Nothing worthy of the name of village existed in Thompson during the last century. Four or five houses and a blacksmith shop had been built upon Thompson hill, in the vicinity of the meeting house; the meeting house, as in many hill towns, building up a village instead of the village building the meeting house. But when it was found that two lines of turnpike were to intersect upon the hill, new life sprang up. The Joseph Watson house, Wickham’s store and Keith’s tavern were built before 1800, and soon after that date several houses were erected, especially upon the east side of the Providence turnpike. Building was, however, impeded by the scarcity of building lots, the north part of the hill being included in the Watson estate, which was not thrown into market till after the death of Widow Samuel Watson in 1813. The north end of the hill was then purchased by George Larned, Esq., and laid out in building lots, he himself occupying the Watson house (now Judge Rawson’s) as a dwelling house and law office. On the opposite site a house was speedily built by Hezekiah Olney. Mr. Noadiah Comins built the house adjoining southward, and Doctor James Webb a third house (now occupied by Mrs. Tallman). The site below was soon filled by the old meeting house transformed into a townhouse, and the nucleus of the present tavern was put up on the corner by Stephen E. Tefft. Doctor Webb left town before completing his house, and was followed by Doctor Horatio Holbrook, who built on the north side of the street, adjoining Esquire Larned’s.
A handsome brick house on the corner had been previously built by John Nichols, and a large house with brick ends was built on another corner northward by Noadiah Russel, Esq. Captain Joel Taylor built several houses east of the tavern, on the Providence turnpike, the first of which was long occupied by Obadiah Stone. A small house nearly opposite was put together by Simon Davis, Esq. All this building, together with the teaming and stage coaches, made the hill very lively. Many of the new residents engaged in business. Mr. Olney manufactured hats; Mr. Comins, harness; Mr. Stone, shoes; Nichols and Tefft carried on various stores; Esquire Davis practiced law; Mr. Theodore Dwight made a most acceptable landlord in the new turnpike tavern; Mr. Rufus Coburn entered upon trade. Rum was sold without restriction in all the stores and taverns. A house-warming frolic, in which all these business men and leading citizens indulged in great excesses, called out Mr. Dow’s first temperance sermon. Fixing his eye upon the offenders with most scathing rebuke, he thundered out the scriptural queries” Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions Who hath babblings? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine.” But the fact that the next day the pastor himself took a glass of wine at the house of a parishioner marred the practical effect of . the sermon. All classes were greatly benefitted by the rise of the temperance reform, banishing liquor from common household use, social entertainments and the better class of stores:
The rapid expansion of business and manufactures after the close of the first half century of the republic brought a special boom ” to Thompson hill. Residents of neighboring factories sought supplies of needful articles and luxuries at its well-filled stores, now conducted by Messrs. Almy & Crosby and Erastus Knight. Mr. Edward Shaw, of Providence, opened a watchmaker’s and jeweler’s store in 1830, a great novelty and attraction, customers coming miles from every direction to have their watches regulated and buy glittering ornaments. Mr. Hezekiah Olney, now high sheriff of Windham county, built a brick block between the tavern and town house, and opened a fashionable New York hat and cap store.” Horatio Paine engaged in the manufacture of boots. The tailors’ shops conducted by Albert E. Whipple and James O. Mills were largely patronized, as nothing in the line of ready-made clothing could then be procured. Mrs. C. C. Dow supplied a large constituency with tasteful and fashionable millinery. Messrs. Andrew B. Baldwin, James Hutchins, Danforth Kinney and Walter Bates opened shops for carriages and furniture making. All these business enterprises found convenient financial accommodation in the Thompson Bank, incorporated in 1833. The year preceding Thompson had the enterprise to purchase a jaunty little fire engine, run by an efficient company. Among other innovations, the newspaper came to Thompson hill. George Roberts, publisher at a later day of the first cheap daily paper in Boston, and the originator of the famous” Mammoth Newspaper,” entered upon his journalistic career as the editor of a dainty little semiweekly called The Thompson Transcript. This was soon succeeded by a Weekly Bulletin, but neither was able to support existence. They were followed by The Windham County Gazette, published by another newspaper celebrity, the J. P. Chapman who was ordered ” to crow ” in the Tippecanoe campaign. His newspaper lingered for several years, but collapsed in 1837 with many kindred enterprises.
