Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Inter-family Marriage in our Church

My wife and I began attending church at Bethel Bible Fellowship Church in Emmaus, PA in 1976 – about a year after moving to Pennsylvania. It wasn’t too long before I became aware of the fact that a number of the members of the church were related to each other. I’m a pretty detail-oriented individual, so I began to catalog all the relationships I discovered in my head.

Perhaps a year later I jokingly criticized the then pastor, Harvey Fritz, about nepotism for his having hired a relative as his church secretary. The church secretary was Ardella Bray. He looked at me puzzled and said, “Ardella’s not my relative.” I replied, “Yes, she is – she’s your son-in-law’s cousin’s mother-in-law’s cousin!”

Let me unpack that rather complex relationship. Pastor Fritz’s daughter, Becky, married Rich Kauffman. One of Rich’s many cousins in the church was Bill Schlonecker. Bill had married Pat Wentz, and her mother was Orpha Wentz. Orpha’s cousin was Ardella Bray.

At the time I estimated that between a third and a half of the church members were related to one another in some fashion. Since that time nearly 40 years ago the church has grown and the percentage has dropped. But as young people grow up and get married, there are constantly new family relationships being established as well. So, as best I can from my memory, let me document all the families that are related to one another in one giant spider web.

The center of the web is the Kauffman family. Forty years ago, the family patriarch was Edgar Kauffman who was still living. He and several of his children were members. Edgar and all but one of his children have since passed on, but their legacy still remains. Below are listed all the families and their relationship – either directly to the Kauffman family, or to others in the list. For convenience I have listed the families in alphabetical order as there are so many of them.

Each of the family groups may have one or more current families in it as male children in that family have gotten married and started families of their own (for example, Davies family includes Bob & Peg, Larry & Michelle, Todd & Deb). Also, this does not mean that everyone in the church with that last name is part of this family group (for example, Tom Kuhns is not related to Mark and Jeff Kuhns who are brothers). Finally, some of the individuals listed have either passed on, or are no longer living in the Lehigh Valley, but their offspring or relatives are still part of Bethel).

Bednar – Sarah Bednar’s maiden name is Behnke
Behnke – Adam Behnke married the step-granddaughter of Vivian Kuhns/Foster-Biddle
Blackman - Terry Blackman's maiden name was Sell
Branning - Gloria is a niece of Frieda Howerter
Bray – Ardella Bray is a cousin to Orpha Wentz
Brobst - Raymond Brobst married Florence Delong
Bruder - Bettie Bruder's son is Gary Snydeman (former husband of Deb Snydeman)
Christman - Matthew Christman is a 6th cousin of Arlene Shollenberger/Helen Nyemscek/etc.
Cole – Mary Jane Cole’s maiden name is Kauffman
Davies – Peg Davies is a cousin to Nancy Hilbert
Delong – Karen Delong’s maiden name is Schlonecker
Diehl – June Diehl is the sister of Ardella Bray
Fitting - Jennie's grandmother was Edna Gehman, a 4th cousin of Ruth [Gehman] Hilbert
Fleming – Kay Fleming’s maiden name is Schlonecker
Frederick - Linda Frederick married Gerald Seibert
Fritz – Becky Fritz married Richard Kauffman
Harley - Dorothy Harley's maiden name was Brobst
Hause - Jeannie Hause's maiden name was Sell
Henry -- Margaret [Miller] Henry's maiden name was Miller[2]
Heyer – Chrissy Heyer married Mike Kauffman
Hilbert – Donna Hilbert married Steve Kauffman; Cheryl Hilbert married Dave Wigfield
Houseknecht - Charles Houseknecht's sister-in-law was a third cousin of Margaret [Miller] Henry
Howerter - Frieda Howerter is the second cousin of Leonard Hilbert
Karch - Cindy Karch is the sister of Andy Miller
Kuhns – Vivian Kuhns’ maiden name was Kauffman
Lafaver - Kim Lafaver's maiden name was Sell
Love – Bethany Love is the granddaughter of June Diehl
Measler - Lori Measler's maiden name was Shoemaker
Mengel – Marge Mengel’s maiden name was Kauffman
Miller - Andy Miller's 6th cousin was Raymond Brobst
Miller[2] -- Ray Miller's cousin is Gerald Schlonecker
Nyemscek - Helen Nyemscek's aunt is married to Gerald Schlonecker's uncle, Kelly Nyemscek's maiden name is Schlonecker
Plarr - Rose Plarr's maiden name was Miller[2]
Redfield - Michelle Redfield's maiden name is Reynolds
Reynolds - Sue Reynolds' maiden name is Nyemscek
Russell - Kim Russell married Matthew Christman, Alan Russell is a 7th cousin of Bob Davies
Schaeffer – Sally Schaeffer’s maiden name is Kauffman
Schantz - Glenn Schantz is a cousin of Andrea [Schantz] Bray
Schlonecker – Dolly Schlonecker’ maiden name is Kauffman (she is the last of the surviving children of Edgar Kauffman)
Schoen – Denise Schoen married Chico Schlonecker
Shoemaker - Marlene Shoemaker's maiden name is Houseknecht
Shollenberger - Arlene Shollenberger's aunt is married to Gerald Schlonecker's uncle
Seibert - Lisa Delong's maiden name was Seibert
Sell - Dolores Sell's maiden name is Houseknecht
Snydeman – Deb Snydeman’s maiden name is Schaeffer
Stortz – Lillian Stortz’s maiden name was Kauffman
Stortz - Jennie Stortz's mother was Lillian Christman
Wentz – Pat Wentz married Bill Schlonecker
Wigfield – Liz Wigfield married Jeff Kuhns
Zikanovi - Melissa Zikanova's maiden name was Hause

