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



-----EAST GRANBY was incorporated in 1858, out of Granby and Windsor Locks. Granby was set off from Simsbury in 1786, and Windsor Locks from Windsor in 1854. The individual history of East Granby is chiefly that of the Turkey Hills Parish Society, which was the Northeast Society of Simsbury. This society was created in 1736, and in 1737 a part of the Northwest Society of Windsor was added to it; this part was taken from Windsor Locks and incorporated into East Granby when the town was established.

-----As early as 1793 an effort was made to have East Granby set off as a separate town, because Granby at that time reconsidered the vote under which the town-meeting was held once in three years at Turkey Hills. The limits then asked for the proposed town were practically those which were at last fixed upon.

-----The town embraces about eighteen square miles; being four and a half miles east and west, and averaging four miles north and south. Its population in 1860 was 883; in 1870, 853; in 1880, 754; showing a decrease in the last decade of more than twelve per cent. This decrease was due almost wholly to the decline in value of agricultural products, especially tobacco, which followed the close of the War of the Rebellion, and the extended culture of that product in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. A more economical production was necessary, and there was consequently a limited employment of farm laborers. The Talcott range of mountaihs divides the town from north to south into nearly equal parts. That west of the mountain is rolling and somewhat hffly; that east of the mountain slopes gradually down to a plain, and is of peculiar natural beauty.

-----As early as 1710 iron was manufactured at a mill on Stony Brook, in the extreme northeast part of the town, close by the Suffield line, and this is believed to have beeti the first manufacture of iron from ore procured in the colony. About 1728 a furnace called the "new works" was set up a mile farther south, on land now owned by Oliver M. Holcomb. The ore was from surface stone gathered in that part of Windsor which still retains the name of Ore Marsh. The manufacture of wire-cards began about 1820, on the Farmington River, and other industries followed. In 1846 the Cowles Manufacturing Company made spoons, and it is claimed was the first to make a practical success of electric plating. Its works gave the name of Spoonville to the site, and that remains, although spoon-making ceased there about thirty years ago.

-----The town is free from debt, and an average annual tax of seven mills has been sufficient to support all public burdens during the last ten years. The town has two ecclesiastical societies, Ä the Congregational, having its church edifice in the Centre, just at the foot of the eastern slope of the mountain; and the Methodist Episcopal church, situated about a mile north of the old Newgate prison, on the west side of the mountain. The former was established in October, 1786, after a long and bitter controversy extending through many years. The final result was the division of Simsbury into four parish societies, of which Turkey Hills was one, -- each to have independent ecclesiastical privileges. June 16, 1737, the parish of Turkey Hills voted to build a church, and applied to the legislature for a committee to locate its position. John Edwards, James Church, and Joseph Talcott, Jr., having been appointed such committee, selected the site for the church at an "oak staddle," on land of Samuel Clark, upon the west side of the north and south highway, some ten rods south of the present dwellinghouse of Charles P. Clarke, and about the same distance north of the intersecting highway leading eastward. Out of the bitter church controversy referred to there grew a topographical map of ancient Simsbury. This map shows that about 1780 there were living in the parish twenty-eight families, -- twenty-three east and five west of the mountain. In 1709 there were but two families, - those of John Griffin and Joshua Holcomb, Ä both of whom lived near the Falls.

-----The church building was begun in 1788. It was taken down in 1831 by George Burleigh Holcomb, who used some of its timbers in the buildings on the place where he now resides. The present edifice was begun in 1880 and completed in 1831. The first clergyman employed in the parish was a Mr. Wolcott, who preached in 1737. The Rev. Ebenezer Mills was settled in 1741. From 1754 to 1760 there was preaching by candidates. The Rev. Nehemiah Strong, afterward professor in Yale College, was settled as pastor, Jan. 21, 1761, and dismissed in 1767. The next settled pastor was the Rev. Aaron Booge, November, 1776. The society appointed seventeen tavern-keepers for the day of his ordination! He was dismissed in 1785, but supplied the pulpit four years longer. The Rev. Whitfield Cowles was ordained in 1794; but dissensions arose, he was tried for heresy, and the society fell into discord, and for a while lost its legal existence. The next regular ministers were the Rev's Hervey Wilbur, 1815Ä1816, and Eber L. Clark, 1816-1820, who were also chaplains at Newgate prison. There have been frequent changes of ministers since then. The Rev. Joel H. Lindsley, who found the church in 1865 in a very reduced condition, owing to quarrels and dissensions arising from the questions of the war, did much to revive it and to endear himself to the people. At that time the church building was renovated and improved. The pulpit is now supplied by the Rev. P. A. Strong.

