West Hartford
From the Memorial History of Hartford County, CT
Edited by: J Hammond Trumbull LL.D.
Published by Edward L. Osgood, 1886


Formerly Pastor of the West Hartford Congregational Church.

THE locality now known as the town of West Hartford was two hundred years ago an undivided tract of land in the West Division of Hartford. It was owned by a large company of proprietors, sixty-eight of whom are named in the division record. On the 30th of January, 1672, the joint owners of this tract voted to divide a portion of the same according to their individual interests. In pursuance of this vote a committee set off, in November, 1674, an oblong section of land extending from the northern to the southern boundary of the town of Hartford, and from the eastern boundary of Farmington one mile and a half east. The Farmington line was at that time along the level land at the foot of Talcott Mountain, and the eastern bound of this new rectangle was not far from what is now known as Vanderbilt Hill. This strip of land was divided into lots running the entire distance across it, the width being proportioned to each person's interest in the undivided territory. The widest tract was ninety-one rods wide; the narrowest, a mere whip-lash three rods wide and a mile and a half long The original strip was subsequently enlarged and made more symmetrical by pushing the Farmington line westward to the top of Talcott Mountain and adding a strip of laud to the east end of the division lots. This part of the town of Hartford was commonly called the West Division. It never ceased to agitate for its individuality until it became a distinct ecclesiastical society, and, very recently, a separate township.

The Ecclesiastical Society of the West Division in Hartford was the parent of the town. Indeed, for nearly a century and a half it controlled the religious and educational affairs of the community, and the history of the society is the history of the town. The talk of the people concerning their need of a church other than the two at the centre of Hartford culminated in a petition presented to the General Assembly sitting in New Haven, the 12th of October, 1710. Herein the petitioners "desire the liberty to call or settle, as we may see meet, a minister amongst us." The reasons recited may be thus condensed: "The distance is such that a good part of God's time is spent travelling backwards and forwards:" "the difficulties of the way that many times must be encountered with, as bad travelling underfoot, uncomfortableness overhead, and a river not seldom difficult, sometimes impassable;" "that our small children may be present at the public worship of God, and not be brought up in darkness in such a land of light as this is:" "the difficulties of leaving them unguarded at home, especially in dangerous times, whereby we do not only expose them to their own fears, but to our Enemies' rage."

This petition was resisted by the town of Hartford because the help of "our neighbors of the West Division," was needed to maintain the three ministers already settled in the town. A special committee reported in favor of the West Division, and in May, 1711, the legislature incorporated the society, according to the prayer of the twentyeight petitioners. This society built the school-houses and ordered and maintained the schools. In 1736, and subsequent years, the following vote was passed : - Voted . That the masters or parents of the children that are sent to school shall send half a cord of wood (for each child) to the school within fourteen days after they are sent, to school ; and if any fail of so doing their cinidren shaji be barred (by the master) from any benefit of the fire kept in said school where they are sent."

At this time the school year was eleven months, and during part of the year each school was taught by women. About the middle of the last century there were three school-houses in the parish. There are now eight districts in the town, each district maintaining a school in its own school-house. Besides these, the town sustains a high school at the Centre. Until about seventy years ago, public education was controlled by the Ecclesiastical Society. Since then the district system has prevailed. The church related to the Ecclesiastical Society was organized on or about the 24th of February, 1713, when also the first pastor, Benjamin Colton, was ordained and installed. Starting with a membership of twenty-nine, it now numbers three hundred and twenty-five, having received into its communion during its life of a hundred and seventy-one years nearly two thousand persons. It was originally called the Fourth Church of Christ in Hartford, but for a long series of years has been known as the Church of Christ in West Hartford. Mr. Colton was pastor of the church about forty-three years, and several of his descendants became clergymen. One of these was his son George, the famous and eccentric "Colton of Bolton." The latter part of this long pastorate was marred by some unhappy divisions, which were healed only by summoning advice from without.

The second pastor, Nathaniel Hooker, Jr., was undoubtedly the ablest man who ever ministered to this church. He was a descendant of Thomas Hooker, the first minister of Hartford Colony; and Governor Talcott, who earned his title by seventeen years of honorable service, was his grandfather. He graduated from Yale College at seventeen, and was installed pastor when just twenty years of age. After a brief but successful ministry of twelve years, he died," extremely lamented," says his epitaph; which further adds, that he was "a warm advocate for civil and religious liberty, and a hearty friend to mankind."

