Social History of Pomfret Connecticut

Pomfret has been foremost in the interest manifested in literary acquirements and especially in the promotion of what culture a public library can bring to a people. In 1739 ” The United English Library for the Propagation of Christian and Useful Knowledge ” was established here, the citizens of Woodstock, Mortlake, Killingly and the west part of Thompson joining with those of Pomfret in laying its foundations. The society numbered thirty-four members, who subscribed various sums from ten to forty pounds. The sum expended for books at the start was about £418. The first books were obtained in 1840, and a larger number were added in the following year. The affairs of the society were well managed by a faithful and efficient committee, and its membership in time embraced all the leading men of the township. Pomfret’s library became one of her most cherished institutions, and. maintained and extended her reputation for intelligence and culture.

In June, 1745, the library and its society were divided so as to allow the Woodstock and Killingly people to have their part nearer at home, while Pomfret kept on with its library and association under the same general regulations except as to territorial limitations. For many years the library exercised an influence in favor of higher intelligence and culture in this community. As the old members passed away new members joined it from time to time, so that the interest seemed unabated. It may have been due to the influence of this library that in 1755 eight young men of this town entered Yale College, and three others followed soon after, so that there were eleven Pomfret youths in that institution at one time. Nine of them became ministers and achieved respectable positions, and another became a teacher. In 1775 an offshoot from this was established in Brooklyn society, with a hundred volumes.

The United Library was reorganized at the close of the war. It numbered then about fifteen members. The preponderance of theological and dogmatic books in the collection was detrimental to its- popularity, and it now fell into a decline, while the reading people to a large extent thirsted for something lighter, more entertaining, and more in the line of their practical thoughts. To this end a Social Library was formed in 1793, which brought in works of a lighter character, more attractive to the general reader; but this failed to meet the wants of still a large class, and so, in 1804, a Farmers’ Library was instituted. The last recorded meeting of the “Proprietors of the United Library in Pomfret for Propagating Christian and Useful Knowledge ” was held February 12th, 1805, when the librarian was directed ” to call upon the Proprietors to return the books into the Library agreeably to the original Covenant.”

The library is still maintained. In more recent years the interest in it has revived, and it has been enlarged, and is now one of the institutions of which Pomfret society is justly proud. It is well taken care of, being accommodated with a room in Pomfret Hall. The library now numbers some two thousand volumes.

Pomfret Hall is a handsome building, standing on the east side of classic Pomfret street, just a little north of the Episcopal church. It is one story high, and having its auditorium on the ground floor, is easy of access. A covered driveway for carriages to the front allows approach and departure without exposure to storms. The hall was built by subscription, and is used for entertainments, lectures and other public gatherings. Religious meetings are sometimes held in it. The hall is one of the finest to be found in a country-side place like this, and sustains the reputation for progressive culture and refinement for which Pomfret has for generations been noted.

In the matter of schools Pomfret, in its early existence, showed great remissness, making no provision for them until January 28th, 1720, when the town voted to have a school house. Its location was to be near the meeting house and its size 19 by 24 feet. In 1723 the house was completed and schools established in the north, south and center of the town about the same time. In the course of a decade the diffusion of population throughout the town made more schools needful. As several families, by reason of distance, could have no benefit of the schools already established, it was granted by the town that upon the application of any number of families to the selectmen, they should at their discretion accommodate them with a school at any part of the town. In 1733 four schools were ordered, ” one at the sign-post; one at the end of Samuel Dana’s lane; one at Noah Upham’s, and one west of Mashamoquet Brook, just at going over the bridge by Lyon’s mill.”

After the division of the town into three societies- Pomfret, Brooklyn and Abington-school as well as church matters were settled in the society meetings. The Pomfret society now comprised only the north part of the town. The first meeting of this as a society distinct from other parts of the town was held in December, 1731. In 1732 it was agreed that there should be one standing school, kept by a schoolmaster six months in the winter season, midway upon the road leading from Woodstock to Mr. Williams’s bridge, and the other half of the year be kept by school dames in the four quarters of the society. In 1733 four schools were allowed through the winter, and ” as the north part about the sign-post hath built themselves a house,” it was now agreed ” That the other parts should provide school houses for themselves.” In 1755 the society was divided into four school districts, each of which provided its own school house and master.

The number of children in this town of school age-four to sixteen years-in 1858 was 415; in 1881, 292; in 1887, 287. The town is divided into nine districts, and the enumeration of 1888 showed 282 children of school age.

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

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