-----The Methodist church at Copper Hill was built in 1839, and in 1850 was thoroughly repaired, and moved about five rods westward. Like all Methodist churches, it has had regular changes of pastor. In the ministry of Lemuel Richardson, in 1871, there was an extensive revival of religion, attended with remarkable manifestations. The writer, at a single evening meeting in the church, which lasted from seven o'clock until midnight, witnessed as maiiy as fifteen persons who became apparently unconscious. Some were stretched upon the floor; others were lying or being supported upon the seats. This visitation of "the Spirit" was regarded as a great blessing, and it certainly did strengthen the church in iiumbers. Mr. Richardson was a large, powerful man, full of strength, zeal, and boldness, and possessed of a strong, loud voice, which he used in singing as well as in preaching and prayer.

-----The celebrated Simsbury copper-mine, where afterward was located for fifty-four years the Connecticut State prison called Newgate, was first known to the inhabitants of Simsbury in 1705. Two years later there was an association of such proprietors of the town as chose to subscribe to articles of agreement for the purpose of opening and working it. The location of the mine was about a hundred rods from the west ledge of the Talcott Mountain, at its highest point in East Granby, which is a point nearly as high as any in the same ridge in the State. The position is one of much picturesqueness and beauty. The period of greatest mining activity was from 1715 to 1787; during these years it was carried on in face of great dangers and greater discouragements arising from the newness of the country and the want of proper facilities of every nature pertaining to the business. The articles of agreement under which the subscribing proprietors, in 1707, undertook to work the mine, provided that, after deducting the expenses of the work, there be allowed to the town ten shillings on each ton of copper produced, and the residue be divided among the proprietors in proportion to their subscriptions. The company only dug the ore; they did iiot undertake to smelt and refine it. In the same year they entered into a contract with Messrs. John Woodhridge, of Springfield, Dudley Woodbridge, of Simsbury, and Timothy Woodbridge, Jr., of Hartford, all clergymen, who agreed to run and refine the ore, and cast the metal into bars fit for transportation or a market; and, after deducting the tenth part belonging to the town (of which two thirds was to be given for the maintenance of an able schoolmaster in Simsbury, and the other third to the collegiate school of Yale College), the residue was to be equally divided between them and the proprietors, or workers of the mine. The legislature, in 1709, passed an act vesting the right to control all matters relating to the mine in the major part of the proprietors, according to the interests of each; and it was under arrangement with this organization that milling operations were carried on until the State began to use the mine as a prison. The act also provided for the adjudication of all matters in controversy between any and all persons connected with the mines, by a board of commissioners. During the mining excitement companies, organized in Boston, in London, and in Holland, expended large sums at Copper Hill. Governor Belcher, of Massachusetts, said in 1735 that he bad spent £15,000 there. The mine most improved, and where the greatest excavation was made, was the one purchased for a prison. The most extensive workings, aside from those on Copper Hill, were known as Higley's mine, situated a little more than a mile southward, on land now owned by Hilton Griffin, and nearly west of the old vineyard gap in tile mountain, where upon. the map of ancient Simsbury Mr. Higley's house is seen to have been located. Mr. Edmund Quiucy, of Boston, had a company of miners working here at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War; soon afterward the works were abandoned. About 1787 Samuel Higley, here referred to, manufactured a rude copper coin which to some extent circulated as a representative of value in the vicinity, and has since been known as the Higley Copper. Tile coins are said to have passed current for - " two and sixpence;" presumably in paper, because their intrinsic value was only a penny. They were not all of one device; but one now in the Connecticut Historical Society, at Hartford, is here represented by engravings, showing both sides. Such a coin has now a cabinet value of perhaps a hundred dollars. The interest in the mines was very much abated after 1737. Of the ore dug, a considerable part was shipped to Europe; some of it arrived safely, and was smelted. One cargo was reported lost in the English Channel, and one captured by the French. About 1721 smelting and refining works were built and secretly operated (to what extent is unknown) at a place in West Simsbury called Hanover by the Germans, who were then conducting the business. The locality has since retained the name.

