Social History of Woodstock, Connecticut

Woodstock’s first post office was opened in Bowen’s store in 1811, George Bowen, postmaster. Six offices are now needed, one for each separate village, viz., Woodstock, East, West, North, South Woodstock and Woodstock Valley. Convenient mail carriages convey the mail from Putnam depot to these several stations. These villages, dating back many years, enjoy varying degrees of prosperity. Some have lost by business changes and emigration; others gained by new interests. The summer element has brought new prosperity to Woodstock hill. The erection of ” Roseland Cottage,” by Mr. H. C. Bowen, was soon followed by the opening of Elmwood Hall, in 1862, by Messrs. Warner & Way; with ample accommodations for the ” summer boarder,” with his numerous household. The revivifying of the academy, and various improvements instituted by Mr. Bowen, have wrought a marvelous change in the “Plaine Hill village.” Graded streets, concrete walks, tasteful dwelling houses, a shaded park and spacious common make the village one of the loveliest in Windham county, while the pure air and range of beautiful scenery are wholly unsurpassed. Summer visitors returning year after year to this favorite resort, testify to its attractions. Elmwood Hall, under the charge of its veteran proprietor Deacon Amasa Chandler-has long been numbered among public institutions, and has been the scene of many an official and family re-union. West Woodstock village has its own especial votaries, who find perpetual charms in its verdant placidity and wide outlook, and it is becoming more and more a favorite summer resting place. The summer element is conspicuous in many new and elegant country seats in various parts of the town. Senexet road, running east of the lake, is especially favored by these summer sojourners, and boasts many of these fanciful structures. These new citizens, connected in many cases with old families of the town, promise to be an important factor in its future development.

Among modern institutions of Woodstock none has brought it into such prominence before the world as the Fourth of July celebrations inaugurated in Roseland Park by Mr. H. C. Bowen. Repeating the experience of its historic namesake, Woodstock hill has ever been celebrated for the number and variety of its notable meetings. Its trainings, funerals, belligerent town and society meetings, its Masonic and anti-Masonic conventions, its temperance jubilees and Sabbath school celebrations, have been noted for successive generations. With the grand ” Fremont Rally ” of 1856 began a series of most notable political gatherings. The great Lincoln mass meeting of 1864, the great Grant mass meeting of 1868, both held on Woodstock Common, were most remarkable occasions, not only in numbers, interest and enthusiasm, but as helping to decide conflicting and vital questions.

The Fourth of July celebration in 1870 was made memorable by the presence of the president of the United States, General Grant, and his suite, with the Russian minister and other notables. Arrangements for this occasion were wholly due to Mr. H. C. Bowen, who had the honor of receiving and entertaining the distinguished guests. Securing soon after this date the beautiful grove adjoining Woodstock lake, Mr. Bowen began the laying out of the beautiful park so famous in later celebrations. July 4th, 1877, Roseland Park was formally opened with appropriate exercises. Addresses were made by Senator Blaine, ex-Governor Chamberlain, and other distinguished persons. A delightful historic poem, with appropriate patriotic prelude, was read by Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes. Year after year these gatherings have been repeated. As the park has put on new beauty and verdure, so the programme has offered more varied attractions, until the Fourth of July celebrations at Roseland Park are known throughout the country. It would be impossible to give a full list of those who have contributed to the interest of these occasions. National celebrities in innumerable departments, presidents, cabinet officers, senators, governors, statesmen, financiers, distinguished professors and teachers, orators, lecturers, poets, literary men and women, clergymen without number, representative men and women, have appeared upon the platform at Roseland Park and discoursed upon questions of vital interest and importance. Woodstock and neighboring towns are greatly indebted to Mr. Bowen for the privilege of seeing and hearing these distinguished persons, and also for providing so delightful a spot for social and public gatherings. Saturday afternoon concerts, ” Field Days ” for various institutions, ” Union Sabbath School picnics,” family and village gatherings, have come into existence with the park, and social intercourse and healthful recreation have been greatly promoted. No better test of progress. could be cited than the substitution of such improving and elevating assemblages in this tasteful retreat, for the uproarious ” training” and stilted ” celebration ” of other days.

Among later “Notable meetings ” in Roseland Park, the republican mass meeting of September 5th, 1888, takes a high place. A county political meeting, it excited unusual interest. Pomfret, Putnam and Thompson displayed much energy in marshalling processions worthy of the occasion. The day was all that could be desired, the attendance large and the speaking excellent. Mr. Searls, of Thompson, served as chairman of the day. Hon. William M. Evarts and Mrs. J. Ellen Foster perhaps carried off the highest laurels, although all the addresses called out much enthusiasm and applause. A notable feature in the day’s demonstration was the large number of veterans, eager to show their allegiance to the soldier candidate, and the presence of a veteran who assisted in the nomination of William Henry Harrison in 1840.

The anticipated visit of President Benjamin Harrison, July 4th, 1889, aroused great interest among all classes. The county appreciated as never before the distinguishing honor and privilege of receiving within her borders the highest officials of the great republic. Extensive preparations were made by Putnam and other towns for their suitable reception. All eyes and hearts were turned toward Woodstock and Roseland Park, and had the day been favorable it would probably have recorded the largest gathering ever assembled in Windham county. But rain and storm are no respecters of -persons, and the lowering clouds refused to melt away. Yet, though thousands were disappointed, other thousands pluckily withstood the elements. Through the rain and heavy fog of Wednesday evening hundreds found their way to Mr. Bowen’s hospitable residence, opened as usual for the reception preceding the great day. Such crowds came to see and speak to the president and his suite that one marveled where space could have been found for them had the skies been fair.

