BY SIMON TOMLINSON
IN 1869 Plainville was set off from Farmington, where it had been earlier known as
the Great Plain, and was incorporated as a town. It is bounded north by Farmington, east by New Britain, south
by Southington, west by Bristol, and contains about twelve square miles. The village proper is only about four
and a half miles from the business centre of Farmington; but its history and business interests had been so separate
from those of the town to which it was attached that the legislature of 1869 granted its incorporation, although
the place was not even represented in that body as a voting district. The petition was signed by every legal voter,
and the division was effected without discord.
Plainville is probably the most level township in the State. Nearly all of its area is in the broad open plain
lying between the mountain ranges which run north from New Haven harbor to Vermont. Plainville is distant twenty-seven
miles from the Sound coast, and twentyfive miles from the Massachusetts line. The whole plain is composed of drift,
and seems to be of comparatively recent origin. The shallow, sandy loam of the surface rests on gravel and sand,
with here and there a stratum of clay, and the red sandstone lies under all and occasionally crops out. Water is
abundant at from six to twenty feet below the surface. The Pequabuck River flows northward from Plainville into
the Farmington River just opposite Farmington village, furnishing in its course the water-power for Terryville,
Bristol, and Plainville. On the east side of the plain, about a mile from the Pequabuck valley, is Hamlin's Pond,
known in the old records as Big Pond. It is fed by small streams from. the north and east, and itself is the source
of Quinnipiac River, which flows due south through Southington., Meriden, Wallingford, and North Haven, to New
Haven Bay. Thus Plainville rests upon a dividing ridge of water-shed, and is the highest bottom-land along the
valley. Its measured altitude is 186 feet above tide-water. It is a current geological belief that the Connecticut
River formerly flowed through this valley and was at a comparatively late day diverted by some convulsion near
Mount Tom, in Massachusetts.
It is not probable that any large tribe of Indians made this place their camping-ground, but there are evidences
that the tribes of the Quinnipiac and Farmington valleys met here in conflict. A field near Big Pond has yielded
stone arrow-points to many curiosity-hunters; and they have been found, too, in large numbers along the river-bank
on the north side of the village. Stone axes, samp-bowls, and other relics have also been found; and many bones
were uncovered when the canal was being dug. The last Indian who lived in this section was named Cronx, and the
land where his hut stood still bears his name.
The rich bottom-lands of the Tunxis valley attracted and held the first settlers; and the outside lands, like the
Great Plain, being less fertile, were mapped off into divisions, and these into small sections, which were allotted
by vote to settlers, on condition that they would pay the taxes for a number of years. Thus these lands fell to
many proprietors, and few settlers located upon them, as the lands of the east and west border were preferred.
The western slope was called Red Stone Hill, from the quantities of broken red sandstone which lie there. It was
thereabouts that the Hookers, Curtises, Roots, Bishops, Twinings, Phinneys, Richardses, Morses, and others settled.
To agriculture was early added the manufacture of tin and japanned ware, and Red Stone Hill was for years the centre
of this industry. This section received further importance in 1778, when Samuel Deming, of Farmington, bought a
section of land on the Pequabuck River and built a sawmill and grist-mill there, near the present site of the hame-works
of Edwin Hills. This property was subsequently owned by the Roots, who added wool-carding and the manufacture of
cloth to the other occupations. They were descendants of Joirn Root, who built the "old Root Place,"
now owned by E. N. Pierce. Mr. Root was one of the first settlers on the Great Plain proper. In 1784 John Hamlin
for £ 30 bought 6 acres 16 rods, at White Oak, as the eastern slope was called. He located near what was
thereafter called Hamlin's Pond, and his descendants still own much of the land thereabouts. In the same year Chauncy
Hills gave £ 12 for 8 acres and £ 16 for 4 1/2 acres, and he was the first man to locate on the broad
plains. He entered extensively upon the purchase and cultivation of these lands on the plain, which, though not
apparently very fertile, were level and easily tilled. He borrowed money to buy still more, paid promptly, and
in time came to be the independent owner of more than one thousand acres, Ä nearly all the eastern plain.