Higley Copper

-----At the May session of the General Assembly, in 1773, William Pitkin, Erastus Ellsworth, and Jonathan Humphreys were appointed a committee to "view and explore the copper-mines at Simsbury" with regard to the fitness of that place for a prison, and after their favorable report they were authorized to obtain possession of the property. They bought up a mining lease that had nineteen years to run, and prepared the place to receive prisoners. The legislature gave it the name of Newgate. Burglars, horse-thieves, and counterfeiters were liable to be sent there to work in the mines. John Viets was the first master, or keeper, of the prison. The first convict, John Henson, was received Dec. 22, 1773, and escaped on the 9th of the next month. The history of the prison is a long record of escapes, uprisings, fires, and other troubles, although it early acquired the reputation of a very secure place, as appears by General Washington's reference to it. In 1777 the prisoners were all taken to the Hartford jail, and probably the prison was not used again until 1780, when it was rebuilt, and the prisoners were set at other work than mining. Previously they had mined ore, which was sold by order of the legislature. There was another sweeping fire in 1782, and the place was then abandoned until 1790. A new prison was completed in October, 1790, and Major Peter Curtiss was appointed keeper. The heavy wall about the premises was built in 1802. The prisoners were confined below ground; many of them wore iron fetters, and tradition has it that some were chained to rings in the wall. There was a treadmill under one of the buildings, which the convicts operated.

Newgate Prison in 1802

-----All the prisoners were finally removed to Wcthersfield, on the 1st of October, 1827, and the prison buildings and, land were sold shortly afterward to persons interested in mining operations. The history of Newgate has been written out with great detail by Noah A. Phelps. After the abandonment of the property by the State for prison purposes several efforts were made, without success, to carry on the mining of copper. No considerable amount of ore was reduced, and the experiments were abandoned in 1859. Since then the mines have served only to afford a curious interest to those who visit the place on account of its associations as the former prison of the State. Its buildings are iiow far gone to decay, and soon nothing but crumbling walls of stone will mark the place, once famous alike for its hidden treasures of copper and for being the first substantial stronghold for the criminals of the colony.

Newgate Prison now.

-----Few communities have been less subject to change of inhabitants than East Granby. Its lands are excellent, and those who are engaged in agricultural pursuits have very much to encourage them to remain. Of the families shown upon the map of ancient Simsbury to have been first settlers in the place, those of Clark, Phelps, Holcomb, Griffin, Stephens, Alderman, and Owen have always had successors of their respective names living in the town; and of Thomas Stephens, Samuel Clark, Joseph Phelps, and John Holcomb, their lineal descendants, Frederick F. Stephens, Charles P. Clarke, Richard H. Phelps, and Morton Cornish, are each respectively occupying the homestead estate of his ancestor.

-----Elmore Clark, now seventy-eight years of age, has been the clerk of the town since its organization, and occupies the same house built by his ancestor, Joel Clark, in 1746. Isaac P. Owen, recently deceased, was the last representative by name of that family in the towii; he, too, occupied the homestead of his first ancestor in East Granby, and while living in the same house represented the towns of Windsor, Windsor Locks, and East Granby, in the legislature of the State. The families of Moore, Clark, Owen, and Forward came directly from Windsor to settle in East Granby; while those of Higley, Phelps, Holcomb, Viets, and Cornish came to the place from Lower Simsbury, where there was a settlement, mostly by Windsor people, more than forty years earlier than in the parish of Turkey Hills. In the death of Alfred Winchel, in 1879, that family name ceased to have a representative in East Granby. Dr. John Victs, the ancestor of one of the now most numerous families in the town, is said to have come to Simsbury in 1710, being physician to a mining expedition from Germany. There seems to be some reason to question the accuracy of this date, because at that time the coppermines had hardly begun to attract attention from abroad; and further, because his name does not appear upon the ancient map made about 1730. His grave is in the cemetery at Hop Meadow, in Simsbury. His son John was the first keeper at Newgate, and was probably the first of the family who lived within the limits of East Granby. The family names of Viets and Cornish do not appear upon the parish record of Turkey Hills until 1743 and 1744 respectively; those of Gay arid Thrall in 1751 and 1754. The first representative in town of the Gays, was Richard, who came from Dedham, Mass., and ever since there have been here lineal representatives of that name. The name of Bates is one prominently associated with the town since 1747, when Lemuel Bates came from Long Island, learned the saddler's trade, and built the house now occupied by his grandson, William H. Bates. The names of Hillyer and Skinner are not found upon the parish register until 1779. Colonel Andrew Hillyer, the father of Charles T. Hillyer, of Hartford, was probably settled in Turkey Hills about 1774. He was then a young man, a graduate of Yale College, Ä had served under Colonel Lyman, in the English campaign of 1760, against the French in Canada, amid was also a soldier in the expedition of Lord Albemarle against Havana. Such was the fatality by sickness in that expedition, that lie was, with one exception, the sole survivor of fourteen persons enlisted from Simsbury. He was one of the first to respond to the patriotic call to arms in the War for Independence; a lieutenant at Bunker Hill, lie served throughout the war, hqkling successively the commissions of lieutenant, captain, and adjutant. His grave is in. the old cemetery at East Granby. After the removal to Hartford of General Charles T. Hillyer in 1853, no representative of that family remained in town.

