History of Colchester Connecticut


The Town of Colchester, Connecticut was founded in 1698 at a point just north of the present Town Green at Jeremiah’s Farm on land purchased by Nathaniel Foote from the Sachem of the Mohegan Indians. Nathaniel Foote’s grandfather had emigrated from Colchester, England, early in the 17th century and Colchester in America was the vision of a group of early English settlers who sought to lay out a new plantation in a large tract of virgin wilderness.

Colchester’s early history, like many towns in New England, centered around the church parish. In 1703, the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut ruled that the settlement could organize a church body here known as Colchester. Within a few years, several grist mills and saw mills were built to provide grain and lumber. In 1706, the first street was laid out and called Town Street. This street was nearly 200 feet wide and is now the southern end of Old Hebron Road. By 1714, there were nearly 50 families in town.

By 1756 Colchester was one of the  thriving rural towns in the Colony. Its population was recorded as 2,300 inhabitants and by 1782 grew to be 3,300.

Settlers were mostly self-sufficient. One of the first textile mills in America began operation in 1780 in Westchester. Other early industries were iron works, clothier shops, potash works and brick kilns. Industrial expansion in America was evident in Colchester by the 19th Century. There were three tanneries and a woolen mill in 1819, a hatter in 1828, a wheel and carriage factory in 1858, a paper mill in 1869, a creamery in 1886 and a canning company in 1893.

During this industrial heyday, the Hayward Rubber Company was established in 1847. Nathaniel Hayward along with Charles Goodyear had discovered the process of vulcanized rubber. It is said the Hayward was the true inventor and that Goodyear provided the cash to fund his experiments. Hayward founded his new company in Colchester and from here rubber products, boots, and shoes were shipped all over the country. The company thrived until 1893 when it was closed and later the building burned to the ground.

With industrial growth came demand for labor and population growth. The town prospered. New homes and sidewalks were built, a park was laid out and the streets were lighted with lamps.

Transportation during this period included the railroad. In 1875 the link between Willimantic and Middletown on the Boston to New York line was completed. The section ran through North Westchester and over the Lyman Viaduct to the west. In 1876, the town appropriated $25,000 to lay track between Colchester and Amston. Both freight and passengers were carried over this track for nearly 80 years.

By 1900 farming had diminished and the rubber mill had closed, but this was a time for another new beginning for Colchester. The Hirsch Foundation of New York had discovered that Colchester was an excellent place for the  settlement of European Jewish immigrants. By 1923, there were about 750 children recorded in the school census out of a total town population of 2,100. Since farming was no longer prosperous, many began to supplement their livelihoods in the summer by taking on  boarders from nearby cities and New York.

Within the span of a few years, Colchester became the 20th Century’s “Catskills of Connecticut”. At least seven major hotels thrived including the Broadway House, owned by Abraham and Rose Jaffe, Harris Cohen’s Fairview House, Julius Sultan’s Hilltop Lodge, Schwartz’s Kessler’s Horowitz’s and Barnett Dember’s. The tourist industry boomed throughout the 1930s.

Postwar growth in neighboring towns led to a new era for Colchester. A new generation of suburban dwellers found Colchester to be an excellent “bedroom” community due to an improved highway system and its proximity to Hartford, Middletown and the Norwich/New London areas.  During the 1950s the beach traffic brought many through Colchester to their favorite stops including Harry’s, the Colchester Bakery and Levine’s Coat Shop. The Route 2 by-pass of the town was completed in the 1960s. But for those who did not just pass through, Colchester’s dedication to the public school system, its acceptance of all peoples and its quality of life increased its population to 7,761 by 1980. Today, over 300 years after the settling of Colchester, the population has grown to over 16,000.

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The Colchester History Museum is open on Saturdays, 11:00 am-2:00 pm from April to December.

In memory of our friend Joann Riddell

The sudden passing of our dear friend, fellow board member and Festival on the Green chairperson, Joann Riddell.  Joann was a tireless and enthusiastic supporter of the Society and for at least a decade sharing her expertise by spearheading our Annual Festival on the Green.  We will do our best to continue the Festival in her memory.JOANN

Please help us to continue the tradition of the Annual Festival on the Green  in July by supporting this important event.

We miss you Joann.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Colchester Historical Society has been selected to participate in StEPs-CT— a statewide, 26-month integrated program of professional development for smaller cultural organizations.

The program is based on the national Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPs). Since its debut in 2009, StEPs has helped 585 institutions nationwide, including 27 in Connecticut.

The Colchester Historical Society was one of 23 organizations recently accepted into the program after a competitive application process. Support and training comes via curriculum based workshops; coaching from a dedicated mentor; and access to a Connecticut Humanities grant fund earmarked for initiatives related to achieving StEPs-CT program standards. Over the course of the program, the Colchester Historical Society will work to achieve certificates in six areas of museum practice.

StEPs-CT is a program of Connecticut Humanities and the Connecticut League of History Organizations, in partnership with Connecticut Historical Society, based on a curriculum of best practices developed by the American Association for State and Local History.

This is the second offering of the StEPs-CT program. From 2012-14, two dozen Connecticut organizations completed the program. They received some $45,000 in grants and earned 116 StEPs certificates—more than 40% of the total certificates earned by all participating organizations nationwide. Connecticut’s program was the first to integrate the national StEPs curriculum and is viewed as a model for similar programs across the country, according to Scott Wands, manager of grants and programs at Connecticut Humanities.

Other institutions participating in StEPs-CT are :Avery-Copp House (Groton), Cheshire Historical Society, Connecticut Valley Tobacco Historical Society (Windsor), Cornwall Historical Society, Danbury Railway Museum, Deep River Historical Society, Denison Society (Mystic), Dudley Foundation (Guilford), Essex Historical Society, Groton Public Library, Guilford Keeping Society, Naugatuck Historical Society, New Britain Industrial Museum, Newtown Historical Society, Salisbury Association, Smith-Harris House (Niantic), Stonington Historical Society, Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust, Weston Historical Society, Westport Historical Society, Wilton Historical Society, and Wood Memorial Library (South Windsor).

Connecticut Humanities, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, provides opportunities to explore the history, literature and the vibrant culture that make our state, cities and towns attractive places to live and work. Learn more by visiting www.cthumanities.org.

The Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO) builds connections among those who preserve and share the stories and objects of our past. Learn more by visiting www.clho.org. 

 

NEW EXHIBIT COMING SOON!

FAIRVIEW HOTEL IMAGE EDITED@150

A SENSE OF PLACE: POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST

In mid-April the Colchester Historical Society Museum will host an exhibit featuring images of notable Colchester buildings once featured on vintage postcards.  The exhibit will include a map of the center of town illustrating where these historic structures still stand, or once stood.  Some structures have been lost forever, others are easily recognized and still others have been carefully restored.  All the images tell the story of Colchester’s past and it’s evolution into the town it is today.

Please stay tuned for updates on this exciting new exhibit.

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