The members of these families who are currently attending the church number approximately 100, or about 15% of the current attendees. Since these families are among those who have been around for many years and they are more apt to be church members, they also represent about 20% of the church membership. This is less than 40 years ago, but still a significant number.

There are other family groups that are not [yet?] connected to the Kauffman “web”:
Hoffman, Atkins, Burkhardt

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wolcott History – Farmingbury Part 3 – Early Settlers Research

Using modern Internet-based tools, I have done some further analysis of each of the previously mentioned families who supposedly settled in 1732 or before and found the following for each family and suggested year:

Thomas Upson (1732) – In the “History of Waterbury, Connecticut” we find the following: “In Feb. 1732-3, Thomas Upson sold out to Jonathan Baldwin for £150 money, the property being described as "three and a half acres of land with a house and barn, &c. He then removed to Farmington, afterwards Southington, and now the eastern part of Wolcott, (Southington Mountain.)”  This is independent confirmation for a date of either 1732 or 1733 as being correct.

Joseph Preston (pre-1750) – The “History of New Haven County, Connecticut” gives an alternate wording to the one from the one mentioned above and says, “His house stood on the twenty-rod highway on the mountain, and was built by Joseph Preston.” This might mean that Joseph Preston did not reside in that house previously, but was only the carpenter who built it.  There is no mention of Joseph Preston being a resident of the area in the prior two decades, so even if he had built the home prior to 1750, it would not have been much before.

Thomas Judd (1690) – Orcutt makes no mention of Thomas Judd, although it does refer to “Judd’s Hill” as a place.  In the Commemorative Biographical Record of Hartford County (written in 1901) a biography of Thomas Judd records, “known as Deacon Thomas Judd, of Waterbury, b. 1662, lived on Cole street, near East Main, Waterbury. In 1732-33 he moved to Wolcott (then called Farmingbury), where ‘Judd’s Hill’ is named for him.” It also lists his daughter “Rachel [not Ruth], b. 1694, d. July 13, 1750, m. Thomas Upson.” This account appears to have some errors in it as the History of Waterbury says that it was Thomas Upson who “lived on Cole street, near East Main” who married Rachel and moved in 1732-3.

In the History of Waterbury, we find the following: “At the latter date [January 29, 1690], he received twenty acres of upland and other lands, with the customary provision, that he build a house and comply with the conditions of the articles.” He apparently did so, however, he was also “a resident of Waterbury from the latter part of 1685 to May, 1694, in something like ‘a steady way.’” Thus, it appears that he did build a house/log cabin in 1690, but mostly as a formality and did not “settle” in it as one typically would use the term.  In 1694 he was again permanently in Waterbury, was appointed a deacon in the church, and his daughter Rachel was born in Waterbury that year. She married Thomas Upson in 1719, and it wasn’t until 1732 that she and he removed to Farmingbury as reported above.

This was very difficult research to do, as there were three Thomas Judds living in Waterbury, two of them had daughters named Rachel. And there was a third Rachel whose father was William Judd.

Thus, there appear to be three errors in the 175th anniversary report: (1) that Thomas Upson married Ruth Judd (it was Rachel), and (2) that she had remained in the home of her father when he had removed to Waterbury (she would have lived with her husband at his home in Waterbury from 1719 until 1732), and (3) that Thomas Judd had come up the mountain from Southington to build his log cabin (as he was active in Waterbury politics for several years prior to that).

Thus, while it appears to be confirmed that Thomas built a log cabin in the area in 1690, it was more a formality to comply with the terms of his being given the land. He was not a “settler” as he was active in Waterbury throughout this entire period.

Deacon Josiah Rogers (1724) – Historical records confirm that Josiah was from Branford.  In addition, Connecticut birth records also indicate that his son, also named Josiah, was born in Branford in 1733.  Thus while Josiah, the father, may have purchased the land in 1724, it seems that did not make his home here until sometime later. Also, note that the History of Waterbury records that Josiah was still living in Branford when he sold some property to John Alcox in 1731.

