THE MIDDLETOWN (CONN.) PRESS, Tuesday Evening,
October 29, 1974
Cromwell's History Long and Honorable
(Most of the following history was taken
from a pamphlet prepared for Cromwell Old Home Day which was celebrated in 1961
to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the Town of Cromwell. [Planned 100th
anniversary observances in1951 were postponed because of the Korean War.] The
110th anniversary article has been edited and augmented with information
obtained in other papers made available by the Cromwell Historical Society and
the Belden Library.)
By whatever name these lands of Cromwell were called, they
were here many thousands of years ago. So far as is known, a tribe of Indians
lived in the area. Their chieftain was Sowheag and his territory was known as
Mattabesett. His camp was on high ground back from the river, in the north part
of Middletown. Indian Skeletons, together with kettles, bowls, implements of
stone and arrow heads have been found in various sections of the town. Before
the settlement, Sowheag had given to Mr. Haynes Governor of Connecticut, a great
part of the township for which a consideration was given.
The early history of Cromwell was closely linked with
Middletown. The settlement began about 1650 to the North and South of Little
River (Sebethe). There were always two distinct settlements known as Middletown
(Lower House) and Upper Houses. At first, a ferry was maintained between them
but as time passed, various types of bridges were built, one a covered bridge
Among the families who first settled in Upper Houses were the
following: John Kirby, Anthony Martin, Thomas Ranney, Daniel Sage, John Savage,
Samuel Stocking, Nathaniel White, Thomas Wilcox and John Wilcox.
Settlement was made in the lower part of the village in the
area known as Pleasant Street. It was a compact community for protection and
social advantage. Outlying lands were divided into large lots for cultivation
and were distributed as lands were surveyed and needs arose. The first houses
were not much more than huts. Building materials, clothing, utensils and tools
were made by the settlers and food was raised on their own land. In 1714 liberty
was given Thomas Miller to build a grist mill on Chestnut Brook.
Trail to Hartford
Pleasant Street was the first North and South Road. The
earliest way to Hartford was not much more than a trail from Upper Houses to
Wethersfield. In 1700 a highway 20 rods wide was laid out for a country road
across the plains to Wethersfield bounds. The toll gatehouse probably built in
the 18th Century was located on the northern boundary of Upper Houses. The toll
man watched from basement windows for vehicles, but according to tradition some travelers
found that toll could be avoided or shunned by detouring another way, which
became known as the "Shun Pike," a much traveled highway today.
In 1796 Dr. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, passed
through the village and wrote, "The parish called Upper Houses is a
beautiful tract of fertile land. The houses about 80 in number are generally
well built and the whole place wears an air of sprightliness and
Incorporated in 1851
Cromwell was incorporated as a town in 1851 by the General
Assembly and accepted as the 149th town in Connecticut. The first town meeting
was held June 1, 1851. The list of voters at that time was 214 and the
population 1275 persons/ (The present population is about 8,500).
Several town meetings were held to decide upon a name,
something of a difficult task since about twenty names were proposed. Upper
Middletown, North Middletown and Glenwood received the most favor. According to
legend a prominent, influential citizen who was a great admirer of Oliver
Cromwell proposed the name of Cromwell and when the petition was granted,
Cromwell was unanimously adopted as the name.
The early inhabitants went to Middletown to Church at great
inconvenience in time of high water. In 1703 Middletown agreed that Upper Houses
might form a separate society to be known as North Society, provided they settle
a minister and build a meeting house. They erected a building suitable for
worship just north of the oldest cemetery. It was not until 1715 that Rev.
Joseph Smith was settled and the church consisting of twenty-three members was
organized. A larger meeting house was built in 1736 and was located on the
present Memorial Green. This edifice stood until 1840 when the present First
Congregational Church and Parsonage were erected.
History of Schools
It is likely that school was maintained from 1683 on,
although accurate records are difficult to trace. At the October 1709 General
Assembly, the North Society was given permission to apply their own taxes to
maintain a school for reading and writing, six months each year. At first school
was probably held in private home. The first school house stood on the southeast
corner of the turnpike and Quarry Roads approximately on the green now in the
center of town.
At one time a school of high grades known as the High School
occupied the Academy, now the Belden Library. The town was divided into five
districts; Lower (Bell), North (Plains), Nooks or Center, Brick (West) and
Northwest. In 1811, 277 pupils were in attendance. Some years later, the South
Center and West districts consolidated, attending the Academy until 1902 the
year of the opening of the Nathaniel White, named for one of the founders.
Nathaniel White School is still in use as a middle school.
