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



WINDSOR LOCKS formerly constituted that part of the town of Windsor called Pinemeadow. The meadow itself lies at the southeastern extremity of the present town, about two miles from the centre of the village. The village is situated on the Connecticut River, twelve miles above Hartford. The Enfield Falls Canal was completed in 1829, and the Connecticut River Company, anticipating the building up of a manufacturing village here, wished to associate their work with the name of the coming town. The upper end of the canal, with its head lock, was in the town of Suffield; the lower end, with its series of locks, in Windsor, - hence the name of Windsor Locks. A post-office established in 1833 gave the name official recognition. The village was set off from Windsor as a separate town in 1854. No evidence appears that a single family of Indians lived within the limits of this town when the first English settlement was made at Windsor, though abundant testimony has been found that they once occupied and doubtless cultivated this meadow. Within the recollection of the writer there have been repeated discoveries of Indian graves in and around the meadow. Fifty years ago a small copper kettle (European) holding about three gills was found in one; and quite recently two Indian skeletons were uncovered, and with them were found beads of copper and bone, bugles of pottery, and implements of stone consisting of arrow-heads, axes, knives, etc., and two stone whistles. A hundred years ago the writer's father ploughed up in the meadow a stone vessel the capacity of which was about one gallon.

The village occupies the northeastern portion of the town, and has a moderately productive soil. The western part of the town is a plain, with a light, sandy soil. Much of it was cultivated in rye and corn sixty years ago, bat many of the fields have since been left to grow up to wood. The plains are seamed with ravines, in which run the clearest brooks, once well stocked with trout. Across this plain, at the head of these ravines, once ran the "old country road," the first road opened on the west side of the river between the settlements of Connecticut and Massachusetts, laid out there because it required no bridges, and little lobor to work it. This remained the great thoroughfare nearly one hundred and ninety years; parts of it now are overgrown with weeds.

The first distribution of land in Pinemeadow was eighty rods in width on the river, and included all the meadow land and a few lots adjoining the meadow. A lot a quarter of a mile wide, bounding on the river and extending from about the middle of the meadow on the south to about forty rods north of the railroad depot, was originally set to Thomas Ford, of Windsor. Tn 1663 he sold it to Henry, son of Nicholas Denslow, who built his house here, probably the same year, at "the higher end of Pinerneadow." He brought his family here, where they lived alone (their nearest neighbor being William Hayden, two miles away) until the breaking out of King Philip's War; then they fled to Windsor. Traditioii says he ventured back alone, against the entreaties of his friends. He was captured and killed by the party of Indians who afterward burned Simsbury.1 His death probably occurred March 25, 1676 (April 4, N. S.). The site of his house was marked with a flint bowider, suitably inscribed, on the two hundredth anniversary of his death. After the war the family-one son of seventeen, the widow, and seven daughters - returned, and lived here twelve years more, without nearer neighbors than before. The son continued to live on the spot until his death at a good old age, and two of his sons, Samuel and Joseph, built houses and remained on the homestead.

The descendants of Henry Denslow still own the site of the first house and a part of the original farm. In 1678 Nathaniel Gaylord, grandson of Deacon Williaiii Gaylord, of Windsor, settled near the present site of Wilbert Gaylord's house, on the west side of the meadow; the family have continued to occupy the place to the present time.

It was about thirty years later (1708-1709) that the next family came to Pinemeadow,-that of Abraham Dibble, grandson of Thomas Dibble, also of Windsor. His house and lot were a little southeast of time present barns of Mrs. Webb. The ravine which skirted the south side of his lot is still called Dibble Hollow. Only two generations remained here, and in 1752 they removed to the newly settled town of Torrington. The next family, also from Windsor stock, was Ezekiel Thrall's. He built on the corner of Elm and Centre streets in 1765. His wife died in 1776, and he removed. His house, originally of one story, was enlarged amid another story added about 1800. It is now standing a few rods west of its original site. Pelatiah Birge came here from Windsor soofl after, and built about a mile northwest of Thrall's. Most of his farm is still in the possession of that family. The original house was pulled down in 1876. Samuel Coye and Ensign Samuel Wing built houses on West Street before the Revolutionary War. Their families are now gone, and the houses they built have disappeared.

In 1769 Jabez Haskell and Seth Dexter, of Rochester, Mass., bought the land lying between the river and Centre Street, extending south to School Street, and north to a little beyond Grove Street. On this tract are located nearly all the mills and the business portion of the town. There was no public highway across it, and it was nearly twenty years before the ferry was established. A saw-mill had been built by the Denslows on kettle Brook, and Saw-mill Path, now Elm Street, was open to bring logs from the plains to the saw-mill; and probably the trespass road across Captain Denslow's lot through the cemetery to the saw-mill was also used to go to the fording-place across the Connecticut at the mouth of Kettle Brook.

When we come to the summer of 1776 we have nine families, - two Denslows, two Gaylords, Coye, Birge, Wing, Haskell, and Dexter. Tradition tells us that the head of each of these families, except Coye's, was at one time serving in the army. Others besides these served some time during the war. Ensign Samuel Wing, Samuel Coye, and Ehhu, son of Samuel Denslow, died in service. Captain Martin Denslow was honored after the war by being admitted into the Society of the Cincinnati.

In the War of 1812 Pinemeadow furnished the orderly sergeant - David Pinney - of a volunteer company coinposed largely of Windsor men, who served at New London.

In the War of the Rebellion this town furnished one hundred and sixty-four men. At the first call for three-months men a large number responded at once, organized a company, chose a captain and first lieutenant from their number, and joined the First Regiment Connecticut Volunteers. They participated in the first battle of Bull Run. This town lost in battle one major (Converse), one captain (Hayden), one first lieutenant (Phelps), and three privates; one private died of wounds and ten of disease, - total, seventeen.

Pinemeadow at first was included in the Ecclesiastical Society of Windsor, and the people worshipped with the church there. Nearly all the descendants of the early settlers continued their connection with that church until the first church was organized here. A Sunday school was organized at the school-house in 1831, and Sabbath services, including preaching, were established in 1833. A chapel was built in 1834. in 1844 a Congregational church was organized, eleven of the fifteen members bringing their letters from the Congregational church in Windsor. In 1847 they built a church at a cost of $5,000, which was burned in 1877, and the present edifice was built on the same site, at a cost of $23,000. The membership of the church is now about one hundred amid twenty-five.

A Roman Catholic church was built soon after the Congregational. It is estimated that one third of the present population are connected with that body.

The Methodist denomination, which had sustained religious services in the school-house and elsewhere for a considerable time, erected a church in 1865, at a cost of $10,000. Their present membership is about one hundred.

The Episcopalians built a stone church in 1872, which cost about $12,000. Their present communicants number about fifty.

It was more than a century from the first settlement of Pinemeadow before this was constituted a separate school district; but the children were not suffered to grow up in ignorance. Nathaniel Gaylord was born here in 1751, and became a minister of respectable attainments. He was a life-long pastor of the Congregational church of West Hartland. The first school-house was built about 1776, largely if not entirely by Jabez Haskell and Seth Dexter. It stood on time southeast corner of Elm and Centre streets, on Mr. Dexter's land; and they were probably the parties responsible for time support of the school. Before 1800 a good public school was maintained here, and about 1850 the district was divided and two new school-houses were built. The districts were again united in 1868, and the present school building was erected at a cost of $32,000. This accommodates a graded school with six rooms and eight teachers. The former South District school-house continues to be occupied for a primary school. The present enumeration of scholars is seven hundred and twenty. This school was the first to issue certificates of attendance to those scholars under fourteen who had complied with the requirements of the law regarding the employment of children in factories. This system was adopted on petition of the manufacturers to the school board, Aug. 20, 1868. Since then the State has incorporated the system into its school laws.

The charter for a ferry across the Connecticut River was granted in 1783. There was then no public road east of Centre Street; but in 1788 the town laid out a highway from the ferry to Centre Street, entering it a little north of Oak Street. At the same time Elm Street was made a public highway. A trespass road was continued across Haskell & Dexter's milldam, and thence to the ferry. Except when they had a favoring south wind, the ferryman propelled their boat by "poling" or rowing. About thirty years ago a pier was built above the ferry about midway of the river, from which a wire runs to the boat, and by which it is swung from side to side.