Ebenezer Wakelee (1727) – Orcutt says, he "was born in Stratford, Conn, where his father, James, resided. He came to Wolcott and married Elizabeth Nichols of Waterbury, and settled on land purchased by his father, it being several hundred acres. He was probably the first settler in that part of Wolcott, called, originally, the 'Big Plains'. The residence of the late Bement J. Wakelee is the old homestead." However, since all records in ancestry.com give a date of birth for him as 1718 and a date of marriage of 1740, it is unlikely that he was residing here in 1727 when he would have only been nine years of age.  A date at least 10 years later is much more likely.

Jacob Benson (1729) – Although Orcutt makes no mention of Jacob, he does reference “Benson’s Hill” as the name of the hill on which the current town center is located. In “The Town and City of Waterbury, Connecticut, from the Aboriginal Period to the Year Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-five” published in 1896, we find the following in the list of new taxpayers for December 1729, “…Jacob Benson, who must have had a family, for he paid a tax for three persons, and may have been the first settler on Wolcott Hill, as that was early known as Benson’s hill…”  This gives independent confirmation of him being a settler in 1729.

John Alcox (1731) – There has never been a controversy about John Alcox moving to Wolcott in March 1731. All the sources mentioned are in accord on this. His son, also John, was born here in December of that same year. 

Isaac Hopkins (1732) – Besides the prior confirmation from the History of Waterbury, we know that he married in September, 1732, so making his new home in Wolcott in 1732 seems pretty likely.

Wolcott History – Farmingbury Part 2 – Early Settlers

Since Wolcott did not exist as a distinct geographic entity prior to its incorporation in 1796, it’s also difficult to determine who lived there.  As Orcutt notes,

The land in Wolcott, belonging as it did originally to the towns of Farmington and Waterbury, was "taken up" largely by the inhabitants of those towns some years before any persons made their residence on these lands, and hence the Waterbury part of Wolcott was, much of it, owned by Waterbury people, and was settled largely by the people of that town, while the Farmington part was "taken up" by the people of that place, and many of the early residents were from that town, including Southington, a few coming from Wallingford.

Thus, part of the difficulty in determining when individuals settled in Wolcott is that they did not move at the time they may have purchased property there, but instead many of the property records are associated with these individuals “taking up” the land but continuing to live in Waterbury, Farmington, Wallingford, etc. until a later date.

Orcutt, in his book (which is several hundred pages), even titled the book “History of the Town of Wolcott (Connecticut) from 1731 to 1874…” and thus assigned the first settler (John Alcox) to the year 1731, when that may not have actually been the case. He stated:

The earliest record of the purchase of land in this part of Wolcott [the Farmington side] that I have seen, except that of Mr. Thomas Upson, in 1732, is that by Lieutenant Heman Hall, on March 12th, 1750, on the long lot, number fifty-six; but on this farm was then a dwelling house, in which Mr. Joseph Preston was probably residing. …

In Waterbury part, Mr. John Alcox, of New Haven, was the first resident, removing hither in March, 1731. In the autumn of the same year Mr. Isaac Hopkins purchased the farm in the valley east of Chestnut Hill, and probably made it his residence the next year, 1732, the year that he was married, and on this farm he resided until his death. Mr. Benjamin Harrison was living on Benson Hill, now Wolcott Center, in 1739, when he purchased land adjoining "his own land," according to the reading of the deeds. He purchased one hundred and eleven acres of land of Stephen Hopkins, jr., of Waterbury, deeded July 2, 1737, which land joined on Isaac Hopkins' land. By the reading of some of Mr. Harrison's deeds it appears that other families had resided or were residing in that portion of the town before he removed there.

Another look at the earlier settlers (done for the 175th anniversary of the town) worded it this way:

Thomas Judd was the earliest known settler to come to what is now known as Wolcott, traveling up Southington Mt. to build his log cabin Circa 1690, a few rods east of the Kings Highway in the vicinity of today’s location of Farview Avenue. The rise in ground from what is now known as Meriden Road was commonly known in those days as Judd’s Hill. Thomas removed to Waterbury and his daughter Ruth, who married Thomas Upson, continued to reside in the homestead. Another early land holder on the west side of town was Deacon Josiah Rogers, who came to the Wolcott area from North Branford and was settled by 1724. Jacob Benson was known to live on “the Hill” in 1729 at what has now become the Wolcott Center. In the spring of 1731 John Alcocke (Alcock, Alcocks, Alcox, Alcott) purchased a tract of land 117-1//2 acres in size from Deacon Rogers.

