History of Wilsonville, Connecticut

The present Wilsonville occupies the site of the ” Child’s Mills ” of former generations. Elijah Converse came into possession about 1796, and conveyed them to his son, Mr. Riel Converse, who ran grist and saw mills. In 1822 he sold mills and privilege, with nine acres of land, to Mr. Zirah Preston, for 52,700. Mr. Preston in the following year sold land to Mr. Laban T. Wilson, with privilege to run a wheel for the purpose of manufacturing woolen goods. Mr. Wilson soon put up., and set in motion a small establishment, engaging in the manufacture of satinet. In 1824 he leased the grist and saw mills, and gave his name to the growing village. After ten years of doubtful success, he gave place to a succession of owners-John Farnam, Wheeler Barrett, Riel Converse, Archelaus Upham, the Messrs. Capron, E. A. Wheelock, Oscar Chase, who carried on the mills in intermittent fashion with varying success till the inevitable fire consumed the old building. The present proprietor, Mr. Reegan, has built a small mill and engaged in woolen manufacture. Many of the residents of this village are descended from old families. Mr. Diah Upham, who has filled many town offices, carried on mercantile business for fifteen years. Mr. Samuel Adams has kept the Wilsonville store for twenty years. The Wilsonville burying ground shows that many residents of this vicinity lived to advanced age. Mr. Riel Converse exceeded ninety-two years. Mrs. Nathaniel (Whitford) Child, who died at Wilsonville, May 21st, 1877, aged one hundred years and thirty-six days, attained the greatest age of any Thompson woman on record. Her son, Hon. Marcus Child, a very respectable citizen, twice representing the town at the legislature, died suddenly within a few years.

New Boston site was occupied at a very early date. Among its old time celebrities were Mr. Samuel Morris and Mr. William Chandler, the latter a son of Hon. John Chandler of * Woodstock, whose wife, Jemima Bradbury, boasted the bluest blood in Massachusetts. Their large house, near the west line of the town, was for half a century the most aristocratic establishment in the vicinity, kept up in true colonial style, with negro and Indian servants, stately furniture, books and pictures. Captain Chandler was, like his father, a skillful surveyor, and was the only man in town bold enough to ask to have a road laid out to accommodate his business, as well as ” travel to Thompson meeting house.”

The Morris-Holbrook farm fell finally into the hands of Captain Goodell, a noted military man, whose wife was a daughter of John Holbrook. Residents in this vicinity who had purchased old Dudley land were involved in the famous lawsuit brought by Paul Dudley for the recovery of these farms, on the ground that, as entailed property, the sale was unlawful. The final trial of this case before the supreme court at Washington was the great event of the generation, with Daniel Webster pleading for the defendants, and the distinguished orator, William Pinkney, stricken with fatal disease while arguing against them.

The northwest corner of Thompson received a new impulse from the opening of the Providence & Southbridge turnpike, with its travel and taverns. The Barnes and Chaffee tavern stands became noted places of resort. The old Morris farm on the Quinebaug was now held mainly by heirs of John Holbrook, who purchased it from Benjamin Wilkinson. His son, Thomas, gave the valley the now familiar name, New Boston. The widow of Thomas Holbrook married for her second husband in 1802, Colonel Joseph Chapin, whose name is still preserved in the neighborhood. His sisters, married to Ephraim and Sylvanus Houghton and Captain Amos Goodell, also occupied Morris homesteads. Jason Phipps bought land of Benjamin Morris as early as 1760. Other settlers in the vicinity were William Copeland, Thomas Ormsbee, William Jordan, who, with other substantial families, made a pleasant neighborly society.

Ebenezer Phelps of Sutton, bought land and water privilege of the Houghtons in 1804, and set up saw and grist mills. Part of this privilege was soon made over to Rufus Coburn and Alpheus Corbin, who introduced a fulling mill and carding machine. The present ” Phelps House ” was completed in 1808. William Jordan and William Lamson also bought land of Phelps and Houghton, building substantial houses in the growing village. A burial lot for the use of the neighborhood was given by Mrs. Chapin, and enclosed and made ready for occupation by the adjacent residents. The first interment was that of Lucy Robbins, in 1813.

The clothiery works were purchased by John Barber in 1815, who built the house now owned by Mr. William Copeland. He was succeeded for a short interval by Otis Nichols. Mr. Parley Jordan engaged in the manufacture of axes and other edged tools in 1821. William Jordan, Sr., built a fine new tavern house on the street in 1828, with a large hall, which was opened by a ball and appropriate exercises. Manufacturing enterprise had now sought out New Boston. Edward Howard, an Englishman, secured water privilege and surrounding land in 1829, and soon erected a small brick mill for the manufacture of satinets. Marrying a resident, Miss Lucy Houghton, he expected to spend his life in this pleasant resting place, but adverse fate pursued him, and he was lost at sea on his voyage homeward from England. His widow survived him but a few months. A ” New Boston Manufacturing Company ” essayed to carry on the mill, but met various misadventures. Company after company was formed, began work, and made assignments. it was said that the Devil, alert to seize the opportunity, ” had been let into the wheel-pit ” at the beginning of the enterprise, and that was the cause of all the calamities.

A store was kept up and some shoemaking and minor business essayed. Mr. Parley Jordan’s trip-hammer did good service for many years. Messrs. William Billings and Upham came into possession of the factory in 1853, and remained in charge twelve years. A Social Circle and Library were established during this period, through the agency of Mrs. Billings and Mrs. Upham. Still greater improvements have been effected during the administration of the present proprietors-the Messrs. Murdock. They found mill and tenement buildings greatly dilapidated, morality at a low ebb, rum sold at several places. The process of renovation was slow and difficult. Flood and fire made havoc with the ancient dam and factory buildings, but apparently drove out the original enemy, and with new dam and buildings prosperity dawned upon the New Boston Manufacturing Company. Continued additions have been made and new machinery introduced. About eighty hands are now employed, half of them Americans. In thrift and morality there have been great advances, and New Boston now compares favorably with other manufacturing villages. Religious services are held statedly in the hall, and the comfort and well-being of the operatives made a special care. The energy and public spirit of the Messrs. Murdock and their assistant, Mr. Ira N. Bates, have added much to the standing and influence of this section of the town. Mr. Bates has served as selectman and town representative. The spirit of improvement has permeated the village. The abundance of flowers and neat appearance of the houses have long been remarked. The” Ladies’ Union Circle,” established in 1855, has aided much in promoting good feeling and social intercourse, and its library has proved an incalculable benefit. Mr. Jerome Jordan served first as librarian; Miss Jane Ormsbee succeeded, but since 1857 Miss Mary P. Jordan has administered the offices of librarian, secretary and treasurer with much fidelity and acceptance. Some seven hundred volumes are now included in the library.

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

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