The whole manufacturing system has been changed within the last sixty or seventy years. Previous to that time all well-to-do families raised their wool and flax, and spun and wove the material for their ordinary clothing. Calicoes, silks, and broadcloths were worn only on rare occasions. Girls were ambitious to learn to spin wool, linen, and tow, and to make such proficiency in the art that they could accomplish "a day's work before the middle of the afternoon." It was the work of the men to prepare the flax - to rot, to break, to swingle, and to hatchel it - before it Passed into the hands of the women. In earlier times men learned and practised the trade of the weaver; but later, the weaving devolved largely upon the women. The tangled product of the hatchelling process was called tow, and was made into "tow-cloth" for men's and boys' summer wear. "A tow-head" was then a significant term of ridicule for a flaxen-haired boy or girl whose toilet had been neglected. For many years woollen cloths were subjected to no finishing process after being taken from the loom. The first mill for cloth-dressing in this part of the country was set up here, on the site of C. W. Holbrook's mill, on Kettle Brook. Mr. Seth Dexter brought the art witim him from time eastern part of Massachusetts, and set up his mill in 1770. Wool-carding by machinery possibly came in at the same time; this relieved the women's work, and gave them better rolls to spin than the hand-cards produced. Dexter's clothier works were run here aboñt sixty years. Young men learned the clothier's trade here and set up their business in other places; and following the tide of emigration west, the art of cloth-dressing and wool-carding was continued there after the trade had been superseded here by the introduction of woollen-factories.

Water-power was first used to run a saw-mill on Kettle Brook, which was being built, or rebuilt, by the Denslow family in 1742; at that date half of it was sold to Daniel Hayden, and afterward the other half was sold to his brother Isaac Hayden. About twenty years later, Daniel Hayden had failed, and in 1769 it passed into the hands of Haskell & Dexter, whose families operated it jointly three quarters of a century, when the Dexter family became sole owners, and they still continue it in operation. As early as 1781 a small grist-mill was set up on Pinenmeadow Brook, a mile and a half from the present village, by Ensign Eliakim Gaylord and Elijah Higley. It passed into the hands of Jacob Russell, who continued it about thirty years. The mill was afterward used for wool-carding, and later had several other transformations. The site is now occupied by William English's paper-mill.

In 1784 Haskell & Dexter built a grist-mill below their saw-mill, and it was kept in operation until the building of the canal destroyed the water-power. They also built in 1819 the grist-mill which is still conducted by the Dexter family. Formerly, these gristmills were supported by the farmers, who brought "grists" of corn, rye, and wheat, which the miller tolled to pay the grinding. Though still called a grist-mill, the grists are wanting. The supply of corn comes almost exclusively by the car-load from the West, some of it from beyond the Mississippi. Few farmers in this vicinity raise sufficient corn for their own stock, but find their supply at the grist-mill. Instead of bringing their rye, as they formerly did, to be converted into flour, they now come to the grist-mill and buy Western flour. In 1811 Herlehigh and Harris Haskell (who were born and spent their lives here) built a gin-distillery on the site of the present silkmill. The enterprise was hailed as a great boon to all the neighboring towns, because it made a market for their rye a.nd corn. The business was successfully prosecuted until 1833, when the proprietors abandoned the business at considerable pecuniary sacrifice, because they could no longer consistently pursue it.

When, in 1636, Mr. Pyncheon, of Springfield, Mass., sent his supplies around from Boston by water, his vessels could proceed no farther, after reaching the foot of these falls, lie then provided land-carriage fourteen miles to Springfield. He built a warehouse on the east side of the river at the highest practicable point his vessels could reach, to store his goods while awaiting transit, and called the lauding-place Warehouse Point, - a name the present village still retains. This warehouse probably stood about fifty rods below the present ferry-landing. We do not know how early scow-boats which could ascend these rapids were first provided, but in 1820 there were about sixty of them engaged in freighting between Hartford and "the up-river towns." Their capacity was from twelve to eighteen tons each. Coasting vessels rarely came above Hartford at that time. Except when the south wind blew, the slow and toilsome progress these boats made against the stream was by "poling." When they reached Warehouse Point, all over twelve tons of their freight was discharged and carted to Thompsonville, five miles above, by ox-teams, and there reshipped. It required twelve men to "pole" the boat over the falls after it had been lightened.

In 1824 the Connecticut River Company was chartered, for the purpose of improving the navigation by removing sand-bars and building canals. Provision was made in the charter to cover all the improvements made and to be made to Barnet, Vermont, provided the States of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont would approve the charter, and agreement could be made with the parties interested in improvements already made. The State of Vermont ratified the charter, the others did not; and the Connecticut River Company confined itself to building the Enfield Falls Canal. The west side of the river was found most feasible for the work, and our village is the result of that selection. The parties engaged in the enterprise of building this canal were mostly Hartford men, interested in building up their trade with the up-river towns, and competing with New Haven merchants, who were building a canal from that place to Northampton, to reach the Connecticut River. Though the improvement of navigation was the primary object, yet the projectors of the work considered the waterpower a valuable part of their franchise.

The opening of the canal was celebrated Nov. 11, 1829. Thomas Blanchard, of Springfield, was present with his newly invented sternwheel steamer. The writer remembers Mr. Blanchard's request that all except the stockholders should leave the steamer when the procession went through the canal, that the stockholders might have a good opportunity to see how little the waves from his steamboat washed the banks of the canal. After the opening of the canal the capacity of the freight-boats was much increased, it would he impracticable to get the boats now in use up over the falls at any stage of the water, or even down in time of low water. For about fifteen years a daily line of passenger steamers ran between Hartford. and Springfield, a part of the time two lines; but when the railroads were built along the river, both the passenger and freight business went into an early decline. There are three or four freight-boats and a steam-tug plying between Hartford and Holyoke, and about the same number of large scows, which bring coal and some other heavy freight to this place.

In 1831 Jonathan Danforth, of New York, built a mill for the manufacture of door-butts; but the business proved unsuccessful and was abandoned. Three or four years later Samuel Williams, of Hartford, built a paper-mill, which was a financial failure in the panic of 1837. A corporation was then formed, which had no better success.

In 1836 Carleton, of New Hampshire, and Niles, of Hartford, built a saw-mill, their logs coming from the head-waters of the Connecticut. The business was prosperously conducted for several years, when their buildings were converted into a paper-mill.

About 1836 Charles Haskell Dexter began in a small way the manufacture of wrapping-paper in a basement room of the grist-mill, his water-power being supplied by Kettle Brook. He was born Sept. 19, 1810, the only son of Seth Dexter, whose father (Seth Dexter) purchased, in company with Jabez Haskell, the tract of land which comprises most of the present village of Windsor Locks, and settled here in 1769. A decided bent towards mechanic and manufacturing industries seems to have been a family trait, and in the case of Charles H. Dexter was a specially marked characteristic. His first adventure in paper-making began in connection with the Haskell and Dexter gristmill, utilizing the waste water-power of that mill. This enterprise was attended with little or no profit except the knowledge which comes of experience, but it laid the foundation for better results. About ten years later, in 1847, Mr. Dexter built a new mill on the ground now covered by the C. H. Dexter & Sons' paper-works, in which, under more favorable conditions and by virtue of improved methods of his own devising, the business became highly profitable, and the products of the mill came to rank among the best goods in the market. In 1855 he became president of the Connecticut River Company, and in the fifteen years of his administration made a fairly remunerative property of that which had been almost valueless to the stockholders. To his enterprising and judicious management the company owes its large increase of water-power in the canal, and the village its consequent growth of manufacturing industries. Mr. Dexter never sought or held any civil or political office. But there were no matters affecting the welfare of the community which did not awaken his lively interest, and he was foremost in all measures of public improvement. The impress of his mind and hand was to be seen on all the material interests of the town. But his best work was in those things which concern the higher well-being of every community, - the school, the home, the church. He was a central figure in all the best activities of this community for thirty years. And his life, taken in all its bearings, was by far the most influential that Windsor Locks has known. Mr. Dexter was a man of remarkably fine presence and winning address, with a commanding form, slightly bowed in his later years by rheumatic suffering. He was of quick amid clear apprehension, systematic in business, hopeful and earnest in whatever lie undertook, responding freely and gladly to calls for help, whether in money or personal service. He died the 29th of August, 1869, in his fifty-ninth year.