This was later rewritten as:

In 1690 Thomas Judd came up Southington Mountain and built a log home on what became known as Judd’s Hill where Farview Avenue and Meriden Road are today.  It wasn’t until 1724 that Deacon Josiah Rogers traveled from North Branford and settled on the western side of town.  In 1727 Ebenezer Wakelee acquired a large parcel of land in the “great plains” region of town on the Waterbury/Wolcott line.  By 1729 Jacob Benson inhabited “the Hill” where Wolcott center was later established.  In the spring of 1731, John Alcocke (Alcott) of New Haven purchased 117.5 acres of land from Deacon Rogers in the western section of town.  He built a house where his wife, Deborah gave birth in the same year to a son, John who was the first individual of European decent to be born in our town.  In 1732 Isaac Hopkins and his family settled a large tract of land in the valley just east of Chestnut Hill.

The book, “The History of Waterbury, Connecticut” published in 1858, (https://archive.org/stream/historyofwaterbu00bron/historyofwaterbu00bron_djvu.txt) records the following:

So far as ascertained, the first settler within the limits of present Wolcott was John Alcock of New Haven. He bought, March 31, 1731, of Josiah Rogers of Branford, for £82, 117 acres of land on Spindle Hill, described as in the northeast quarter near Ash Swamp or Potuckco's Ring, (in the northwest part of the present town of Wolcott,) on which he settled with a young family in the same year. He was admitted as an inhabitant, Dec. 13, 1731. In subsequent years, he added largely to his landed estate. After Alcock, Isaac Hopkins, (tanner,) Thomas Welton, Eliakim Welton, Roger Prichard, Joseph Beach, Eldad Mix, Shadrick Benham, Abiel Roberts and others became settlers.

I’ve done some detailed research into the men/families mentioned above.  If you want to see that research, check out Part 3 of this blog entry.  A synopsis is as follows:

Thomas Upson (1732) – confirmed
Joseph Preston (pre-1750) – not likely
Thomas Judd (1690) – not a settler in the typical sense, although did own land and a “house” in the area
Deacon Josiah Rogers (1724) – not until after 1733
Ebenezer Wakelee (1727) – more likely late 1730s
Jacob Benson (1729) – confirmed
John Alcox/Alcocke/Alcott (1731) – confirmed
Isaac Hopkins (1732) – confirmed

Thus, John Alcox may not have been the first settler in what is now Wolcott as Jacob Benson may have preceded him by two years.  However, it is still interesting that all the books on the history of the area do not mention Jacob Benson.

Wolcott History – Farmingbury Part 1 – The Bound Line

As anyone familiar with the history of Wolcott knows, Wolcott was incorporated in 1796 and it took the name Wolcott from the then Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, Oliver Wolcott, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the incorporation.  Before then it was known as Farmingbury as it was partly in Farmington and partly in Waterbury.

The boundaries of those two other places were not as we know them today.  Farmington extended many miles farther south and west than it does today and Waterbury extended farther north.  Farmington was incorporated in 1645 and Waterbury in 1686. The following is taken from the history of Southington (http://www.southington.org/content/17218/).

Although Southington was formally established as a town separate from Farmington in 1779, its roots go back to a much earlier time. Samuel Woodruff moved from Farmington to the area then known as “Panthorne.” The settlement grew, prospered, and came to be known as “South Farmington” and then later, the shortened version, “Southington.”

So, in fact, by the time the petition to create a separate Wolcott was submitted, the petition was between Southington and Waterbury, not Farmington and Waterbury.  The parts of Farmington to the north of Wolcott were separated off into Bristol (1785), and Burlington (1806).

The boundary between Farmington and Waterbury was known as the “bound line”, from which the current Boundline Road was derived.  The bound line was a cleared path through the wilderness the entire length of the boundary between these two towns.  How long you might ask – well, certainly much longer than you might think.  It was actually about 17 miles long.  You can trace it on a map today by drawing a straight line.  It starts on Meriden Road slightly to the west of where Todd Road comes out, goes straight up Lewis Avenue, through the woods, follows the N-S portion of Central Avenue where it jogs left then right, continues through the woods and follows Old Boundline Road past the end of Pleasant Street, through the woods again across the end of Scovill Reservoir (that section was displaced when the reservoir was built in 1917), then along the current Boundline Road (ignoring the current zigs and zags around the center of town), crosses Route 69 and continuing up Boundline Road Extension, along a wood path that comes out next to the Krystal Gardens (the former Knights of Columbus), through the woods again to where Wolcott has a slight jog in its northern edge, and continuing along the western boundary of Bristol and then Burlington until that boundary (the edge of Hartford County) ends. Other sections of current road that were built along this line include Overlook Road to the east of Fall Mountain Lake and Town Line Road in Bristol.  I’ve drawn a straight line using Google Earth and it’s amazing how all these sections line up.

On an aerial survey from 1934 (http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/mash_up/1934.html), you can still see the cleared sections above the Wolcott/Bristol boundary.