-----Of the many persons born in East Granby who have obtained distinction in business and professional life, perhaps no other has merited and attained to the renown of Walter Forward. He was the fourth, in order of birth, of ten children born to Samuel Forward and Susannah Holcomb. Time place of his birth (which occurred Jan. 24, 1783) is shown upon the map of ancient Simsbury. He lived in Turkey Hills, receiving only the advantages of a common-school education, until in 1803 he removed with his father to Aurora, Ohio. Walter immediately went to Pittsburg, Penn., attended for a short time an academic school, studied law with Judge Young, and was admitted to practice at the age of twenty-four. While engaged in his law studies, in 1805, he also edited the "Tree of Liberty," a Jeffersonian paper, at Pittsbnrg. His success as a lawyer was immediate, and he soon ranked high in his profession. In 1822 ho was elected to Congress, where lie served three terms in succession. In 1837 he was a valuable member of the Constitutional Convention of the State. In 1841 he was appointed by President Harrison first Comptroller of the Treasury; and by John Tyler made Secretary of the same. After retiring from the secretaryship of the Treasury he resumed the practice of the law, in which lie continued until appointed by President Taylor Charg‚ d'Affaires to Denmark, a position which lie resigned to accept that of Presiding Judge of Alleghany County. This latter he held at the time of his death, in 1852.

-----He was a man of most kind and generous nature, and interested himself to aid his younger brothers to education and position. His brother Chauncey, born in 1798, studied law in his office, and settled in Somerset, Penn. He was a member of both houses of time legislature of Pennsylvania, and three terms, from 1825 to 1831, a member of Congress. The daughter of Chauncey Forward became the wife of the Hon. Jeremiah Black, who also studied law in the office of Walter Forward, at Pittsburg. Two sisters, Hannah Forward Clark and Betsey Forward Fowler, lived to the advanced ages of ninety-eight and ninetyseven years respectively.

-----Of those born within the limits of East Granby, who have achieved great wealth and prominence in business affairs, may properly be mentioned Anson G. Phelps and George Robbins, of New York City, Allyn Robbins, of Chicago, and General Charles T. Hillyer, of Hartford.

-----The following persons, residents of the town, were soldiers in the War for Independence:--
-----Colonel Andrew Hillyer, Hon. Samuel Woodruffe, Isaac Owen, Lemuel Bates, Mathew Griswold, Roswell Phelps, Richard Gay, Joel Clark, Reuben Clark,Zopher Bates, John Forward, Hezekiali Holcomb, John Cornish, Asahel Holcomb, Thomas Stevens, Jesse Clark, Joseph Clark, John Thrall, Luke Thrall, David Eno, Reuben Phelps, and Samuel Clark.

-----Soldiers in the War of 1812 were:--
-----Dan. Forward, Joseph Cornish, Appollos Gay, Orson P. Phelps, Calvin Holcomb, Alexander Hoskins, William K. Thrall, Erastus Holcomb, Gurdon Gould, Peultha Clark, Uriah Holeomb, Elihu Ancirus, John G. Manner, Alexander Clark, Abiel Clark, Chandler Owen, Sardius Thrall, Charles Buck, Elihu Phelps, Ephraim Shaylor, William Rockwell, Joseph Dyer, Jesse Clark.

-----The widows of Joseph Cornish and Gurdon Gould, aged respectively eighty-five and ninety-four years, are now living in town, and are pensioners of the Government.

-----Citizens of the town who enlisted as soldiers in the War of the Rebellion were:--
-----Colonel Richard E. Holcomb, Leeds Brown, Oliver K. Abels, Francis V. Brown, Wesley J. Fox, William W. Morgan, Lafayette F. Johnson, Henry H. Davis, Corporal Sidney H. Hayden, Robert Holmes, James Odey, Lewis S. Porter, Delos R. Pinney, Daniel W. Griffin, Homer Russel, Edward W. Pierce, Nelson W. Pierce, Newton P. Johnson, Lieutenant Edward Pinney, Sergeant Eugene C. Alderman, Corporal Henry W. Davis, Corporal Emery M. Griffin, Wagoner John 0. Holcomb, Lyman J. Barden, Luther W. Eno, Henry B. Griffin, James Boyle, Tryon Holcomb, Webster B. Latham, Alexander Patterson, Alfred A. Phelps, Lewis C. Talmadge, Charles W. Talmadge, amid James Jackson, - 34.

-----The town furnished more than one hundred men to the service; but the above list is believed to include all who were residents at the time of their enlistment.


Return to [ Connecticut Towns ]

All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy