Suffield A Sketch
Published in the Connecticut Quarterly
Vol.1 No. 1, Jan. Feb. and March 1895
Always a conservative town was Suffield, and is now for that matter. So much so that its people actually bought the land it occupies of the Indians; and as a result not a person was killed within its limits during all the Indian wars that brought so much misery to the first settlers of New England. To be sure the price was not very large, being only thirty pounds; but as few if any of the Indians lived here, only using it for hunting ground, they were pleased with their bargain.
At first this territory, included in Springfield, was supposed to be within the Connecticut Colony, and Deputies were sent to its General Court. Later the people of Springfield concluded they were in Massachusetts, and applied to its General Court for protection. And still later, after Southfield (Suffield) had become separated from Springfield, its people petitioned for admission to the Connecticut Colony, which was granted in 1749.
The boundary between the Colonies was a subject of continued and bitter contention for many years, and was not finally settled until the adjustment of 1803. Then a tract of about two miles square was added to Suffield on the west. Windsor claimed as its northern boundary Stony River, and a bitter quarrel was kept up until 1713. There was no contention on the east for it was bounded by the Great River, nor on the west fir it was an unbroken wilderness. The bounds are, north, by the State Line; east, by the River; south, by Windsor Locks, East Granby and Granby; west, by Granby and Southwick.
The fact that it was heavily timbered, with little intervale or meadow land, caused it to be settled somewhat later than the neighboring towns on the north or south. It was "hard to winne." In 166o the General Court of Massachusetts granted a tract seven miles square to make a plantation called Stony River, situated on both sides of the "Qonnecticut." It is probable that a settlement was attempted by the Harmons in 1664, but it was soon abandoned, and none of the original grantees ever became actual settlers of the town, so far as known. In 1670, the General Court made a grant of land six miles square on the west side of the river for a town. In the settlement of the town Major Pynchon seems to have been the master spirit, though he lived in Springfield. He purchased the land of the Indians, was the most influential of the committee of "allotments," built the first saw-mill and grist-mill, erected the first frame house, and was .the constant adviser, of the settlers in affairs temporal and ecclesiastical. To his account book and letters, and so much of the " Proprietors" book as he wrote, weare indebted for the most accurate information we have of. the customs and home life of the settlers; the town, county and state records being only skeletons.
In 1670 a beginning of settlement was made by five Proprietors, to whom allotments of land had been made. In 1671 there were four allotments. In 1672, five. In 1673, one. In 1674, twenty-one. These allotments averaged about fifty acres each. The basis was were three roads, or rather " trails," the settlements were made on them. The first led from Windsor to Northampton through Remington street and Zion's Hill. Here were the first allotments. The second trail led from the Old Factory road to the Springfield road (now " Crooked Lane"), through High Street. The third trail was along the ridge next
the river, now East Street. In the allotments were each of several parcels: timber for homestead, meadow and swampland, and sometimes a long distance apart. There was another trail leading from Pequannock to Westfield through West Suffield by way of the " Rattlev road."
Of I course one of the conditions of the charter was the 'support of Christian minister and a blacksmith. Mr. John Younglove came as pastor in 1679, but there is no record of his ordination. The first church building was
erected in 168o, very near what is now the intersection of the West Suffield road and High Street. Mr. Younglove was succeeded by the Rev. Benjamin Ruggles, in 1695, and he in turn by the Rev. Ebenezer Devotion, in 1710.
These were the distinctive °' town ministers. " Their salary was sixty pounds a year, mostly in provisions, etc. The latter had a hard time with his discontented brethren. The Separatists kept up a contention, which in 1 750 resulted in the establishment of the Baptist church on Zion's hill, the parent of all the Baptist churches in this vicinity, Joseph Hastyngs acting as pastor. In 1740 the Second Ecclesiastical Society (West Suffield) was formed. Its house of worship was built in 1743. The first pastor was Rev. John Graham. The Rev, Ebenezer Gay, D. D., became pastor of the First Congregational Church in 1741. When he first preached for the people "on trial," a characteristic incident took place. He was a devout man, highly educated and eloquent. But the kindly gossip of the day thought him too thin in stature, his legs too short and out of plumb. The Sunday after this came to the Doctor's ears, he preached a sermon on this text; " He taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man." The sermon was a success. He was pastor until 1793, when he was succeeded by his son. Father and son held the pastorate eighty-four years.
The old "Manse" was built in 1743, and is yet in good preservation. It is situated north of the Second Baptist church. Back of it stretched the "Demesne" toward the river. In front, the highway, or Common, was some thirty rods wide. The Second Baptist church was constituted in 1805. The first pastor was the Rev. Caleb Green. The Protestant Episcopal church was
organized in 1865 and the Rev. Augustus Jackson was elected pastor. The Methodist Episcopal church was organized in 1833 and Rev. Charles Chittenden was first stationed here. The first Roman Catholic service was held in this town in 1882. The above is the list of all the regularly organized churches in the town. There is of course the usual variety of unorganized "isms."
It is a loyal old town, as the Resolutions of 1774 testify, as well as its subsequent action in sending its sons to the wars. At scarcely a day's notice it started two companies, all told, one hundred-and eleven men, at the giving of the Lexington alarm. For tunately, no doubt, for the British, that speck of war was over before they had time to' reach Lexington. The town cared liberally for the widows and orphans of the patriot soldiers, and when independence was gained, welcomed home the surviving heroes with such heartiness as compensated for much of the hardship undergone. The town was well represented in the war of 1812 and the Mexican war. One of its great jollifications was the welcoming home of a Suffield boy who had gone to the latter war a private and returned a Major by brevet. The other memorable celebrations of this generation have been the Ruggles' one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, in 1858, the Bi-Centennial in 1870, and the dedication of the Soldiers' Monument in 1888. On each of these occasions nature favored the people with copious rains. Suffield raised more than its full quota for the war of the Rebellion, and contributed nearly seventy thousand dollars besides.