One of Thompson’s chief notabilities in these booming years was ” the Stiles Tavern,” claiming that more stage passengers dined there every day than at any other house in New England. Its proprietor, Captain Vernon Stiles, was the very beau ideal of a landlord-big, hearty, jolly. More than that, he was a public spirited citizen, a graceful speaker and an adroit politician. His bar room was the headquarters of the democratic party, and his spacious hall the scene of many a festive entertainment. Thompson’s peculiar matrimonial facilities had then been recognized, cornering as it did upon two states where a two or three weeks’ publishment of intention was required before the marriage ceremony, while Connecticut let them off with one brief pulpit notice. It became very much the fashion for affianced pairs in these states to drive to Thompson on a Sunday morn, and there be united at Stiles’s tavern. For a time the ministers were called in to perform the ceremony at intermission of divine service, but the calls became so frequent, and the consequent Sabbath breaking so alarming, that they resigned the office to Captain Stiles, as justice, who tied the nuptial knot with a grace and sympathy that charmed all participants. Scarce a Sabbath passed without bringing wedding parties to partake of the frosted loaf always made ready for them, and Thompson became widely known as the “Gretna Green of New England,” run-a-ways on several occasions improving its facilities. Near the tavern, in the town house building, back of Mr. Shaw’s shop, Esquire Davis kept the post office, the only one in town, and also ‘a museum of curiosities and Indian relics, exciting much juvenile interest.
A very famous debating society was organized in 1833, with Simon Davis, Esq., president, Joseph B. Gay, vice-president, George Roberts, secretary, and a large number of members, where all the vital questions of the day were earnestly debated, and presumably settled. The lawyers, young and old, Doctors Holbrook and Bowen, Captain Stiles, schoolmasters from far and near, inquiring mechanics and active business men, entered upon this arena, and crossed swords in many a fiery conflict. Several houses were built during this period, but the hill, as depicted by Barber in his ” Historical Collections ” of 1836, had but a bare aspect. The trees set out by judge John Nichols in the little “Heater Piece,” and the row of trees near the Watson house, were its only shade. The old row of poplars at the south end of the village was already vanishing. Blindless and bare, the meeting house stood on the rough common, cut up by numerous wagon roads, and on the pointed apex westward a row of buildings stretched out-blacksmith’s shop, house, barn, and at the extreme end a marble shop or gravestone manufactory, which in a few years gave place to a very aggressive grog shop, greatly quickening the demand for the former article.
During the progress of the Washingtonian temperance movement, party spirit ran very high. John Hawkins, the leader among reformed inebriates, made an early visit to Thompson bill, speaking night after night to crowded audiences in the Congregational meeting house, and persuading many common drunkards and moderate drinkers to sign the pledge ‘and range themselves on the side of temperance. His success roused a very bitter spirit of opposition on the part of those who felt that their personal and social rights were invaded. The old tavern (late Wilks House) had become very obnoxious, its proprietor’ being a man utterly devoid of principle and common humanity. The death of one of his victims, turned out of doors and left to freeze in the barn, made a very deep impression on the community, and was used with most dramatic effect by Gough on the last night of a week’s labor in Thompson. Having that day visited the mother of the dead man in a neighboring state, he told the story of this ” prodigal son ” as it fell from her lips, in the most pathetic and thrilling manner, no one in the house having a thought of any personal connection with it, until at the last he sent it home to every heart by the low, calm, overwhelming statement that this man had died in a barn at Thompson, after weeks’ loitering about that abominable tavern. The keeper of the house was unable to stand against the overwhelming tide of public sentiment, and the house, after due purification, was made over for the use of Mr. Green’s high school. Captain Stiles closed his bar and transformed his popular house into a temperance tavern.