Cromwell High School was opened in 1956 and Edna C. Stevens Elementary School in
In early days agriculture was generally pursued. Commerce
was carried on with the West Indies and other parts of the world. Exports were
horses, mules and hay: Imports, rum, molasses, sugar, fruit and mahogany.
Shipbuilding became a thriving industry. At one time there were three shipyards,
two wharves and ropewalk to supply rigging for new vessels. In 1824, General
LaFayette on his visit to Middletown, disembarked at the dock in Upper Houses
from the Ship Oliver Elisworth. He was met by an escort of Calvary from
When maritime trade declined some families turned to the
fishing industry, catching principally shad and alewives.
The biggest manufacturing industry was J. & E. Stevens
Co. which was started in 1843 in the Nook Section of Cromwell. The company
started manufacturing such hardware as hooks, screws and axes, but later
concentrated more on iron toys, penny banks and cap pistols. Its toys and
mechanical banks are now collector's items. In 1880 the company employed about
125 people. The company went out of business about 1950.
Other early industries included Stevens & Brown,
manufacturer of tin toys, and the Warner & Noble Hammer Shop, which survived
from 1847 to 1931. Many Cromwell farmers worked part-time in the latter company.
A fine variety of silver plated ware was made by the Cromwell Plate Co.
At one time Cromwell had two brownstone quarries. The
Connecticut Free Stone Quarry Co. which employed 120 men at its peak, opened in
1852 and was located about half a mile from the Connecticut river. Brownstone
was transported by boat and by rail. A spur track from Meriden - Waterbury
Railroad extended to the company dock on the river. Stone was shipped to all
parts of the U.S. Later, in 1886, the New England Brownstone Company opened a
quarry adjacent to the river and also employed more than 100 men. Both quarries
ceased to exist prior to World War I.
The A. N. Pierson Co. started in 1872, became one of the
largest wholesale horticulture firms in thw world and is still a large
operation. It has survived for over 100 years. A. N. Pierson was one of the
first Swedes to settle in Cromwell and many of his first employees were from Sweden.
Later more of the workers came from Italy and Puerto Rico.
In the days of the stage coaches between Boston and New York,
arrival was announced by blasts of the stagehorn. A stopping place for a change
of horses was built in 1797 and a tavern in those days.
In 1868 the town aided in the construction of the Hartford
Connecticut Railroad known as the Valley Road. At one time a terminal of the Meriden
Waterbury Railroad was located near the river at South Street, ending in a
turntable. These lines, along with boats plying between Hartford and New York
afforded good transportation facilities. Passenger trains on the Valley Road
were discontinued some years ago. The passenger station was demolished and the
freight depot is now a hardware store.
The first Electric Trolley passed through Cromwell in the
early 1900's. Busses took the place of the trolley about 1930.
Although the Congregational Church was the church of the
Pilgrim founders, in time other denominations also established churches. The
Baptist Church was organized in 1802. In 1803 a meeting house was built on the
In 1908 members of the Lutheran Evangelical faith held
services in the former Methodist Church. They purchased the building in 1910 and
in 1958 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the organization. Today the church is
known as the Bethany Lutheran Church.
On June 3, 1877 the Rev. F. P. O'Keefe celebrated the first
Mass ever said in Cromwell. In 1881 the corner stone of St. John's Catholic
Church was laid by the Right Rev. Bishop MacMahon, assisted by a member of the
clergy of the Diocese. Until the dedication of the new church in 1883, Mass was
celebrated in a public hall. In 1953 the church burned to the ground. During the
rebuilding the Nathaniel White School was used for Masses. The present modern
edifice was dedicated October 17, 1954.
In the summer of 1890 the Swedish Evangelical Society was
organized for the purpose of bringing the Gospel to the Swedish people in their
native language. At first services were held in the Congregational Church. In
1891 it was decided to build a church. A. N. Pierson donated the corner lot at
Main Street and Northland Avenue and early in 1892 the Church was completed and
dedicated. On Oct. 17, 1892 it was reorganized and became incorporated by the
name of the Swedish Congregational Church of Cromwell. Later the name was
changed to the Covenant Congregational Church.
From 1891 to 1948 the town offices were located in the rear
half of the ground floor in the building directly north of Oberg's store. The
room was used for the Selectmen's office, a court room and town meetings.
Cromwell's fine Memorial Hall on West Street, facing Memorial Green, was
dedicated November 13, 1949.
For most of its history Cromwell was periodically flooded in
low-lying areas along the river and even on lower Main Street. In recent years
flooding has been much less severe as the result of flood-control projects
upriver and the construction of dykes along the river banks.