See also the New Milford Historical Society and the Gaylordsville Historical Society
Karen Aaker/Richard Kosier

The Greater New Milford Region is as embedded in American history as stitches are on a quilt. The oldest member of the region is the town of New Milford. New Milford was initiated by a company of 109 Milford residents who purchased the land from Chief Waramaug’s Potatuck Indian Tribe in 1703. hence the name New Milford.

1706 brought the first settler. Zachariah Ferris to New Milford, followed in 1707 by John Noble. his daughter Sarah and John Bostwick. Daniel Boardman was called in that same year to serve as the town’s first minister. The privileges of township were granted five years later in 1712. One of the country’s most influential figures of that century, Roger Sherman, is New Milford’s patriotic claim to fame. Mr. Sherman was the only individual to sign all of this nation’s founding documents (The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Articles of Association and the Constitution of the United States). While a resident, he represented New Milford as a Congressman and Senator. He was also the author of the famous Connecticut Compromise.

Yet further north the Village of Gaylordsville was being settled. In 1712, William Gaylord came to New Milford, Connecticut and worked as a surveyor. He did a lot of surveying for the State, laying out town boundary lines, and became impressed with the large areas of level land several miles north of the New Milford village. He began taking title to parcels of it, and soon owned a large part of the valley. In 1722, a highway, now known as Route 7, was laid out ‘by marked trees’ north from New Milford to the brook called Whemiseck. In 1725, Mr. Gaylord built this first house and started the Village of Gaylordsville. Many businesses were developed including saw mills, lumber yards, dairy farms, hotels and blacksmith shops. One remaining fully equipped blacksmith shop, Brown’s Forge, is a local historical site. In 1740 the Gaylord School was built and remained in operation for 227 years. When it closed in 1967, it was the last operating one-room school in the State of Connecticut. The Merwinsville Hotel is another historical site that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The industrial character was established with the building of the state’s first foundry in New Milford at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Several years of prosperity and growth fueled the erection of the Housatonic Bridge in 1837 followed in 1840 by the advent of rail transportation. New Milford’s and Gaylordsville’s industry and agriculture base were then able to be expanded to the coastal markets. The rail created access to the rolling green hills and forests located in the state’s interior to tourists seeking escape from the crowded summer shores. New Milford’s old “common land”, or the town center. evolved into a scenic “Village Green” and the region became known as the “Switzerland of America”.

While the rail was busy bringing people and goods to the area, there were other activities going on that only few were privy to. Between the years of 1843 and 1860, the Housatonic Valley was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Southern slaves trying to escape and abhorred living conditions were able to find safety at the Bostwick House on Grove Street and the Sabin House on Old Town Park Road. No one knows the number of people assisted by these safe havens, but for the runaways cared for by these humanitarians – this service helped guarantee safe passage to freedom.

Growth continued comfortably for the remainder of the century with the establishment of the telephone company and the power company whose resource dam is still located at Bull’s Bridge in the Gaylordsville section of New Milford. Smaller businesses opening during that time included a pottery works, wood finishing firm. and a stove and pipe company.

Catastrophe struck in the early part of the twentieth century when fire ravaged most of Railroad and Bank Streets. From the ashes. townspeople erected an even warmer New Milford, creating one of the finest Victorian village centers in the area which remains so to this day. All this is evident in the quaint village shops. cafes and gourmet restaurants that populate Main Street.

The area received dual amenities. when the Rocky River was dammed (1926) and the town of Jerusalem was flooded to create Candlewood Lake in 1928. The result was a new source of power through the hydroelectric plant that was created, along with the state’s largest body of water to be used for recreational activities. With six miles of shoreline touching five towns, the twelve-mile-long and up-to-two-mile-wide lake has earned the reputation of one of the finest, most attractive recreational properties in New England.

In 1958, the explosion of industry began with the opening of Kimberly-Clark’s paper products plant, bringing the 1960 population level to 8,318. The nearby city of Danbury saw Union Carbide come to town in 1980 while I.B.M. moved to York; but their employees were looking for a more family-oriented community to raise their children and New Milford was the town of choice. New Milford steadily grew to 20,000 residents through 1997. The population in that year was 25,200.

With a developed infrastructure, a great rail – freight system for industry, easy access to the interstate for commuting, location less than an hour and a half from New York City, Hartford, the Long Island Sound, and the Massachusetts border for anyone needing to travel, New Milford is positioned as a prime location.

Kent, nestled along the banks of the Housatonic, was the next to establish itself as a community in 1739. The character of this quaint town with its distinct architecture and history have become home to many artists and writers along with providing a haven for tourists.

