There were many families in the vicinity worthy of notice if space permitted. Noah Perrin, Sr., the Methodist class leader, had now succeeded to the ownership of the Perrin farm, and his numerous sons and daughters were much in demand for teaching school in the surrounding region, their united service amounting to some sixty-seven terms. Captain Joseph Buck, a mile east on the Providence road, was a much respected citizen, chorister at the West Thompson Methodist church, the model head of a most worthy and promising family. South on the Pomfret road another large and promising family was growing up in the household of Mr. Abel Dunn. Near them lived the Sawyers, one of the old Pomfret families, with the blind brother with such marvelous instinct and aptitudes. Their neighbors, the Gilberts, Halls and Garys, had all large families, growing up to be useful men and women in widely separated fields. Another noted family in that neighborhood was that of Captain Alfred Holmes, whose children it is said were all well educated and gifted, their home the center of a `brilliant social circle.” Captain Eleazer Keith, old Deacon Deamon, Mr. Darius Seamans, were well known residents upon the mountain road northward.
These various families, remote from the centers of the three towns in which they dwelt, were drawn in many ways to Pomfret Factory and more or less identified with its interests. In the social life of this pioneer ” factory village ” there was much that was pleasant and enjoyable. The owner and master was a life-time resident, dwelling among his own people, having a personal interest in all their affairs. A bond of common interest and reciprocal regard united employers and employed as one great family-its central hearth the delightful home of Mr. Wilkinson. Probably no house in the three converging towns entertained so much company. Its hospitable doors were always open, and rich and poor alike, county gentry and village operative, received the same cordial welcome.. The noble and lovely wife of Mr. Wilkinson was indeed the ” mother of the village.” In health and in sickness, in weal and woe, all were sure of the warmest sympathy and aid.
The Rhodesville enterprise began with the division of the Bundy privilege at the Upper Falls, which was surveyed and laid out in four divisions of about twenty acres each by Simon Davis, Esq., in 1827. These divisions were then apportioned by lot among the several owners, Abram and Isaac Wilkinson and James Rhodes drawing the two lower privileges, William and Smith Wilkinson the two upper privileges. At this date there were but two houses upon the estate, one on the east side of the river, occupied by Hezekiah Converse, the other on the west side, by the Glasko family. A new dam was soon built and the brick factory completed and ready for work in 1830; Stephen Erwin, of Rhode Island, manager. A row of tenement houses and store building were also constructed; James Bugbee, store-keeper. The operatives were all American. In 1834, the mill narrowly escaped destruction by fire. In 1836, Mr. Nehemiah T. Adams was appointed resident agent and Mr. Leonard Thompson had charge of the store, and was in turn succeeded by Mr. Chauncey Hammett. In 1837, Rhodesville had become so populous that it was constituted school district No. 17, of Thompson, and a school house was built by the company. In the spring of 1841, prosperity was suddenly checked by the burning of the factory building; supposed to be the work of an incendiary. About a hundred persons were then employed by the establishment. The mill was rebuilt under the supervision of Mr. N. T. Adams. The death of Mr. James Rhodes the following year made further changes, and after temporary depression the village entered upon a career of greatly extended prosperity.
In 1835 a road was laid out from Simeon Allen’s brick works on the Boston turnpike to the Quinebaug, over the Rhodesville bridge and on east through the South Neighborhood, intersecting the old Woodstock and Thompson turnpike near Sawyer’s store, which greatly facilitated the transportation of cotton from Providence. Yet with all the shrewdness and enterprise of the two companies and their managers, the supply of cotton was limited and business operations could not be largely extended. Keen eyes watched with eager interest the experiments in new methods of transportation. Windham county manufacturers noted and encouraged the various schemes for accommodating their own valley, and were prominent among the stockholders of the Norwich & Worcester Railroad Company. The actual opening of the railroad in November, 1839, was joyfully welcomed by business men, though little foreseeing the revolution it would accomplish. The first depot master at the Pomfret Factory was Mr. John O. Fox, removing thither from West Thompson. Amasa Carpenter, from North Woodstock, occupied part of the building, carrying on with Mr. Fox a thriving business in grain and groceries.