The land to the east of the “bound line” were laid out in long lots.  Orcutt, in his seminal book, “History of the Town of Wolcott (Connecticut) from 1731 to 1874, with an account of the Centenary Meeting, September 10th and 11th 1873; and with the Genealogies of the Families of the Town” describes it as follows:

The Farmington part was laid into "long lots," being in three tiers, of one mile each. The first tier joined the Waterbury, or the "bound line," the second lay east of the first, and the third east of the second, extending to the foot of Southington Mountain. The whole length of each "long lot" is said (in some of the deeds) to have been three miles. The lots were numbered from north to south, and must have commenced near the northern boundary of Wolcott.

The land to the west of the “bound line” were not so regularly defined. References to property and residences in this part of town would be found in the Waterbury tax records, etc.  Orcutt elsewhere notes that these residents would be “residing in East Branch (afterwards Wolcott), three miles or more from the Meeting House [in Waterbury]”.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wolcott History – A Chronology of Wolcott

Recently someone posted in the “You know you’re from Wolcott, CT if…” group a graph of the population of Wolcott based on census records from the town’s founding in 1796 to 2010. (See http://connecticuthistory.org/over-time-wolcotts-historical-population/). This was great information and prompted me to produce this new blog entry. So these are the annotations to go along with that graph.

Pre-1796 - Settlement

The first settler to make his home in Wolcott (then called Farmingbury) was probably Jacob Benson who settled on “Benson’s Hill” (where the center of Wolcott now is) in 1729. John Alcox, along with his wife Deborah, and his young daughter, Lydia, settled in the Spindle Hill area in March 1731. While it would be 65 years before the incorporation into Wolcott, that doesn’t mean that little was going on. There were many things required that led up to this incorporation.

From this initial “population” of only a few individuals, many more people either moved into the area or were born into these families. Families like the Upson, Thomas, Frisbie, Judd, Wakelee, and others were among them.  By the end of this period the population numbered approximately 1000 (948 in the 1800 census).

One of the first things that the settlers did was to establish a new parish of the Congregational Church – previously they were part of the Waterbury parish. In 1773 the money was raised to build a new church so that they had their own. Also, the families needed to provide for those individuals who died in town. In 1764 the Center/Edgewood Cemetery was formed, followed shortly thereafter by the Southeast Cemetery (1772), and the Pike’s Hill Cemetery (1774). Schools were also formed, although in the beginning they were in people’s homes.

The Farmingbury Training Band, the forerunner of the Mattatuck Drum Band, was begun in 1767. It is the oldest continuously active fife and drum band in the country.

The initial request to the Connecticut legislature to recognize this new town was made in 1770, but requests were denied each time until the final granting of incorporation in 1796, when the town was named Wolcott after the lieutenant governor, Oliver Wolcott, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the incorporation.

1796-1810 - Initial Growth

For the next decade or so, things continued in a positive fashion. However, the town fathers did not always manage it well. Two new cemeteries were added: Northeast Burying Ground (1805) and Southwest Burying Ground (1807). Sawmills and other industry in town was expanding.

Seth Thomas, who had been born in Wolcott in 1785, began making clocks shortly after the turn of the century. However, a few years later he asked the town fathers to construct a road from where he wanted to build a clock factory (on the Mad River near the current intersection of Route 69 and Center Street) to the large town of Cheshire to the east. The town fathers rejected his request, so in 1807 Seth instead started a factory in another town (the current town of Thomaston). This conservatism may have been the cause of the start of a decline in population.

1810-1930 - Decline and Stagnation

From its high in 1810 (952), the population of the town began a slow decline, eventually bottoming out at fewer than 500 (491) in 1870. It did not reach 1000 in population again until 1930. During this long period little of note happened, with perhaps one exception.

In the late 1860s, following the Civil War, there was a resurgence in industry in Waterbury. In order to power their factories, there was a need for consistent water power. A good source of this water power was the water flowing down the Mad River and other streams in Wolcott. In 1874, the reservoirs at Cedar Lake, Chestnut Hill Reservoir, and Hitchcock Lake were created by the construction of dams. In the 1880s a similar dam was built to form the Southington Reservoir #2. The Scovill Reservoir was added in 1917.

Also, in 1874, Samuel Orcutt, the then pastor of the church on the green, wrote his seminal book on the history of Wolcott. (As an interesting historical note, the origin of the name “Woodtick”, the legend behind Potuccos Ring Road, and the story Jack’s Cave can be found in his book.)