The persecuted rum sellers were driven from tavern to cellar, and finally found refuge in the deserted stone dutter’s shop at the west extremity of the common, a most eligible position, facing two streets, very near the newly erected town house, and greatly accommodating the obstinate old topers, who made a special point of exercising their liberties upon town meeting day. Dorr’s refugees, coming up from Rhode Island, found much needed aid and comfort in this convenient grogery, and bestowed upon it the expressive name of ” Ponog,” borrowed from a similar favorite institution at home, originally signifying ” a place of fair water,” but by corruption ” a place of fire water.” A more unmitigated nuisance than the Thompson Ponog never afflicted a respectable community. Many resorted thither from all parts of the town; young men were enticed into liquor there; hooting and yelling disturbed the neighbors by night, and free fights after a public day were not unusual; yet, notwithstanding the efforts and eloquence of temperance workers, it continued for several years to disgrace the village.
The town house was the first building on the south side of West street. Mr. Whitman Jacobs broke ground on the north side about 1835, building the house now occupied by Doctor Knight. Other houses were built in a few years by Messrs. Erastus Knight, Edward Shaw, Danforth Kinney, Waldo Comins and Thomas E. Graves. The row of maples was set out in 1839. Houses were built a few years later on the south side by Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. William H. Mason. In the summer of 1845 a lecture was given by Professor William A. Larned in the town house, upon “Beauty, Taste and Tree Culture,”-all summed up in the modern term, “Village Improvements.” Mr. William H. Chandler was much interested in this matter and aided very efficiently in carrying out Professor Larned’s suggestions. Spontaneous pledges of aid were given by many present, and in the following November a day was devoted to setting out all over the village, elm, maple and other trees, under the supervision of Mr. Chandler. A still greater improvement was effected in the demolition and removal of the Ponog and all its appurtenances-house, barn and blacksmith’s shop, which were bought up by adjacent residents, and the point of land leveled off and reconstructed. Ten years later the common left bare by the removal of the meeting house, was leased temporarily to Esquire Graves for fencing and cultivation, which, with the growth of the trees and other improvements, added much to the beauty of the village.
With the opening of the Norwich & Worcester railroad and the discontinuance of stage coaching, business prosperity in Thompson rapidly declined. One by one, stores and shops were closed. As the valleys increased the hills wasted. Tailoring, shoemaking and carriage making fell off from year to year. Many excellent families removed from the village. Change of laws so much reduced the number of matrimonial frequenters that Captain Stiles resigned his office and followed the westward movement. Mr. Shaw took his shop and goods to Putnam. The store so long kept up by “Almy & Crosby” was closed and croakers prophesied the decay and ultimate extinction of the once flourishing village. Even the corner tavern was closed for a season, and the ever solid bank and Mr. Knight’s principal store seemed all that preserved it from stagnation. But after the lowest depth a reflex tide set in, bringing back elements of continued life and new prosperity. With the reopening of the hotel under Mr. Stephen Crosby in 1,959, summer visitors came in, mostly families who had gone out from town, and relatives of residents.
Another” decade passed and the “cottagers” came to stay, and these too were Thompson’s own children, connected by family and social ties. Several new houses have been built and old ones transformed into picturesque villas. A Village Improvement Society was formed in 1875, which, though somewhat intermittent in character, has accomplished good results in grading and widening the streets, caring for the trees and improving sidewalks. Older residents have caught the spirit of the age, and take much pride in beautifying and improving their lawns and dwellings. Thompson residents and visitors are well accommodated with railroad privileges, the near vicinity of the New York & New England station bringing Boston, Providence, the sea shore and many resorts, within a day’s compass. Business to any extent declines to return. Mr. James Kingsbury essayed shoe manufacturing for a time, but relapsed into storekeeping and care for the town interests. The removal of Mr. Charles Baldwin closed a carriage and wagon shop, dating back to nearly the beginning of the century. The only present representative of former industries is Mr. Walter Bates, whose “cabinet maker’s shop” was opened by Mr. James Hutchins more than fifty years since. Yet notwithstanding the lack of business, Thompson hill is none the less a pleasant place of permanent residence, while its pure air, health giving breezes, and the picturesque drives in its vicinity, are very attractive to the summer sojourner. The Family Hotel, kept so satisfactorily for twenty-five years by the late Mr. Crosby, promises to be equally popular under its present proprietor, Landlord Chapin, who has treated the old tavern house with a new furnace and effected many improvements.