Slowly at first business came to the valley. For a year or two there was little apparent movement, and then the tide turned from the hill towns. John O. Fox and Martin Leach were among the first to build dwelling houses on the east side of the street, near the depot. In 1844 a building for stores was erected by Mr. Asa Cutler in the same locality, and first occupied by Lewis K. Perrin, assisted by his brother Charles. The land east of the depot was purchased from Mr. Tully Dorrance, whose wife, Mrs. Sally Dorrance, inherited in the Pomfret Manufacturing Company the right of her deceased father, James Rhodes. Mr. Dorrance therefore owned much valuable land, and also carried on manufacturing in the first old mill built by Mr. Wilkinson. Other Rhode Island manufacturers were now on the field, looking up eligible privileges for prospective enterprises. Hosea Ballou. Allen & Nightingale, M. S. Morse & Co., won the prizes at Rhodesville and soon broke ground for three large factories. With the advent of their masons and carpenters a boom set briskly in. Lafayette Waters, stone mason, who had the charge of much of the stone work in the three mills, bought land in the vicinity and sold out a number of building lots. Houses for dwellings and stores sprang up in various quarters where eligible sites could be procured. Young men from the hill towns engaged in trade or professional work in the two villages.
The first physician on the ground was Doctor H. W. Hough, who removed his practice from Killingly hill to Pomfret Factory in 1846, buying the first building lot sold by Mr. Smith Wilkinson, on which he soon erected his present residence. He was soon followed by Doctor Thomas Perry, who remained a few years. The first lawyer to open an office was Mr. Harrison Johnson, of Killingly. One of the first merchants was Nathan Williams, of Pomfret, associated for a time with Ely, of Killingly. Manning & Plimpton soon followed on the east side of the river. Both these stores were largely patronized by residents of the hill towns, and business grew and multiplied in true Western style. Doctor Plimpton also engaged in medical practice. Doctor Benjamin Segur opened a drug shop opposite Perrin’s store, near the railway crossing. Jeremiah Shumway’s tailor shop stood next to Perrin’s store, across an alley, and the first saloon, kept by Cyrus Thornton, occupied Perrin’s basement. Three churches meanwhile were pushing their way along, striving for precedence and building lots.
The opening of the three great factories in Rhodesville in 1846-47 added some hundreds to the population and gave additional impetus to the growth of the villages. Mr. Wilkinson, now advanced in years, foresaw the future importance of this business center, but did not care to engage in new enterprises. For some years he was much occupied in settling the affairs of the Pomfret Manufacturing Company, making division of its large assets among its few claimants. The general business of the company was now managed by Mr. Edmond Wilkinson, who was also deeply interested in the development of his native valley. Much land was now thrown into market and bought up by eager customers. Mr. Asa Cutler, a shrewd business man and successful manufacturer, was very prominent in this connection, buying land and building many houses. In 1848 he associated with Thomas Dike, John O. Fox and Newton Clark in building a large brick block for stores, with a fine hall above for public purposes. Lafayette Waters had charge of building this block, using 220,000 bricks in its construction. “Quinebaug Hall” was soon followed by a fine new “Quinebaug House,” built by Mr. Abraham Perrin, the occupant of another pleasant Perrin farm ” on the road to Pomfret.
Several new roads were needed for the accommodation of builders and travelers. One of especial importance-the present Elm street-was laid out by Thompson selectmen in 1847. upon petition from Tully Dorrance and others, viz., “Beginning south side the present road at Rhodesville,” thence partly by a bank: wall to the southwest corner of the porch of the school house, thence to a corner of the wall east side North Meadow street, thence to a corner of a barnyard belonging to Smith Wilkinson, thence to a post in the corner of a fence, thence to a point where it intersected the Pomfret Factory road. This road brought many new building lots into market, and served as an important link in bringing the villages together. The last road laid out by the Thompson selectmen was the present School street, in 1854, beginning on the south side of the road leading to Thompson, near the hew school house, thence n land of Edmond Wilkinson, crossing a corner of Henry Thurber’s lot, by land of Martin Leach and Asa Cutler, to the southeast corner of Doctor Henry Hough’s lot, on the north side of the Killingly road. But it was found very difficult to procure all the accommodations needed in this rapid development. People were pouring in on every side; new stores and business operations were constantly set in motion, and demand kept pace with expansion.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889