1930-1939 - Growth Begins

200 years after the first settlers, and 130+ years after incorporation, Wolcott was still a very small town. But that was about to change. In 1935, a new road (now called Route 69) was built that ran from Waterbury, all the way through Wolcott, and into Bristol. This road was built with steam-powered equipment and was the first paved road through town. The only other paved road was Meriden Road which ran along the southern border of town. All the other roads in town were gravel or stone and they were only graded in the early spring and late fall. There were also no snow plows to keep them open in the winter. The town’s first snowplow began operation in 1936.

This new road added easy accessibility to people working in either Waterbury or Bristol and opened up the town to a significant growth spurt, nearly doubling the population by the end of the decade.

1940-1949 - Growth Continues

By 1940 the population was about 1800 with most of this growth taking place in the latter part of the previous decade. But this was only the start of the upward curve.

The end of World War II in 1945 saw all the servicemen coming back from overseas and the start of the baby boom (1946-1964). Many of these men were getting married and wanting to buy a home and start a family. With jobs available at the many brass mills in Waterbury, what better place to do so than Wolcott, with the relatively short commute down Route 69.

The one room schools in Wolcott were quickly going to be overwhelmed and the first of the new schools, Alcott School, was built in 1945. A planning committee began thinking of other new schools which would also be needed.

By the end of the decade, the population had once again doubled to about 3500.

1950-1970 - Population Explosion

As the baby boom continued through 1964, so did the growth in the population of Wolcott. (The term “bedroom community” has more than one meaning.) Over this period the population more than tripled from 3,500 to 12,500. New tracts of homes were also added such as the maze of streets between Beach Road and Lyman Road that was built in the early 1950s.

New schools were also added an accelerating pace. Frisbie School opened its doors in 1950, followed by Wolcott High School in 1958 (prior to that high school age children took the bus to Waterbury), Wakelee School in 1960, and Tyrrell School in 1964. Some of these schools had major additions as well, especially the high school as the first of the baby boomers reached high school age.

Other indications of the town “coming of age” were (1) getting its own post office (previously, residents in the northern part of town received their mail from Bristol and in the southern part of town from Waterbury), (2) getting its own phone exchange (also previously from Bristol or Waterbury and a long-distance call from one part of town to the other), and (3) having its own Catholic Church parish with the building of St. Pius in 1955.

Another change late in this period was the change from the town being governed by selectmen to having a mayor/town council form of government. The growth in population necessitated this change.

1970-Present - The Town Matures

While the town continues to experience growth, it is not nearly as dizzying as in the past. During the period from 1970 to 2010 the population increased to 16,200 – about a 30% increase in 40 years. The first of the baby boomers are now of retirement age so the number of individuals over the age of 65 is increasing.

Next year Wolcott will be 220 years old, and in only 16 years it will have been 300 years since John Alcox and his family settled in the wilderness of Farmingbury. Those of us who have family roots back to the Alcox family and others from the town's beginning can be proud of our heritage and how the town has shaped us, just as we have helped to shape the town.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wolcott History – Swimming in Wolcott

Having covered roads in biking and trails in hiking, it’s only fitting that I finish this series of my blog with swimming. While most of the bodies of water in town have been created by dams across streams of various sizes, we still are blessed with several of them. I’d like to recount all the places that I swam during my growing up years – both the official swimming places and a few not so official.

The place that I swam most often, and which was the closest to us, was Playland on the southern end of Cedar Lake. It was only a half mile from our house and just across the dam on North Street. That was where most of us in that part of town learned how to swim. Entrance was about $.15 or so for as long as you wanted to stay. They had a little snack shack, but I seldom got anything there as that was beyond my usual budget. There was a raft anchored partway across that narrow section of lake just behind the dam itself.

There was one memorable occasion while I was taking my Red Cross lifesaving badge. The instructor had a bunch of gold-painted rocks which she would drop off the raft and we had to do a surface dive, get to the bottom and retrieve the rock. She had done so several times off the side of the raft toward the shore where it was perhaps 8-10’ deep and sandy bottom, then she decided to try it off the back side of the raft once. However, she didn’t realize that the sand ended where the raft was and that it was several feet deeper off the back side of the raft. Everyone else who tried to get down and retrieve it came up gasping for air as it was too deep, so I decided to give it a try. I’m not sure how deep it was, but it was certainly the deepest I’d ever gone and my ears were popping. However, as I usually swim with my eyes open I was able to locate the rock and push off of the mucky bottom to get myself back to the surface.

When I was a bit older a new beach opened up at the other end of Cedar Lake – known as Kory’s Beach. While that is technically over the line into Bristol, and slightly over a mile from our house, it was a much bigger and nicer beach. However we didn’t go there very often as it was also more expensive to get in. Both Playland and Kory’s Beach are now history and there are no swimming places left on the lake – it’s all privately owned.