In its earliest history and up to the end of the first quarter of the present century the town was noted for its manufactories. The smelting of "bog iron" and the making of agricultural implements was quite extensively carried on. The second cotton manufactory erected in the United States was built here by Richard Crosby in 1795. A fulling mill was set up in 1796, and there were several carding mills. The town barely escaped being a great manufacturing center, for there is no better water privilege in New England than the Connecticut river presents at its rapids east of the town. At this time a newspaper, "The Impartial Herald," was published in town, and several books were printed. There was a law school under the direction of Gideon Granger, and a number of young men were fitted for admission to the bar.
Slavery was one of the institutions of the State until abolished by the Act of 1788. There were quite a number of slaves in this town, but neither slavery nor the slave were ever very popular here. There was at one time a considerable trade with the West Indies, the vessels being loaded at the foot of the falls. Previous to the outbreak of the Civil war, hundreds of men were employed in the manufacture of cigars, and millions were shipped to California by way of Cape Horn. This industry has diminished until scarce fifty men are employed in the town.
Very soon after the settlement of the plantation the school master was sent for, in the person of Anthony Austin. He was a very satisfactory teacher, and town clerk for many, years. Much attention has always been paid to the matter of education. There is to-day an excellent system of schools. In 1833 the Connecticut Literary Institution was established. It has generally held a high rank among institutions for secondary instruction. It counts its graduates by the thousand, and numbers among them some of the ablest men in the country.. It has ample buildings for dormitories, class rooms, lecture
rooms, laboratories, cabinets, and gymnasium, with a farm of thirty acres. The present - endowment exceeds one hundred thousand dollars. So the people of the town enjoy rare educational privileges. The first school house was erected on the "Green" southeast of the Congregational church. It was moved to the site of the present town hall and was used jointly by the town and school district. Previous to this the town meetings were held in the churches, usually at the center, occasionally at West Suffield, or on the "Hill." In the reaction against "Idolatry" the descendants of the Puritans did not especially reverence wood, brick, or stone, and even if a building was principally used for religious meetings, it
did not prevent its use for almost any other decent purpose. When the day appointed for training the Militia proved too inclement, they made use of the meeting-house. In 1860 the town hall and school house were burned, and before
the close of the next year the present commodious building was built, and used in common by the town and school district until 1890, when the district erected a more suitable school house on Bridge street.
The old wooden bridge which unites Suffield and Enfield was built in 1832, from the proceeds of a lottery. It is an odd looking, irregular, pokish structure, seeming to invite always a contest with the wind or fire. It was then thought to be a marvelous example of what the science of civil engineering could do.
The wide street in the center was early used as a "Common" pasture ground. It was an excellent place to dig gravel, and the people drove across it at will until it became unsightly enough. But in 1859 it was laid out as a park and graded. It was divided into three parts, each bordered with trees. It is one of the most beautiful features of the town, or of any town in the state for that matter.
The Great Island, or Terry's Island, as it is now more often called, is one of the most charming places in the town. For a description of it the reader is referred to an exceedingly interesting monograph written by, the Hon. Hezekiah S. Sheldon. It has been claimed by both Suffield and Enfield with the preponderance of evidence in favor of Suffield. It lies at the foot of the rapids. The mass of the river flows on the east side, but the water on the west is so deep that access can seldom be had except by ferry. Its sides are abrupt, but on the top there are more than a hundred acres of land well wooded, and a part of it under cultivation. It is the "one gem" set in the waters of the Connecticut.
The town has an excellent Free Public Library which is liberally patronized by the people. It was founded in 1884, and in 1894 was reorganized under the Library Act of 1893. Connected with it is a well equipped reading room, which
is also open every day and evening. The first license for the sale of spirituous liquors was issued in 1839. Now the burden seems to be that no such place ought to be licensed. Then the burden was that the sale ought not to be restricted. At the beginning of the century there were a dozen or more taverns in the town, and at that time an inn without a bar would have been a misnomer. It is not even beyond the dignity of the minister to join a parishioner in "a mug of flip" at the public house. Our ancestors had good stomachs for "meat, vegetables, and Rhum."
The people so violently opposed the building of the Hartford and Springfield Railroad through the town, that much to the regret of the directors of the road, they felt obliged to cross the river below the town. It is unnecessary to say that the citizens of the town have "never been sorry but once." They have since donated to that road twenty-five thousand dollars in cash, and nearly as much in "right of way" to build an exasperating branch of four miles.
The town has an agricultural park, and a good one, belonging to the prosperous society a Masonic lodge; an order of American Mechanics; a poor house and farm which is better than most people live in; a Mutual Fire Insurance Company; a creamery company; a society for the detection of rascals; and many other useful and ornamental societies. The First School District of the First Society was incorporated into a village by the Act of the Legislature in 1893. The town was made a probate district in 1821.
Suffield has produced its full share of distinguished men who have graced the history of their country. Few man ever gained a greater national reputation than Phineas Lyman, as statesman, as warier, or as a business man. And from that time on the town has always been capably represented in the halls of the legislature, at the bar, and on the tented field.