Sterling Connecticut Civil Government History

Sterling entered upon its new duties with the usual spirit and energy. Its population was about nine hundred. Though much of its soil was poor, and its shape inconvenient, it had some peculiar advantages. It had fine water privileges, an excellent stone quarry, a great post road running through its center, and sterling men of good Scotch stock to administer public affairs.

The lack of a suitable place for holding town meetings was an annoyance and mortification to the leading men of the town, publishing to the world their lamentable destitution of that most essential accommodation-a public meeting, house. Congregationalists in the south part of the town were included in the North society of Voluntown, and now engaged in building a new meeting house upon the boundary line between the townships; those in the North or Bethesda society united with the South church of Killingly. The Baptists in the west part of the town were connected with the church in Plainfield; the east side Baptists joined in worship and church fellowship with their Rhode Island neighbors. As no religious society was ready to lead, its public-spirited citizens hastened to supply the deficiency by erecting a house of worship upon their own expense and responsibility. Sterling hill, as it is now called, was virtually the head and heart of the town, the center of business, the residence of the most influential citizens, and the members of the Sterling Hill Meeting House Association could not think of erecting the projected edifice in any other locality.

The subscribers to the building of the Sterling hill meeting house were as follows: Francis Smith, Levi Kinney, David Gallup, Joshua Frink, Isaac Gallup, William Gallup, George Madison, Charles Winsor, Nathan Burlingame, Philip Potter, Archibald, Lemuel, James and John Dorrance, Stephen Olney, Pierce Smith, Robert and Thomas Dixon, Joshua Webb, Benjamin Tuckerman, Reuben Thayer, David Field, Caleb Cushing, Andrew Knox, Titus Bailey, Joseph Wylie, Reuben Parke, Moses Gibson, Azael Montgomery, Dixon Hall, Archibald Gordon, Thomas Gordon, William Vaughan, Captain Gaston, Andrew and Samuel Douglas, Thomas and Samuel Cole, John Kenyon, Sr. and Jr., George Hopkins, Asa Whitford, Benjamin Bennet.

The subscribers, through a committee, obtained a deed from the heirs of Samuel Dorrance for a building lot on the east side of the Great Lane, now called the Green, 11 for the purpose of setting a meeting house and that only, and the convenience of a green.” The meeting house was soon completed and in the autumn of 1797 the town meeting occupied it instead of the house of Robert Dixon, which had previously been used for that purpose. Other public meetings were held in it, and occasional religious services, but no regular worship was maintained for several years. In this way matters stood till about the year 1812, when the Baptists, having grown stronger, were able to maintain stated worship, and. its occupancy was given up to them.

About 1818 a post office was established here, with Benjamin Tuckerman postmaster, which position he held for many years. The public library, which had been promised for the honor of naming the town but failed in its fulfilment, had been established years before, and was maintained at that time. Pierce Smith succeeded Asa Montgomery as town clerk. John Wylie, Thomas Backus, Dyer Ames, Richard Burlingame, Dixon Hall. Jeremiah Young, John Gallup and Calvin Hibbard served as justices. Other town offices were filled by Lemuel Dorrance, Obadiah Brown, Asa Whitford, Jonah Young, Archibald Dorrance, John Hill, John and Azel Cole, Elias Frink, Amos Perkins, Joseph Gallup, John Keigwin and Artemas Baker. Half of the town meetings were held in the house of Azel Cole, and at a later date at the house of William Fairman, “on the new road near the American Cotton Factory.”

From its location and surroundings the territory of Sterling is not subject to such violent disturbances by flood of swelling streams as some of its neighbor towns. Being smaller in territory, and its shape rather favorable thereto, it has been spared the burdens of road making and bridge building, which have been to some towns a serious drawback in their early experience.

After organization as a town, one of their first duties was to examine the circumstances of that stage road ” that leads from Plainfield to Providence by Captain Robert Dixon’s.” The Turnpike Society, then recently constituted, was about to lay out a large sum of money in alterations and improvements, and the selectmen of Sterling were cited to do their part. ” Taking into consideration the circumstances and liabilities of the town, and the consequences that might follow any failure or neglect,” they proceeded to notify the inhabitants and make the proposed alterations, viz., from Archibald Dorrance’s fence through Kenyon’s field and so on to old post road; also, another piece near the burying-ground and Captain Colgrove’s. A bridge was built over Moosup river near Smith’s Mill-Lemuel Dorrance, John Gaston and John Douglas, committee. A turnpike gate was erected near the western line of the town. To facilitate its fishing interest, it was ordered that obstructions should be removed from the river.

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

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