The second lake to have a swimming beach was Chestnut Hill Reservoir. The beach was part of a private club that owned the property just across the causeway between the two sections of water. I only swam there once or twice as part of a large group that rented it for the day. A memorable event there was as I was making my way up the path toward the changing rooms someone in front of me screamed. Sunning himself on the path between the beach and the changing rooms was a coiled up copperhead! That was not a safe situation! I stayed to keep my eye on it in case it decided to slither off, and an older kid went around it and secured a cinder block from near the changing rooms. Staying a safe distance away, he proceeded to hurl the block at it several times until it was obviously dead. Then we picked it up with a long stick (just in case) and disposed of it. That beach is also now gone!

The third lake was Scovill Reservoir which had a large swimming area and picnic table next to the lower part between the two dams. At the time it was owned by the Scovill Employees Recreation Association, but as Scovill’s no longer exists it’s now owned by the Town of Wolcott. We went here a few times, especially after Playland closed. At the time it had two rafts (so you could swim from one to the other), and two tall metal slides.

The final swimming place was on Hitchcock Lake where the official “town beach” was located at the bottom of Mattatuck Avenue. It was only 50’ wide, but the bottom was sandy and there were a couple of large rocks in the lake that were below water level. If you knew where they were located, you could swim out to them and stand on the even though the water was over your head that far out. There was no place to park, so we’d park on Fairview Ave. and walk down Mattatuck Ave. to the beach. Google Maps shows that there is still a beach here, but I’m not sure if it’s open or not.

I’d like to finish by noting a couple of other non-official places where I went swimming once or twice:
·         The Jacklin Club on Durham Mill Pond straddles the Wolcott-Bristol line. Although it’s a private club and more a fishing place than one for swimming, I did go in once when I was in a group that rented the club for a picnic.
·         I swam at two friends homes who had property on Cedar Lake – one on Cedar Point Road and one on Averyll Ave.
·         When with a group of Boy Scouts we hiked down to the bottom of Coe’s property on Coe Road and swam in the upper part of Scovill Reservoir.
·         My aunt and uncle had a half-lot on the upper part of Hitchcock Lake where he had a dock suitable for putting his rowboat on the lake for fishing. Besides the dock there was an area suitable for a picnic. While it wasn’t designed for swimming at that part of the lake, I did get in the water once.

I swam at lakes in other parts of Connecticut from time to time – Bantam Lake where the Appalachian Mountain Club had a cabin, Candlewood Lake, Lake Compounce, Lake Quassapaug, Long Meadow Pond in Bethlehem, and Black Rock Pond in Thomaston. But the lakes of Wolcott were the most significant and I enjoyed all my swimming – both at the official beaches and the unofficial ones.

Wolcott History – Biking in Wolcott

I was born in 1948. When I was growing up in Wolcott in the 1950s and early 1960s the terms “helicopter parenting” had not yet been invented, smart phones and computer games were the stuff of science fiction, and people didn’t get paranoid about their kids being snatched by strangers. So it was a society where children played outside whenever possible, invented new games that usually had a lot of physical activity, and everyone’s mother kept an eye out for whomever happened to be playing near their home that day. In my earlier years, my activities were usually within a block or so of our house (although that included all the roaming in the woods behind them). As I got older, my world expanded and I would sometimes walk up to friend’s houses that were farther away. That could mean to see Jimmy Lafrance and Gary Booker up by Cedar Lake, Jay Piekel down Route 69, Roger Norton up on Beecher Rd, or the Wilsons down Woodtick Rd. All these were within a mile of home. But my world got much bigger once I bought my first bicycle.

Now, instead of walking 20 minutes to go to a place only a mile away, I could travel many times farther in those same 20 minutes. Essentially, the entire town of Wolcott was within easy travel distance. I still spent time with those same school friends, but other friends were now equally easy to visit. So I would bike down to see Don Thirkelson on Center St (about 2.5 miles), or others ever farther away. When I got into 8th grade and we were at the high school with others from all over town, instead of just those from the north end at Alcott School, I added destinations that were even farther away.

Eventually I made it my goal to bike over every mile of road in the entire town (some 20+ square miles). While there were not as many roads back in the early 60s as there are today, there were still a lot of miles to cover. I don’t recall when I reached that milestone, but there were no roads in Wolcott that I did not know intimately – you can see a lot more from the seat of a bicycle sailing quietly along than you can from the inside of a car with a noisy engine propelling you!

I made it a point to know where every one of my classmates lived and went by their home at one point or another. From Lancewood Lane (Marie Elena Lanosa), to Garrigus Court (my cousin Bruce Hill), to Catering Road (Jan Lindsay), I knew every nook and cranny in town. I went the full length of every dead end street (Finch Road, Midwood Avenue), around every looping road (Pineridge Drive), and to the far corners of the town (Allentown Road, County Road, Grilley Road). Nothing was beyond my reach.