The Seven Hearths home, built in 1751 by John Beebe Jr., was given to the Kent Historical Society in 1978 by artist George Laurence Nelson, proprietor of the dwelling since 1919. Now the Historical Society’s headquarters, its furnishings portray the various stages in Kent’s history. The home is also listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Another historical landmark that Kent holds fame to is The Sloane-Stanley Museum located at the site housing the remains of the Kent Iron Furnace which operated from 1826-1892 and in the Flanders Historic district. This site features an extensive collection of early American tools, paintings, and a reconstruction of artist and author Eric Sloane’s studio. Neither property holds quite the same historic significance as that of Bull’s Bridge, one of only two covered bridges functioning in the state. Bull’s Bridge served as a crossing point for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. It bridges local traffic to the New York State Line.

Connecticut is host to five Indian Reservations and Kent is one of the chosen towns. The Schaghticoke Indian reservation is the only reservation located in this region of the state.

Washington, incorporated in 1779, was named for it’s frequent visitor and the first president. It is actually a combination of five villages. Washington (Green), Washington Depot, Marbledale, Woodville and New Preston. For much of its history, the town’s primary industry was farming. The Aspetuck and Shepaug Rivers powered mills and factories, and quarrying and iron-making contributed to the town’s prosperity. Washington is home to the Institute for American Indian Studies which is devoted to the history and archaeology of the Northeastern Native American and features artifacts, special films and a recreated village. The Gunn Memorial Historical Museum was built in 1781 and is filled with historical artifacts, period pieces from local residences and offers changing exhibits for area townspeople. Washington Green and the immediate surrounding area form a National Register Historic District.

Warren was originally settled in 1737 as part of Kent. In 1786, Warren separated and became incorporated. The Congregational Church, first built in 1818, is still perched high on the hill overlooking the beautiful Warren countryside. The town’s name was chosen to honor the Revolutionary War hero Joseph Warren, who died in the Battle Of Bunker Hill.

Roxbury settled in 1710, but did not incorporate until 1796. The town was named for its incredibly rough terrain which has been a key factor in limiting commercial development in the area. Most of Roxbury’s past has been etched in the fanning industry. In the 19th century, Roxbury began building – to create ten sawmills, and five hat-making factories. A unique point of interest from Roxbury is the fact that the state mineral, Garnet, is mined here. This Garnet has been used in buildings throughout the New England area and in New York City.

A proud member of the Register of National Historic Places. Roxbury annually sponsors the Old Roxbury Days through the Historic Society to give residents and visitors a taste of their vintage past. The Roxbury Pickin’ and Fiddlin’ contest, also an annual event, draws musicians specializing in “Mountain Music” to compete in a variety of techniques for the creation of their own unique sound.

The town of Sherman, incorporated in 1802, is named for famed local patriot and national historian, Roger Sherman, the only signer of all of our nation’s founding documents. Mr. Sherman also served as a Connecticut Congressman and Senator, and he authored The Connecticut Compromise.

The popularity of The Sherman Players theater group brings crowds from far and wide to enjoy their productions at The Sherman Playhouse, originally a Greek revival style church built in the early 1830’s. The Playhouse produces performances comparable to Broadway-based productions in both quality and finesse on a regular basis without the congestion and travel to New York City. This small community has also become home to many writers including the poet, author and artist Henry George Fischer, Curator Emeritus of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum.

Bridgewater, the youngest member of the region, was actually first settled in 1722 but not incorporated until 1856. Early in the towns history, Stephen Goodyear operated the island which he owned, Goodyear’s Island (located in the river below Lover’s Leap), as a thriving trading post with the native Indians. Little known facts of historical significance to the town and, indeed, the country is the establishment of the first mail order business in the U.S. by C.B. Thompson of Bridgewater and the lift-off of the first lighter-than-air glider flight from the town. Despite all of these events, however. Bridgewater still stands firmly in the farming roots from whence it began. To experience the feeling of a century past one needs to do nothing more than stroll down Main Street through Bridgewater’s center to magically transform oneself into days gone by.

More than a taste of Bridgewater’s past can be found also at its Historical Society housed in two buildings, Peck House and Captain’s House. Captain Burnham, for which the town’s library and school are named, resided at Captain’s House as a youngster. At Peck House is a replica of the old country store in Bridgewater, and exhibits of farm tools and other artifacts – all of which were used or owned by residents of Bridgewater at different times in the town’s past. The Society is open on Saturdays and by appointment.

Pride is always inherent in New England and Bridgewater is no exception. Every year, the townspeople come together to display their spirit and community enthusiasm through The Bridgewater Country Fair, a popular old-fashioned country fair drawing crowds from all over.