The most remarkable pastorate was that of Nathan Perkins. He served sixty-six years, his pastorate being well begun when the first shot was fired at Lexington, and not quite over when the financial panic of 1837 occurred. Though probably inferior in natural ability to his distinguished predecessor, he was a maim of excellent powers. He was a graduate of the College of New Jersey, and received his doctorate from that institution in 1801. Mr. Morris, his most careful biographer, says: "Dr. Perkins assisted more than one hundred and fifty young men in their preparation for college, and had under his care at different times more than thirty theological students." The most abiding evidence of his biblical views is the Theological Institute, located in Hartford. It was at his desire and in his own house that a company of ministers met, and projected this institution, with its unique form of government, and his hands laid the corner-stone of its first building. He was one of the first home missionaries, travelling at the bidding of his Association to what is now Vermont, and preaching from place to place. His diary of time trip is still preserved by his descendants. In many other new movements for the public good lie was a pioneer, and was more easily persuaded to engage in enterprises of reform because of the progressive tendency of his mind. He wrote voluminously, and published a volume of miscellaneous sermons, several occasional discourses, and many magazine articles. His first published discourse was delivered on the public park, used as a training-ground, to a company of soldiers who were about to join time Continental army. It abounds in stirring and patriotic sentiments, and in severe denunciation of the mother country. Dr. Perkins's most notable public deliverance on political themes was a sermon preached on the day of fasting that followed the declaration of war with Great Britain, in 1812. In this sermon he considers national sins, especially intemperance, duelling, and slavery. His remarks on this latter theme are far-seeing indeed. He thus foreshadows the "irrepressible conflict" of our day: " States which do not hold slaves, and those which do, do not seem in the reason and nature of the case capable of enjoying a permanently happy connection, because they will be very different in their habits, education, views, principles, manners, and interests."

The good Doctor had a fine sense of humor, and many are the stories handed down from his lips. His salary was at one time partly payable in wood. One of his parishioners drove up to his door, and summoned him to examine and pronounce upon the load he had brought. It was a scragly lot of tree-tops. Dr. Perkins said nothing about the wood, but standing just behind the load and looking directly into the loosely piled wood, he remarked, " That 's a fine pair of steers you have on the lead, Colonel." Time Doctor could not be cheated on any product of the farm. He was an excellent farmer and a large landholder.

After the death of Dr. Perkins, in 1838, there followed a series of short pastorates. From 1833, when a colleague was called to assist Dr. Perkins, to 1850, the church was supplied by four different pastors. None of these is more widely known than Caleb S. Henry, afterward Dr. Henry, of New York. He wrote and translated several books in the course of his studies in philosophy, his favorite pursuit. He was succeeded by Edward W. Andrews, George I. Wood, and Dwight M. Seward.

Myron N. Morris was pastor of the church for about twenty-three years, from 1852, and still lives an honored citizen of the town where he so long and so faithfully labored. He has always been intrusted with the most important religious concerns of his State, and is still one of the corporation of Yale College. Twice he represented his town in the legislature; and lie has publishmed, among other monographs, two discourses which contain time most complete history of the West Hartford church and community up to 1863. * The present pastor of this church is Henry B. Roberts.

The society has occupied four houses of worship, all on or near the same spot. The last was dedicated June 7, 1882, and is one of the most substantial and convenient churches in New England. It is built of Monson granite, and contains many valuable articles of furniture presented by old residents or particular friends of the society. Among these is the marble communion-table at which Dr. Bushnell was wont to officiate in the old North Church of Hartford. A part of the church is a library building presented by James Talcott, of New York, once a member of this church. This library and reading-room is open daily, and contains the leading newspaper and magazine literature, and about eight hundred bound volumes, chiefly of standard works. The society also owns the parsonage and lot adjoining its house of worslmip, and the park opposite.

Late in the last century a small society of Friends obtained a foothold in the town, in spite of the vigorous opposition of the " Standing Order" led by Dr. Perkins. Few in number and weak in resources, it never fiourisimed, and died after a brief life. It gave a name, however, to one of the public roads, which is still called Quaker Lane, and on which is located the little cemetery where the Friends buried their dead.

No other religious society was organized in this town until 1843, when St. James's Parish, Episcopal, wa.s established. The first public services of this society were held in the Friends' meeting-house, then standing on Quaker Lane. Worship was also conducted in the North District school-house. George Burgess, then rector of Christ Church, had charge of the enterprise. There was an interval of several years during which no regular service was maintained. At length, in 1853, Samuel Benedict having become rector, the corner-stone of a house of worship was laid. The building was completed in 1855, and - at its consecration the sermon was preached by Dr. Croswell, of New Haven, who was born in West Hartford. This parish has been served by men wlmo have attained eminence in the Church. Abner Jackson, President of Trinity College, was at one time rector; the same office has also been held by President Pynchon, Professor Huntington, and W. F. Nichols, who is now rector of Christ Church, Hartford. The present rector is J. W. Hyde. The property of the society is in the centre of the town, and includes a large rectory, an old but fine building formerly owned by Dr. Perkins, and occupied by him when pastor of the First Church. The house of worship is of brick, and in good condition.