The Thompson hill of the present day has never appeared to better advantage than on Memorial Day, 1887, when for the first time the town made public provision for celebrating this occasion. Under the auspices of Major William S. Beebe (then recently removed into the Mason house), the town house was decorated in the most unique and effective manner with red, white and blue stars, banners and streamers, and emblazoned with the names of every battle field and engagement during the civil conflict. Soldiers and war veterans in Thompson and Putnam, members of the Grand Army of the Republic, Sons of Veterans, and other bodies, were invited to participate in the festivities. The day was exceptionally fine, the village in fresh spring suit looked its best, and everything passed off in the :most harmonious and delightful manner. After visiting the graves of their comrades in the different burial grounds of the town with the usual services and floral offerings, the several companies, with music and parade, marched by different roads into the village where great crowds had assembled to meet them, and then into the Congregational meeting house, which was draped with red, white and blue in simple but most effective style. The soldiers, with citizens gathered to receive them, filled the large house. A bevy of blooming girls, decked out for waitresses with white caps and aprons, and contrasting bands of dark bearded musicians, filled the choir. The services, prayer, singing, addresses, were exceedingly appropriate and inspiring. The march of the martial procession from the meeting house to the town house in the beautiful May sunshine, with the music and the white-capped girls, and the common filled with enthusiastic spectators, was one of the most picturesque and stirring scenes Thompson hill ever witnessed, far superior to the much vaunted ” trainings ” of other days, and based upon a far deeper and more intelligent patriotism. The collation served to many hundreds of weary men in the decorated town house was worthy of the day and occasion, and the rousing cheers for ” Old Thompson ” that closed the festivities were never more heartily given and appreciated.
Thompson Bank, which has so creditably held its own through village, national and financial vicissitudes, was incorporated in 1833-Harvey Blashfield, president; Joseph B. Gay, cashier. Among its early directors were Harvey Blashfield, John Nichols, William H. Mason, William Reed, William Fisher, Robert Grosvenor, Franklin. Nichols, Jonathan Nichols, Simon Davis and George B. Slater. Neighboring manufacturers found this bank a convenient accommodation, and were much interested in its prosperity and stability. Some heavy losses that accrued in early years were tided over by the help of willing friends, and it soon gained a sterling reputation. Its second president, judge John Nichols, resigned in 1837, and was succeeded by Mr. Talcott Crosby, who remained in charge till compelled by ill health to resign in 1865, when he was succeeded by Mr. Jeremiah Olney, who still remains in charge, their united term of service covering fifty-two years. Messrs. Joseph B. Gay, Theodore Sharpe, William Osgood, A. E. Parker, Hiram and Charles Arnold have served as cashiers. Many of Thompson’s most substantial and sterling citizens have acted as directors. The present board comprises Messrs. Jeremiah Olney, L. K. Blackmar, James N. Kingsbury, George H. Nichols, Thomas D. Sayles, Hiram Arnold, George S. Crosby, David Chase, Frank M. Messenger.
The Dime Savings Bank, of Thompson, was incorporated in 1871, and accommodates a large number of depositors. President, George H. Nichols; treasurer, Charles Arnold. Amount of deposits, January, 1888, $439,233.18.
The Thompson Fire Engine Company has entered upon its second half century, alive and in good condition, stimulated by the agreeable consciousness of having saved much valuable property. Its antiquated hand-engine, however insignificant and ridiculous to modern eyes, has as good a record. as the largest in the nation, having put out every fire to which it has been summoned. Again and again it has rushed in at the breach and saved valuable houses from destruction. It has also faithfully fulfilled the second object of its creation-the exaction of fines for non-attendance upon its stated meetings, and expended part of its surplus in the ” Thompson Fire Engine Library,” a collection of valuable books, needing only care and fitting ” local habitation ” to make it worthy of its name. Its roll of membership embraces nearly every male resident of the vicinity of Thompson hill from the date of its formation. Present membership twenty-five; officers: George V. Ballard, captain; Fred Green, first lieutenant; George Wilks, second lieutenant; George W. Dexter, clerk and treasurer, also librarian; George Wilks to warn the company.
