History of Colchester Connecticut


The Town of Colchester, Connecticut was founded in 1698 at a point just north of the present Town Green at Jeremiah’s Farm on land purchased by Nathaniel Foote from the Sachem of the Mohegan Indians. Nathaniel Foote’s grandfather had emigrated from Colchester, England, early in the 17th century and Colchester in America was the vision of a group of early English settlers who sought to lay out a new plantation in a large tract of virgin wilderness.

Colchester’s early history, like many towns in New England, centered around the church parish. In 1703, the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut ruled that the settlement could organize a church body here known as Colchester. Within a few years, several grist mills and saw mills were built to provide grain and lumber. In 1706, the first street was laid out and called Town Street. This street was nearly 200 feet wide and is now the southern end of Old Hebron Road. By 1714, there were nearly 50 families in town.

By 1756 Colchester was one of the  thriving rural towns in the Colony. Its population was recorded as 2,300 inhabitants and by 1782 grew to be 3,300.

Settlers were mostly self-sufficient. One of the first textile mills in America began operation in 1780 in Westchester. Other early industries were iron works, clothier shops, potash works and brick kilns. Industrial expansion in America was evident in Colchester by the 19th Century. There were three tanneries and a woolen mill in 1819, a hatter in 1828, a wheel and carriage factory in 1858, a paper mill in 1869, a creamery in 1886 and a canning company in 1893.

During this industrial heyday, the Hayward Rubber Company was established in 1847. Nathaniel Hayward along with Charles Goodyear had discovered the process of vulcanized rubber. It is said the Hayward was the true inventor and that Goodyear provided the cash to fund his experiments. Hayward founded his new company in Colchester and from here rubber products, boots, and shoes were shipped all over the country. The company thrived until 1893 when it was closed and later the building burned to the ground.

With industrial growth came demand for labor and population growth. The town prospered. New homes and sidewalks were built, a park was laid out and the streets were lighted with lamps.

Transportation during this period included the railroad. In 1875 the link between Willimantic and Middletown on the Boston to New York line was completed. The section ran through North Westchester and over the Lyman Viaduct to the west. In 1876, the town appropriated $25,000 to lay track between Colchester and Amston. Both freight and passengers were carried over this track for nearly 80 years.

By 1900 farming had diminished and the rubber mill had closed, but this was a time for another new beginning for Colchester. The Hirsch Foundation of New York had discovered that Colchester was an excellent place for the  settlement of European Jewish immigrants. By 1923, there were about 750 children recorded in the school census out of a total town population of 2,100. Since farming was no longer prosperous, many began to supplement their livelihoods in the summer by taking on  boarders from nearby cities and New York.

Within the span of a few years, Colchester became the 20th Century’s “Catskills of Connecticut”. At least seven major hotels thrived including the Broadway House, owned by Abraham and Rose Jaffe, Harris Cohen’s Fairview House, Julius Sultan’s Hilltop Lodge, Schwartz’s Kessler’s Horowitz’s and Barnett Dember’s. The tourist industry boomed throughout the 1930s.

Postwar growth in neighboring towns led to a new era for Colchester. A new generation of suburban dwellers found Colchester to be an excellent “bedroom” community due to an improved highway system and its proximity to Hartford, Middletown and the Norwich/New London areas.  During the 1950s the beach traffic brought many through Colchester to their favorite stops including Harry’s, the Colchester Bakery and Levine’s Coat Shop. The Route 2 by-pass of the town was completed in the 1960s. But for those who did not just pass through, Colchester’s dedication to the public school system, its acceptance of all peoples and its quality of life increased its population to 7,761 by 1980. Today, over 300 years after the settling of Colchester, the population has grown to over 16,000.

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COLCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2014 CALENDARS 

Sons of Daniel Boone 1920
Our 2014 calendars are now available for only $12 and make great holiday gifts. 
 These unique calendars feature rare images of Colchester from 1870-1943.  Calendars are available at the Cragin Memorial Library, Tim’s Bistro, Copies Plus, the Colchester Historical Society Museum, Nathan Liverant and Son or by calling; 860 608-2911.  

EARL HOLMES: CAPTURING COLCHESTER IN PHOTOGRAPHS AND MOVIES

The Colchester Historical Society Museum hosts an exhibit of rare photographs of Colchester captured by local resident and pharmacist, Earl Holmes. In his early 1920′s photographs, Holmes recorded not only everyday life in the center of town, but rare images of the first paving of South Main Street.  His unique images depict the machinery and process used to pave the dirt road for the first time.

Holmes’ pharmacy, located in the center of Colchester, gave him a prime vantage point to capture the local residents, the change of seasons and the character of the 1920′s.  In addition to Holmes’ photographs, the Colchester Historical Society will be featuring his films, shot in the early 1930′s.  Join us on this unique journey back in time.  Visit the Colchester Historical Society Museum at 12 Linwood Avenue (adjacent to the Cragin Memorial Library).  Parking behind the library.  The exhibit continues through 2014.

Stanley Moroch

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of one of our founders and dear friend, Stanley Moroch. The Colchester Historical Society exists and thrived because of the selfless dedication of Stanley and his late wife, Bessie. Everyone who knew Stanley, loved him (and EVERYONE knew Stanley!). There was so much to love. He was the most hardworking, dedicated, unselfish and beloved human we will know. Colchester is a better place because of Stanley. We will miss him greatly.

 

 

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