His grain-crops alone exceeded fifteen hundred bushels. At his death he left a large and well-tilled farm to his
seven Sons and daughters. No less than ninety-five of his immediate descendants are now living, of whom thirty-five
still reside within the limits of Plainville. His eldest son, the late Elias Hills, brought up a family of eleven
children, seven of whom are still living, and all of whom are residents of this place. With these exceptions, few
of the descendants of the early settlers remain here, and the family - names are found oftener on the headstones
of the cemetery than in the homes of the living.
Much interesting information as to this place is found in the "Plainville Notes"
of the venerable Jehiel C. Hart, who came to the Great Plain in 1814 to teach school, and who in later years gave
much time to tracing the histories of the old families and the town itself. He reported twenty families, with a
population of about two hundred and fifty in his school district in 1814, and about one hundred pupils in the school,
though some of these came from Bristol. In 1871 he recorded the fact that "oniy eleven are to be found here
now." Such has been the restlessness of population in this moving century. Mr. Hart said that in 1814 he found
already established an excellent library, which was kept at the school-house. The people were intelligent and orderly.
There was no meeting-house, and the inhabitants worshipped in the neighboring towns. Mr. Hart, who died in 1881,
was the last of the eighteen petitioners who, in 1839, asked leave to withdraw from the Farmington Congregational
Church and establish one at Great Plain.
The Plain remained of little importance and with but insignificant business interests until the construction of
the Farrnington Canal. This remarkable though unfortunate work - an attempt in a small way to bring back the Connecticut
River to its original path Ä was thrown open to business in 1826. Between here and tide-water at New Haven
were about twenty locks to overcome the elevation (186 feet). This station received the name of Bristol Basin.
The basin was located just south of Main Street, between the present railroad-track and the store now owned by
H. D. Frost, which stood then upon the basin, so that boats could be loaded and unloaded at its door. Bristol had
then already become a place of considerable mercantile and manufacturing importance, and so gave its name to the
basin. At Main Street a bridge spanned the canal. Farmington then one of the richest towns in Connecticut, had
invested heavily in the canal, and had great hopes from it. As many as twelve mercantile establishments were running
there shortly after the canal was opened, and there was talk of rivalling Hartford as a business centre.
E. H. Whiting came to Plainville and bought five acres near the present residence of R. C. Usher, where lie built
a basin, and a warehouse beside it, and established a store (now turned into a tenement). He also built a hotel,
which stands on the street-corner. It was in this building that the first post-office was located, and by vote
of the people in 1831 the name of Plainville was adopted. Dr. Jeremiah Hotchkiss was the first postmaster and the
first appointed office-holder in the town. The position yielded honor rather than profit. The mail was displayed
on a board, with a lattice of tape, under which the letters were slipped. Thus, as every one could see the entire
mail, each could learn at a glance whether there was anything for him. This simple style of delivery continued
here until 1860.
In 1829 Mr. Whiting sold his store to A. F. Williams and Henry Mygatt, of Farmington, and for less than twelve
dollars an acre bought thirteen acres along the canal at Bristol Basin, now the most thickly settled part of the
town. He built the store now owned by H. D. Frost, and the business was carried on there until the death of his
brother, Adna Whiting, in 1865.
About 1885 H. M. Welch, now one of the leading and richest citizens of New Haven, built a large store on the west
side of the basin. He carried on a large wholesale and retail business, employing a number of canal boats to bring
the goods, and many heavy teams to distribute them through the surrounding country, while the farmers brought in
their produce for sale and shipment. In those days Bristol Basin was a busy centre. Mr. Welch removed to New Haven
in 1848; but the activities developed at the Bristol Basin were the beginnings of the town of Plainville.
The canal suffered from the porous nature of the soil and frequent washouts, and from the long period in each year
during which it was closed by frost; and after about twenty years it was merged into the canal railroad, with a
track along the tow-path. The first passenger train arrived in Plainville Jan. 8, 1848. It had been intended to
keep the canal open until the railroad was built; but a disastrous washout near Simsbury left it empty, never to
be refilled, and left many canalboats high and dry for all time. About 1852 an east and west railroad - the Hartford,
Providence, and Fishkill - was opened through Plainvile, now incorporated into the New York and New England Railroad,
of which it is the main track west from Hartford to the Hudson. Thus the town has ample railway facilities.