The first post office in town was opened on Thompson hill in 1805, Doctor Daniel Knight postmaster. His successors, John Nichols and Simon Davis, continued to be the sole postmasters of the town. The second post office was opened in Fisherville about 1840, William Fisher postmaster. Mr. Jeremiah Olney succeeded Esquire Davis at about the same date. A change in presidential administration sent the office into Mr. Knight’s store across the street. Another change bowled it back to Mr. Olney. DIr. James N. Kingsbury administered the office for several years. DIr. L. K. blackmar held it during the Cleveland administration, and under the present dynasty it reverts to Mr. C. V. Chapin. Within the last generation its sphere has been much circumscribed–each manufacturing and railroad village demanding its own special accommodations. Nine post offices are now required by Thompson-the largest number of any town in the county. They are located at Thompson hill, East Thompson, West Thompson, Grosvenor Dale, North Grosvenor Dale, Mechanicsville, Wilsonville, New Boston and Quinebaug.
The recent loss of Hon. William H. Chandler, so long and intimately identified with the public interests of Thompson, is mourned by the whole community. DIr. Chandler was of Pomfret ancestry, born in Providence, R. I., April 14th; 1815, graduated from Yale College in 1839. Debarred from pursuing legal studies by weakness of eyes, he decided upon country life, and in 1842 purchased of Mrs. Jacob Dresser the ” Priest Russel homestead ” in Thompson village, taking possession of the old house immediately after his marriage, and devoting himself with much interest to the culture and improvement of his farm. He manifested from the first much interest in public affairs, making himself a power in town meetings and in the administration of town government. Although shrinking from public office, Mr. Chandler’s extensive reading, keen insight and sound judgment gave his counsels much weight and influence, especially with advancing years, and probably no man in town was more widely known and respected. He was early sent as representative and state senator, and his name was often mentioned in connection with higher appointments, but his dislike for public life could not be overcome. An earnest republican and true patriot, he was ever ready to serve party and country with wise counsel and material aid, and his name and promises were looked upon as a tower of strength during the dark hours of the war.
Averse to parade and ostentation, simple in habits and taste, DIr. Chandler was exceedingly genial and sympathetic, with much playful humor and ready gift of conversation, discoursing pleasantly with all with whom he came in contact. Possessing strong individuality, he had his own views and preferences, but was very ready to help in all projects that met his approval. Many of the beautiful trees now adorning the village will help perpetuate the memory of him who planted and watched over them so tenderly. Mr. Chandler was a firm friend of the Congregational church and society, ever ready to do his proportion of anything needed for their growth and benefit. His public spirited services in clearing the roads after the memorable March blizzard brought on or confirmed the rheumatic attack which ended his valuable life, May 13th, 1888. His son, Mr. Randolph Chandler, who for some years has practiced law- in Putnam. succeeds to the family residence.
No living citizen of Thompson has rendered such substantial service to his mother state as Hon. Jeremiah Olney. Born near his present residence in this village, attending its public schools, Mr. Olney grew up to fill the ordinary stations of town life, keeping store, serving as constable, postmaster and representative. Appointed town agent during the war, his superior executive abilities were recognized, and he was appointed to serve as United States assessor, which office he filled -with his accustomed energy and fidelity. A few years later he was nominated by the republican party for the office of school fund commissioner, but by some political arrangement the democratic incumbent was left in charge another term. During this interim Mr. Olney administered the affairs of the Thompson Bank, and served as town representative at the legislature. A keen-eyed reporter depicts him as ” a dignified gentleman of the old school, spare in form, immaculate in dress, with a fine command of language, a strong sense of justice, and whose brave utterances command the most respectful attention.” In 1880 he was elected to the responsible position of school fund commissioner, involving the care and handling of a most important public trust, demanding financial experience and sound judgment. Mr. Olney’s administration of the school fund has been exceptionally strong and able. The fact of his unanimous appointment to a third term of service testifies to the respect and confidence accorded to him by all parties.
Mr. Charles E. Searls, the late popular secretary of state, resides in this village; a strong republican, chairman of the great Harrison mass meeting at Woodstock, a man whom his fellow citizens delight to honor.