The Baptist society was established in 1858, and at once erected a church building at the centre of the town. The first minister of this church was Elisha Cushman, the well-known Dr. Cushman, editor of the "Christian Secretary," of Hartford. In the same enclosure with the church is a neat parsonage, and the property of time society is on one of the best corner-lots in the town. The present pastor is the Rev. H. B. Smith.

In the south part of the town there is an undenominational house of worship, which is open for service every Sunday. It is controlled by a board of trustees, and the services are conducted by ministers of different creeds.

In May, 1797, the Ecclesiastical Society voted unanimously to take measures to be set off as a separate township from the town of Hartford. Persevering in this object until nearly two generations were in their graves, they at last triumphed over the customary opposition, and in 1854, by special act of the legislature, the town of West Hartford was constituted. Its first representative was Edward Stanley, and its first selectman Solomon S. Flagg, who served the town in that capacity for nearly ten years. Indeed, the excellent government of this town may be in part attributed to the habit of keeping efficient men in office. Thomas Brace was treasurer of the town for eighteen years, including the entire war period, and Benjamin S. Bishop has been assessor for about twenty years. The senior officer of the town in length of service is Leonard Buckland, who still holds time office of town clerk, to which he was chosen in 1861.

In the War for the Union the town of West Hartford bore an honorable part. Many and frequent were the town-meetings, and fierce and protracted the debates; but supplies were always voted, and the recruiting went steadily on until one hundred and sevent -four men - twenty-four in advance of her quota - had been furnished. Some of these men went to the front and returned without having engaged in a single action; while others were hurried into one of the fiercest fights of the war before they had ever been on dress parade, and before their officers knew enough of military tactics to head them from the field when the retreat was sounded. They were detailed for picket service, for work on the trenches, for quick marches, and for guard duty; they were led into the hottest battles and into skirmishes without number; but so far as can be ascertained, not one was lacking in those qualities which are most essential to the good soldier.

In thus sending good men into the military service of the country, the town of West Hartford followed the example of the parish in earlier days. At the very beginning of the Revolution a company of soldiers marched from West Hartford, probably to Ticonderoga. The death-record of the parish, kept by Dr. Perkins with remarkable accuracy, mentions the decease of several men who died "at camp in New York." Out of time number which this parish with its limited population sent into the Revolutionary War, not less than twenty lost their lives in their country's service.

In the War of 1812 and the Mexican War this parish was also represented, and performed her part both in suffering and in the more conspicuous duty of the perilous fight.

The town-hall is a large buiiding situated on the most prominent site in the centre of the town. lt was occupied by the First Church until 1882, when it became the property of the town. The corner on which it stands has been occupied by public buildings for a hundred and seventy years. Some dispute as to the true bounds of this lot of land has gone on for the past twenty-five years. The town, however, will control so much of the neighboring hand as it may really need for public purposes, thus settling an old controversy.

About seventy miles of higimway are maintained at public cost. Some years $10,000 have been expended for roads and bridges, but these items now require onnly dollars from year to year. About $4,000 are expended in sustaining the public schools.

The bonded debt of the town is $600,000, funded in part at four per cent. The grand list is about two and a half million of dollars, and the rate of taxation is eight mills. The population of the town, according to the census of 1880, is 1,828, and the average death-rate is less than two per cent of the population. A careful record of births, marriages, and deaths was kept by the ministers of the parish for more than a century, and still exists. In the list of deaths it is especially accurate and minute, giving the cause of death with some particularity. It is often consulted by genealogists and physicians.

The southern part of West Hartford includes a beautiful street arched with elms a hundred years old, which give the name of Elmwood to this section of the town. More than a hunderd years ago a pottery was established here, which has beem in the same family for three or four generations. About twelve years ago three young men, under the firm name of Goodwin Brothers, took a little shop in which to continue the business their ancestors had begun. Under their control the business has grown very rapidly. To-day their new main building, fully occupied, consists of three stories above the basement. The potter's wheel is turned by steam-power. Two large kilns are constaimtly in use, and seventy-five hands scattered about over nearly an acre of floor-space do the work of the firm. While the old styles of pottery for household and trade purposes are still made here, the bulk of the business is in decorated ware, which now has an extensive sale in the South and West, and a smaller but growing demand for exportation. Goodwin Brothers have just completed a new building for an office, a neat brick structure well lighted, and adapted to the needs of the house. There are two creameries, one in the north and one in the south part of the town. The latter is largely supplied from the farm of Charles M. Beach. Mr. Beach was one of the first to introduce the Jersey stock into this country, and has one of the most valuable herds of pureblooded stock in the State.