The manufactories of time town are estimated to make about three quarters of a million dollars worth of products
yearly, and employ from four hundred to five hundred hands.
The largest is the Plainville Manufacturing Company, organized in 1850. It employs over two hundred hands in making
a large variety of knit underwear. The stock of the company is principally owned in New Haven.
The hame and plating works of Edwin Hills, now employing about seventy-five men, are on the Pequabuck River, in
the western part of the village. Hiram Hills, his father, began the business in a small way about 1886, and after
various vicissitudes it has become very successful. Hero also on the opposite side of the same stream is the large
grain-and-feed mill of U. W. Eaton.
A leading Plainville industry is the manufacture of carriages. Before the war the Plainville carriages had a large
sale at the South. This was, of course, all broken off when time war began, and the manufacturers suffered severely.
L. S. Giadding & Co. survived the trying experience, and the business which they established is still carried
on by Horace Johnson, a former partner. E. W. Webster, unable to recover from the losses of the war, sold out,
and was succeeded by the Condell, Mastin, & Butler Co. The carriage-shops of this firm, as also the works of
Horace Johnson, were burned in January, 1884. Mr. Johnson now owns the whole property, and has rebuilt time works.
These two carriage-works are the largest, and there are several smaller.
An interesting industry, conducted by one of the oldest firms here, is the Manufacture of clockÄhands, rivets,
and other delicate hardware, by Clark & Cowlos. A. N. Clark manufactures watchmakers' goods. George Hills &
Son make metallic clock-cases, and also sell some clocks. Burwell Carter has a brass-foundry. B. 13. Warren &
Son, successors to F. S. Johnson, employ a number of hands in sawing ivory, horn, and fancy woods for knife-handles.
C. H. Jones has works for making steel slides to which the needles in knitting-machines are attached.
The first ecclesiastical society of Plainville was organized in 1889, and in 1840, on petition of eighteen signers,
time church was set off from that of Farmington, to be known as the Second Congregational Church of Farmington.
The first meeting-house was dedicated June 25, 1840. The first pastor was the Rev. Chauncey P. Cowles, of Farmington.
The present church building was put up in 1850. From a membership of about seventy at the first year, the church
has now between three hundred and four hundred, while five other denominations have been organized in the town.
The present pastor is the Rev. Joseph N. Backus.
The Baptist society was formed in 1851, and the church dedicated in December, that year. It has about one hundred
members. Time present pastor is the Rev. Erastus 0. Miller.
The Church of Our Saviour (Episcopal) was organized in 1859, with fifty members, under the rectorship of the Rev.
Francis T. Russell. The Rev. W. E. Johnson, rector of Trinity Church in Bristol, is the officiating rector of this
To accommodate the many Swedes living in Plainville, and also those of Bristol and Forestville, a Swedish Methodist
church was built in 1881. The pastor is the Rev. M. A. Ahgren.
A Methodist church was built also in 1881. Its pastor is the Rev. Duane N. Griffin. The Methodist Camp-meeting
Association has its camp-grounds in time western part of the town.
The Roman Catholic Church has had stated services in Plainville for more than twenty-five years, at one time as
a part of time New Britain parish and at another time as a part of Bristol. In 1881 the Rev. P. MeAlenny was assigned
to Plainville, and the present fine church was built.
The first school-house in the Great Plain was built about 1790, and is still standing, at the south end of the
covered bridge, it is now a brass-foundry. In 1842 Plainville was divided into two school districts, the east and
the west. Soon after the town was incorporated they were consolidated, and the graded system was adopted. The present
school building was erected in 1872. The graded system, though strongly opposed at first, has given general satisfaction.
The separate school at first maintained in the White Oak District has been discontinued, as it was found cheaper
to give the scholars that were attending it free transportation to the graded school.
Farming on a large scale has been given up in this town, and the land is cut up into small sections. The last of
the farmers who cultivated land here by time hundreds of acres was Samuel Camp, who died in 1876.
The work of "village improvement" has been generally undertaken in the town, and it bears many evidences
of care and of' good taste. It is a healthy place, and is steadily growing in population. It has a weekly newspaper,
Ä the "Plainville Weekly News," - edited and published by C. H. Riggs, of Bristol, in connection
with the" Bristol Press." The local editor is Simon Tomlinson.