The popular favorite of a preceding generation, Mr. William S. Scarborough, has returned to his old home in Thompson, after prolonged residence at Cincinnati.
Our physician, Doctor Holbrook, represents a medical succession of more than seventy years, his father, Doctor Horatio Holbrook, entering upon practice in this village about 1816. He occupies the house built by D. R. Wickham nearly a hundred years ago.
The very oldest house in town is the residence of our present town clerk and representative, Mr. James N. Kingsbury, a native of Webster, but for over twenty years a resident of the village, filling many important offices.
The original Watson House is the pleasant home of our aged citizen, judge Rawson, born in East Alstead, N. H., April 22d, 1802, served acceptably many years in the ministry, till obliged to relinquish active service by injuries received in a railroad accident. He removed to Thompson in 1853, where, with his son-in-law, Mr. Parker, he conducted a family school, and also performed much public service in occasional preaching, school visitation and as judge of probate.
Three venerable Ballard brothers, life-long residents of Thompson, reside within the district, whose united ages reach 256 years, viz.: Winthrop Hilton, 88; Deacon Valentine, 85; Hamilton, 83 years. The scriptural promise of length of days to men of peace, wisdom and rectitude is fulfilled in these ” hoary heads.”
Mr. James Munyan represents one of the oldest families in town, has carried on mercantile business, administered the post office, and served as selectman. Mr. L. K. Blackmar has also served faithfully in various offices. Messrs. Horace and Marvin D. Elliott represent an old family, remarkable for inherited industry and steadfastness. Mr. George S. Crosby was associated with his father in the management of the Crosby House. Mr. Horace Morse occupies the former home of Mr. Obadiah Stone. The oldest household by far in Thompson village -is that still occupying the house built by Mr. Joseph Watson soon after his marriage, in 1791. Five of this family were living when the youngest had attained her 78th year. Mr. Noadiah Watson and Miss Katharine Watson still represent the family. The house built by Mr. William H. Mason was purchased after the decease of Mrs. Lydia (Watson) Mason by Major William S. Beebe.
The ” History of Windham County,” written and published by Miss Ellen D. Larned, has won a high place among local histories. About fourteen years were spent in collecting material and preparing this work. No pains were spared to ensure accuracy and thoroughness, and the result justifies the cost. The citizens of Windham county have reason to be proud of their history. Miss Larned represents the family of William Larned, who removed to this section in 1712, and is the last of the name in town. Another Thompson authoress, Mrs. A. K. Dunning, represents the family of Doctor Dow, as the daughter of Mrs. Nancy (Dow) Ketchum. Mrs. Dunning has been very successful in religious works and stories, contributing notably to Sunday school literature.
Thompson hill is peculiarly favored in the character of its summer residents-its own children, not transient strangers. Its young men who went out from Thompson homes to engage in business come back to found new summer homes for their families. These village boys have made successful businessmen. One of the most prominent is Mr. John W. Doane of Chicago, a merchant prince, engaged largely in importing trade, president of Chicago’s Board of Trade, prominent in the Pullman Car Company, and in many important business enterprises. Mr. Doane is very highly esteemed in his adopted city, and has won ‘by his unaided exertions ‘a most honorable place among the foremost business men of the day. A pleasant rural home in Thompson is occupied by his family half of the year.
Another representative of old Thompson families, Mr. Henry Elliott, starting out alone for the great city in early youth, has won a most honorable position and good name among the ” solid men ” of Brooklyn, N. Y. His near kinsmen, Messrs. John E. Jacobs and Jerome E. Bates, are successful business men, and like Messrs. Doane and Elliott, have summer homes in Thompson village. Another successful businessman, now of Grand Rapids.” Mich., Mr. Edgar Olney, has transformed the former residence of judge Crosby into an idyllic summer resting place. The sons of Mr. Scarborough, Mrs. Erastus Knight, Mrs. George Shaw, Messrs. Bates and Marvin Elliott are welcomed among the usual summer sojourners. Mr. Andrew Mills has three sons in Boston, two of them connected with the administration of the Conservatory of Music, whose visits bring a welcome addition to the chorus of summer song.