The wet. July morn failed to dampen the resolution of veterans and patriots. Grand Army men in their shining new uniforms, were ready to escort the president and party to the park. The multitudes already assembled far exceeded public expectation. The address of welcome was made by Hon. Charles Russel, M. C.; prayer by Reverend E. B. Bingham; the ” Day we Celebrate ” was lauded by the governor of Connecticut, Morgan G. Bulkeley, who introduced President Harrison. His graceful greeting called forth storms of applause. He was followed by General Hawley, Associate Justice Samuel F. Miller and Hon. Thomas B. Reed, M. C., of Maine. Brief addresses were also made by Secretaries Noble and Tracy. An hour’s recess was passed in agreeable conversation and collation, the hundreds of veterans present being especially cared for by a generous friend, who took pains to present the president personally to each war-worn soldier. The exercises were renewed by the introduction of President Gates, of Rutgers College, when the storm, as if indignant at such defiance of its power, broke out with renewed violence. In spite of the floods of rain, the good-natured audience continued to greet and applaud the speakers and catch what was possible of the stirring addresses of Messrs. Gates and Hiscock and the sparkling poem of Will Carlton. The greatest good humor prevailed throughout the whole exercises, and all separated with the agreeable consciousness that even the ” floods of great waters ” could not quench patriotic enthusiasm nor seriously mar a Woodstock Fourth of July celebration.

The bi-centennial commemoration of Woodstock’s settlement, the first to be observed in Windham county, was also a very notable event in its history. Preparations were going forward for some months throughout the town. An efficient committee appointed by the town- Henry T. Child, chairman-labored zealously in planning and perfecting arrangements. The change from Old to New Style brought the anniversary within the first week of September, 1886. Initiatory services were held at Pulpit Rock, Sunday morning, September 5th, attended by nearly two thousand people. After invocation, responsive reading, prayer, singing of anthem and psalm by the church choirs of the town under direction of Professor Carlo May, a greeting was given by Hon. E. H. Bugbee, followed by a sermon from Reverend John S. Chandler, Madura, India.

Monday was a day of gathering from far and near, sons and daughters of old Woodstock families returning to the old homesteads and participating in many a family reunion. In the afternoon an exhibition of antiques was held in the hall over the store, comprising many articles of rarity and value. Many of these relics had the additional interest of association with historic characters. The pocket book of grandmother Edmonds,” a lace cap worn by Deacon Jedidiah Morse when an infant, a cane belonging to the last of the Wabbaquassets, were among these treasured heirlooms. The collection of portraits was very full and interesting.

The great day of the feast was Tuesday, the two hundredth anniversary of the day on which Woodstock’s home lots were distributed. Memorial trees were set out in the morning on historic sites. Before 10 A. M. a large assemblage had gathered in Roseland Park. Mr. H. T. Child introduced the president of the day, Hon. J. F. Morris, Hartford, whose brief address was followed by prayer offered by Reverend J. P. Trowbridge, West Woodstock. Doctor G. A. Bowen made the address of welcome. A large number of honored citizens and returned emigrants were elected vice-presidents. An interesting historical address was given by Mr. Clarence W. Bowen, and a graphic poem read by Mr. John E. Bowen. Histories of the several churches in the town were read by Messrs. Albert McC. Mathewson, Nathan E. Morse, Reverends Luther G. Tucker and A. H. Bennett, while others prepared for the occasion were unavoidably omitted. Brethren C. H. May, G. A. Bowen and L. J. Wells, brought tidings of ancient institutions and modern organizations.

Formal services were varied by old-time singing, under charge of Mr. May, the planting of memorial trees sent with greetings from old Roxbury, public and family collations, and with interesting and humorous reminiscences in short addresses at the close. The only drawback to the day’s enjoyment was the lack of time for all that might have been brought forward. The large attendance, the number of descendants from former residents, the sympathetic attention of the hearers, showed the deep interest awakened by this bi-centennial commemoration.

While Connecticut is famous for the wide dispersion of its sons and daughters, Woodstock has even exceeded the ordinary limit. Beginning soon after her own settlement to populate the towns around her, the outflow has been perennial. Vermont. New Hampshire, Central New York, the vast prairies of the West, indeed all parts of the great nation, have received emigrants from this old town. The valuable Chandler and Child genealogies show the wide dispersion of those families and the prominent part they have had in building up flourishing communities. Other families might show an equally suggestive record. It is impossible to make even an approximate estimate of those who have gone out from this historic town, or to fitly chronicle those who have made themselves memorable. General William Eaton, the conqueror of Tripoli, was born in the southwest corner of Woodstock. Commodore Charles Morris, so distinguished in naval service, was also born in West Woodstock. The Morse’s, with their telegraphs and varied achievements; the Holmes’s, whom even Boston delighteth to honor, date back to Woodstock ancestry. The same good stock has given to the world representative Marcys, McClellans, Mathewsons, Childs, Lyons, Chandlers, Mays, Bowens, Walkers, Skinners, Paines, Williams’s, and many other honored names. Fitted for various walks in life, in every sphere of avocation and achievement, may be found the sons and daughters of Woodstock. The subjoined biographical sketches are but a tithe in comparison with the great number that might have been included.

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

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