The reservoirs which store the water-supply for the city of Hartford are on the heights lying in the western part of the town. The same springs supply a stream which runs through the town and is ponded at different points for milling purposes and for a supply of ice of like quality with the city water. The cutting, housing. and delivery of this ice for the use of the city is a growing business.

The product of whicim West Hartford is most proud is her men and women. Not less than nineteen ministers, some of them famous men, were born in this town. Of these, Dr. Harry Croswell, the well-known Episcopal divine, has been mentioned. Joab Brace, D.D., was for more than fifty years pastor in the adjoining parish of Newington. His daughter married the Rev. John Todd, long the eminent pastor of the church in Pittsfield, Mass. The ceremony was in the meeting-house, on Sunday, and was followed by a sermon from the father of the bride, who "improved the occasion" by discoursing to the happy pair from the text, "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage."

Many famous men in other walks of life had their beginning here. The most eminent of these names is that of Noah - Webster, known wherever the English language is spoken. The house in which he was born is still standing about a mile south of the centre of the town, and his parents are both buried in the old cemetery a few rods north of the church. He was a pupil of Dr. Perkins, and it was perhaps from him that he imbibed those ideas which led him while a very young man to publish a pamphlet on the "Effects of Slavery on Morals and Industry." The story of Dr. Webster's life is told in the memoir by his son-in-law, Dr. Goodrich, in the Unabridged Dictionary. His work is weighed more fully in the biography lately prepared by Horace E. Scudder.

William Faxon, Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Lincoln, came from West Hartford stock. It was one of his ancestors who introduced into the parish the first four wheeled-vehicle ever seen there. He drove to church thierein with his family. The people, filled with wonder, surrounded the cart. Not a few entered the meetinghouse late. The next day a committee waited upon Captain Faxon and informed him that no such Sabbath-breaking contrivance would he allowed on the highway during holy time. The committee urged that its attractions were so novel the people could not be expected to avoid watching it to their spiritual hurt. The Captain pleaded the needs of his family, for whom he bought the vehicle that they might all attend the worship of God's house. He was finally allowed to take his family to church in the new-fashioned carriage, if he would promise "to drive very slow."

One of the most eminent citizens of West Hartford was the late Charles Boswell. He was born in Norwich in 1802, and soon after he was twelve years old began his business career with the late Governor Buckinghmam as his fellow-clerk. When. sixteen years old he removed to Hartford, and from that time to his death was identified with the growth and progress of that city. He began business for himself, before he was twenty-five, as a wholesale grocer, and there laid the foundation of his fortune. Later he became president of the Farmers' and Mechanics' Bank. With this organization and the Hartford Fire Insurance Company he was connected for more than forty years. He was one of the founders of the Atheraeum, and a supporter of all local charities. He removed to West Hartford in 1861. Here began his larger benevolence to Western colleges, which occupied much of his thought for the last ten years of his life. He represented his town in the legislature several terms, and was universally honored by his fellowcitizens. He was a member of the Rev. Dr. Bushnell's church in Hartford, and when the old North Church property was sold he purchased the communion-table and presented it to the church in West Hartford. It is a massive marble slab, now framed in oak, and used in the West Hartford church which Mr. Boswell assisted most liberally to build. He died in October, 1884.

Many other men eminent in business and financial circles might be mentioned who were either born in the parish or came from West Hartford stock; but the list would be too long. It is enough to say that the influence of this community has gone abroad through all our country, and the sons and daughters of West Hartford have reflected honor upon their native town. The quiet of the town, its proximity to a delightful city, its attractive drives, well-kept farms, beautiful scenery, orderly, intelligent, and law-abiding citizens, make it an attractive place of residence. Church and school are both well maintained, and the public health is almost unprecedentedly good. indeed, in all respects it still justifies the words of President Dwight, who visited it early in the century: "The parish of West Hartford, for the fertility of its soil, the pleasantness of its situation, the sobriety, industry, good order, and religious deportment of its inhabitants, is not, so far as I know, excelled in the State."

* Franklin S. Hatch was pastor from 1876 to 1883. It was during his service and largely through his influence that the society erected the stone church, which is now the chief ornameat of the village, and regained possession of the village park, which it has graded and other. wise improved. This pastorate was helpful to the material, intellectual, and moral interests of the community, and more than a hundred persons united with the church. - C. H. C.

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