Many sons of Thompson from all parts of the town have achieved success and distinction in varied fields. Norwich is indebted to Thompson for her veteran citizens, Mr. Franklin Nichols, president of the Thames National Bank, and Mr. Lucius W. Carrol, president of the First National Bank. Few men in our country are more widely known or better serving their generation than Reverend Samuel W. Dike, D.D., prime leader in the anti-divorce movement, and secretary of the National Divorce Reform League. Mr. Dike belongs to another old Thompson family, still occupying the original homestead of their ancestor, James Dike. Reverend Joseph P. Bixby, grandson of the venerable Deacon Aaron Bixby, is a popular and successful pastor at Revere, Mass., and president of the Bible Conference Institute, established at Crescent Beach. Two grandsons of the venerated Elder Grow, Reverends Jerome P. Bates and W. Elliott Bates, and Reverend James F. Hill, son of ” Father James Hill,” are honored and successful Baptist ministers. Another grandson of Elder Grow, Captain George W. Davis, performed most valuable service during the war, and built for himself an enduring monument by carrying forward and completing the National -Memorial at Washington. Representative John Waite reports: “It was Capt. Davis who arranged and perfected all the elevating machinery that carried the stones one after another from the surface of the earth as they went up toward the sky. It was his skill and rare ingenuity that invented the machinery which was so vitally important as a most efficient agent in the the rapid and successful prosecution of the work. In the important matter of strengthening and perfecting the foundation of the monument the suggestions and assistance of Capt. Davis were invaluable.”
Very valuable military service was also performed by another Thompson boy–John E. Tourtellotte; graduated from Brown University in 1856, studied law and commenced practice in Minnesota; joined the Fourth Minnesota Infantry regiment as captain in 1861, served in the same regiment as lieutenant-colonel to the close of the war, accompanied General Sherman on his march to the sea, brevetted brigadier-general in 1865, resigned volunteer service, and appointed captain in the regular army in 1866, appointed colonel and aide-de-camp on the staff of General Sherman in 1871. While in this position he enjoyed the unique privilege of attendance upon the Princess Louise and Marquis of Lorne during their visit to the United States, as the accredited representative of the national government a son of the sovereign people entertaining the daughter of the queen and empress.
Three sons of the late Thomas E. Graves, Esq., born on Thompson hill, were conspicuous during the war. Colonel Emmons E. Graves entered upon service in 1861 first lieutenant of of the Thirteenth Connecticut regiment, continued in service throughout the war, and had the honor of raising the Union flag upon the state capitol after the taking of Richmond. Lieutenant Frank H. Graves was the first Union officer to enter Fort Fisher. T. Thatcher Graves, returning from an interesting sojourn in Africa in 1863, entered at once upon service as volunteer aid to General B. F. Butler, received commission from President Lincoln as captain in the 114th Kentucky volunteers, detailed as aid to Major-General G. Weitzel, and served at the front until the close of the war; assisted in the occupation of Richmond, being the first Union officer to enter Libby Prison, and to take possession of the house vacated by Jefferson Davis; served under General Weitzel on the Rio Grande, with rank of brevet-major for two years, and was mustered out with the last volunteer officers in 1867. He pursued medical studies at Harvard, graduating at the head of his class in 1871, has practiced medicine at Lynn, Mass., Danielsonville, Conn., and Providence, R. I., with characteristic energy and promptness. Doctor Graves is pre-eminently an I emergency man,” always ready for the occasion.
Daniel R. Larned, born in West Thompson village, engaged in volunteer service as captain; was promoted to rank of lieutenant-colonel for gallant conduct at siege of Knoxville; private secretary to General Burnside; serves as paymaster in regular army, with rank of major.
Joseph E. Gay, mining broker, an active republican and influential member of the Union League Club, New York, grew up on Thompson hill.
Isaac N. Mills, of Brandy hill, graduated with distinction at Harvard College, engaged successfully in the practice of law at Mount Vernon, N. Y., and soon received the honorable appointment of judge in the court of Westchester county, succeeding one of the great judges of the state.
