carried over the turnpikes. The numerous taverns needed to supply the wants of travelers and teamsters were kept by Jedidiah Fay, Benjamin Clark, Isaac Perkins, Josiah Ward, William Snow, Josiah Converse, Stephen Snow and Samuel Spring. The Woodstock and Somers turnpike was completed during the early years of the present century, as was also the Tolland County turnpike, which intersected the Boston and Hartford turnpike, two miles west of Ashford village. Travel on these thoroughfares was stimulated by the war of 1812, and by the manufacturing industries of neighboring towns. Stages were daily passing to and fro over the various roads, and at the junction of the Boston and Providence turnpikes a continuous line of vehicles as far as the eye could reach could frequently be seen.

In the olden time, the Collins brothers built a carpet factory here, and a good business was carried on, also there was a machine for carding wool, and a hat factory. There has also been a bone mill where fertilizers are prepared. Lombard and Mathewson have a grist mill and saw mill, in which a large lumbering business is done. Carriage spokes are here prepared in large quantities. Several stores and mechanic shops give a business-like air to this settlement.

The town of Ashford has furnished men eminent and useful in church and state. Doctor Samuel Nott, for more than half a century pastor in Franklin, and his brother Eliphalet, the distinguished president of Union College; Reverend Daniel Dow, D.D., who spent a long and useful life in Thompson, a corporate member of the American Board, a trustee and one of the founders of the Theological Institute at East Windsor Hill; also his brother, Reverend Hendric Dow, a scholar who bid fair to reach eminence, but died in early manhood; Reverend William Gaylord; Reverend Samuel Gaylord, a successful teacher most of his life; three Doctor Palmers of eminence, father, son and grandson, and Doctor John Simmons. But in the military records of the town Ashford holds a high place. Supplies were promptly sent to Boston when the port was closed by the British power. When the news came of the battle of Lexington, seventy-eight men under Captain Thomas Knowlton marched from the town for the scene of conflict. Only eight towns in the state furnished more men en at that time than Ashford. Two months after the battle of Lexington one hundred men from this town were in the battle of Bunker Hill, under Captain Knowlton. Colonel Knowlton was one of the most brilliant of our revolutionary officers, highly valued by Washington, and prevented from rising to the highest military honors only by his early death in the battle of Harlem Heights. In the late civil war Ashford furnished her full quota of brave men. Deacon James G. Gaylord died a starved prisoner in Andersonville. It is said that when he felt the hand of death upon him, he requested a comrade, if he survived, to write to his family, sent tender messages, took a photograph of his wife from his bosom, looked upon it until his eyes grew dim in death, and his hand still grasped the picture, when death could not unclasp the loving grasp. Also Deacon John Brown, with others, did good service for the country.

The Babcock Library, of which the people of this town are justly proud, is the result of a generous bequest of one of the sons of Ashford, who had achieved success in other fields, but did not forget his native town. The following is a copy of that .clause of the will of Archibald Babcock, a former resident of the town of Ashford, but late deceased in the city of Charlestown, Mass., which clause of said will, with the bequest therein contained, laid the foundation of the Babcock Library:

” I also give and bequeath to the inhabitants of the said town of Ashford, the further sum of THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS, to be held in trust forever, by said inhabitants, or by Trustees to be appointed or elected by said inhabitants, and the income thereof, only, to be applied and expended towards establishing and maintaining a Free Public Library in said town, for the use of the inhabitants of said town; and I direct that all the income for and during the first fifteen years, shall be annually expended in the purchase of books.” (11 Oct. 1862.)

The library was opened about 1866, in the Warrenville store. It had then about one hundred volumes. There was at first no librarian appointed for it, but about 1873 the town appointed Peter Platt librarian, at a salary of $10 for the first year. He has filled that office ever since that date. The library now contains 2,200 volumes of history, biography, travel, science and fiction, both standard and current. In selecting books for the library, its patrons are requested to send in lists of what to them are desirable books, and from all such recommendations the committee make choice. Mr. Platt in 1885 built an addition to his house for a room to accommodate the library. The room thus prepared for it is 14 by 18 feet in size, and will accommodate five to six thousand volumes.

Archibald Babcock, a former resident of Ashford, went to Charlestown, Mass., and became a wealthy brewer. He left $6,000, the annual income of which was to be expended in Ashford, one-half in the manner described, and the other half in promoting band music in the town. In case no band -should be organized or maintained, the income was to be expended in hiring some band from outside the town to come in and play where the townspeople could hear it. Under the encouragement of this bequest, a band has been organized and is ably maintained.

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

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