In 1838 the silk-mill of Haskel & Hayden was set in operation, and at first confined almost exclusively to the manufacture of sewing-silk. Raw silk had been raised and manufactured into sewing-silk in families for many years in Mansfield, and some progress had been made in its manufacture there by machinery. Three years before, the Connecticut Silk Manufacturing Company, under the patronage of the State, had been started at Hartford. The junior partner had served three years with that company, and brought to the work such skill as had then been attained in this country. The business was still new, and almost everything yet to be learned. The stock worked time first year was long-reeled China raw silk, which requires the highest skilled labor to wind successfully; but it had to be wound by unskilled hands. A halfpound a day was more than the bands averaged, and the waste made was often twenty-five per cent. With better-prepared raw silk, aim experienced hand now winds from five to ten pounds. Sewing-silk has been the specialty of this mill from the beginning. After sewingmachines were invented, machine-twist was added, and other goods have been worked to some extent. The silk-manufacture of this country, since these small beginnings, has grown to include nearly all varieties of silk goods, and now requires the annual importation of millions of dollars worth of raw silk to supply it.

In 1839 Royal Prouty, from Spencer, Mass., commenced the business of wire-drawing. He built a new mill in 1846, and enlarged his business, employing about a dozen men. He was moderately successful until 1857, when he failed, and the business was not again resumed.

In 1839 James H. Wells, Jr., and John F. Wells built a small papermill, which they worked a few years, but were not successful. After passing into other hands, the mill was burned in 1847.

In 1844 H. A. Converse, who came from Stafford, set up an ironfoundry, which was successfully carried on by him until his recent death, and is now under the charge of his son, A. W. Converse.

In 1844 Slate & Brown came here from Stafford, and built a machine-shop, and for several years were engaged in building cottonmachinery. Their works gave a marked impetus to the growing population of the village. During the war their mill was used as an armory by Denslow & Chase, and many hands were employed making guns. The mill has had several transformations since.

In 1845 Ripley's rolling-mill was built by Philip & Edwin G. Ripley, of Hartford. They soon after added to their work time manufacture of steel, and continued business here several years without becoming residents of the village. Later, the Farist Steel Company enlarged the works, and by an improved process of converting steel were very successful, having produced a quality of steel in great demand among gun-makers during the War of the Rebellion.

Messrs. Persse & Brooks, of New York, who bought and enlarged the Williams mill, built in 1833, had run it several years previous to 1856, when they built and set in operation the largest paper-mill then running in this collntry. In 1857 they obtained a charter of incorporation, with a capital stock of $450,000; but they were overwhelmed in the financial panic which immediately followed. The corporation struggled on with the business four years, when it became insolvent. It was resuscitated, and its corporate name changed to the Seymour Company, and it is now running at its full capacity.

Eli Horton, of Stafford, a skilful machinist, who had resided here several years, invented a lathe-chuck, which has superseded all previous inventions in this line, and its manufacture has proved a source of much profit. The business was carried on under the name of E. Horton & Son, in a large mill built for the work, until the death of the son (1873), when the business was organized with corporate powers.

The Medlicott Company, which is engaged in the production of knit goods, has a large mill, an outgrowth from a sniall business begun by William G. Medlcott, of Longmeadow, Mass., about twenty years ago. It has been among the foremost in the introduction of improved machinery, and produces the highest class of goods.

J. R. Montgomery & Co. began the manufacture of cotton warps in the Connecticut River Company's building in 1871. They have recently added another mill, and now occupy both.

Nearly twenty years ago Dwight Holbrook set up the manufacture of school apparatus at the old Dexter clothier works, on Kettle Brook, on the west side of Centre Street. The establishment is widely known, and is still comitinued by his son, C. W. Holbrook.

Several other parties who were valued citizens have from time to time been engaged in manufacturing here; but the space allotted to this article forbids further detail.

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