“Westward the course of empire takes its way,” but a goodly number of Thompsonians have found. fame, wealth or competency in eastward cities. The ancient Converse family is well represented in Boston. James, son of Elisha Converse, began his honorable life-work in that city a poor boy, thirteen years of age. In 1833, at the age of twenty-five, he aided in organizing the business firm of Field & Converse, so widely known in business circles. Remarkably successful in business, he has been still more eminent in works of mercy and beneficence, founding missions, building churches, strengthening the hands of fellow laborers. His brother, Elisha S. Converse, after engaging a short time in business on Thompson hill, removed to Boston in 1844, and since 1853 has served as treasurer and general manager of the Boston Rubber Shoe Company, having his residence in Malden. The stately and beautiful Converse Memorial Building, given to the citizens of Malden in 1885, for the use of a free public library and gallery of art, by Mr. and Mrs. Converse. in memory of their oldest son, will bear their names in grateful remembrance to later generations.
Year after year, upon the roll of Boston’s legislative representatives and sterling men is found the name of Jacob A. Dresser -fourth in descent and name from the first white boy born in Thompson. Richard L. Gay, Ashley and William Mills were born in Thompson. Other businessmen in Providence, Worcester and various parts of the land emigrated from the same old town.
Space allows but a brief record of emigrants of preceding generations. All over the land they may be found; through the West and beyond the Rockies, descendants of those who in earlier years helped build up Vermont and New York. Carrying out into the world a certain stability and tenacity that enabled them to make their way amid hardships and toil, they have borne an important part in building up and developing the nation. Unable to follow them in all their various callings, we give a list of those only who have served as ministers
Baptists.-John B. Ballard, born 1795; ordained 1823; established Sunday schools in every town in North Carolina;” labored as missionary in New York city. Benjamin M. Hill, D. D., ordained in Stafford, September 23d, 1818; corresponding secretary of American Baptist Home Missionary Society. Lewis Seamans, preached at De Ruyter, N. Y., died November. 1826, aged 29 years. John Pratt, licensed to preach September 2d, 1822; professor of Greek and Latin in Granville College, Ohio. Austin Robbins, licensed to preach 1835; labored faithfully in Maine and mission fields.
Congregational.-Joseph, son of Reverend Noadiah Russel, settled in Princeton, Mass., but dismissed on account of ill health. Stephen, son of Elijah Crosby, a much beloved and useful pastor in Penn Yan, N. Y., died early. Henry Gleason settled in Durham, Conn.; died early, respected and lamented. Joseph T. Holmes, labored in the West. D. Nichols Coburn, settled in Ware, Mass. John Bowers, pastor in Wilbraham, Mass. Herbert A., son of William Reed, Esq., West Thompson, preached at Webster, Mass; removed to Michigan. William A., son of George Larned, Esq., settled over the church in Milbury, “Mass.; obliged to relinquish preaching from bronchial trouble; taught in the Theological Seminary, Troy, N. Y.; appointed professor of rhetoric in Yale College in 1840; died February 3d, 1862—a thorough scholar, a brilliant speaker, sound in judgment, prompt in action, genial and attractive in private life.
Methodist.-Jefferson Hascall, born 1807; converted in early youth and exercising his gifts in exhortation. Mr. Hascall was distinguished for power and eloquence from the beginning of his ministry. His labors in his first pastorate resulted in the professed conversion of more than 150 persons. Independence and originality of thought, accompanied by fervid imagination and a magnetic delivery, gave him a high place among the many distinguished pulpit orators of the Methodist ranks. The mere announcement of his presence could fill the seats at any meeting. For more than twenty years he served as presiding elder, and twice represented New England in the General Conference. A man of strong faith and enthusiasm, but with simple, childlike spirit, he impressed himself strongly upon the generation. A popular hymn, written upon instant inspiration, will help commemorate his honored name:
My latest sun is sinking fast.
My race is nearly run,
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.”
Doctor Hascall died February 13th, 1887. His brother, Reverend Squier Hascall, also served acceptably in the ministry.
The Thompson Grange is a new institution here. It was established about two years since, and now numbers about forty members, residing in different parts of the town. The present master is George N. Comins; steward, George Ballard.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889