I also made occasional visits to my relatives in town or out of town (my Aunt Vi and Uncle Tony on Midwood Road, my grandparents on East Main Street in Waterbury, and even my Aunt Trudy and Uncle Dick in Prospect (although the trek up Summit Road was a bummer)). On a few occasions I went down the hill into Bristol, including a heart-stopping ride down Willis Street, and circumnavigated Cedar Lake by going down into Bristol and coming back via Witches Rock Road.

Wolcott is full of hills, and living in the north end of town meant that it was mostly downhill to everywhere else (and uphill on the way home). That meant some nice easy coasting down the hills but leg aching uphill climbs on the way home (I only had a one-speed bike). When coasting down Woodtick Road, there was one problem I had to deal with. The Atwood’s (Clarence Atwood) owned a home right in the middle of the hill and at the time had a dog that did not take kindly to bicycles riding by. He would come out snarling and biting at your feet, forcing you to dismount and putting the bicycle between you and him until you had walked past their property. That was a bit of a bummer as you lost all the momentum of coasting down the hill. So one day I decided I’d had enough and instead of wearing my sneakers I wore my heavy hiking boots. When he came at me that day, instead of dismounting I planted my boot firmly in his open mouth with a kick – he never bothered me again!

I used my bicycle all the way through high school, in fact I used to ride it back and forth to school in the fall and spring instead of taking the bus. It was only a little over two miles each way and I could park it alongside the auditorium where they had a [little used] bike rack. I even took it with me to college for my undergraduate years. I didn’t own a car until I was in graduate school.

Alas, the town has gotten bigger, and the speeds are definitely higher than they used to be. So it’s not as safe to use a bicycle as it used to be. And the pervading parenting style doesn’t allow kids the freedom that it used to. But if you live in town and still have access to a bicycle – get out and use it sometime. Feel the wind in your face, pedal down some of the dead-end roads, wave to the neighbors, enjoy yourself. You’ll be glad you did!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Honoring Our Nation’s Heroes

About six years ago, in the Spring of 2009, I approached a friend from church, Bob Kauffman, who was a WWII veteran and offered to help him take the many shorter papers he had written over the years and turn them into a book. We finished that project in the late summer and it was successful beyond what either of us could have imagined. But this blog is not about that book, rather about something else that happened because of it.

It was a few years later that I became aware of an effort to build “digital memorials” for each of the men in Bob’s unit, the 36th Armored Infantry Division (36AIR).  There were a few people working on it, primarily located in Europe. Each digital memorial would contain information about the individual (date of birth, date of death, where they were from, what unit they were in, rank and serial number, where they were buried, and where possible both a picture of the grave and a wartime picture of the individual). There were about 900 casualties in the 36AIR, so it was taking a while to locate all this information.

Initially I only helped find the needed information for the individuals in Bob’s book who had been killed during WWII. Then, realizing all the skills that I had in doing genealogy searching using ancestry.com would be useful in this work, I offered to help in a much larger capacity. So I requested a copy of the database (in the format of an excel workbook), so I could “fill in the missing information.” Over the next few weeks I put in perhaps 40-50 hours of research.

Not long after that, the group decided to expand from just researching the 36AIR, to the entire 3rd Armored Division (3AD), the “Spearhead Division.”  So from 900 casualties, our scope expanded to about 2500 individuals. 

While the number of people working on this project has remained relatively small, numbering no more than ten or so, we are a very devoted bunch of people. I have never met any of them face-to-face, but we have still become good friends, working on a common cause.

I have membership in three major research websites – in addition to ancestry.com, they include fold3.com (a database of military records), and newspapers.com (just what it sounds like). I use a combination of all three of these as well as carefully honed Internet searches. A really great find is when I can locate the headstone request – a document that a family member filled out requesting the government to pay for a standard headstone for the burial. This document contains almost everything we need with the exception of the pictures. But once we know the cemetery, we can often get a picture of the headstone. Pictures of individuals are found in either family trees in ancestry.com, newspaper articles about the individual, or sometimes by locating living relatives and seeing if they have such a picture.

And our work is not complete. We have a standing offer to any family member of someone who might have survived the war but who has since passed away to build a digital memorial for them as well. As an example, we have one for my friend Bob Kauffman who passed away in 2013.

This is a real labor of love. If you want to see the results of our work, you can check it out at http://www.36air-ad.com/. The group also maintains two pages on Facebook – just search for “The 3rd Armored Division during WWII” or “The US WWII 36th Armored Infantry Regiment”.

These are the fallen heroes of the “greatest generation,” who left the comforts of the US to participate in a far off war. They gave of themselves, and many times of their lives, in service both to their country and to mankind. May we always remember their sacrifice!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Genealogy Story – My Norman Ancestors

My mother’s maiden name is Pierpont and my father’s  (duh!) is Russell.  But the history of these two family names has some remarkable parallels which I have only recently discovered.

Norman Beginnings

Both of these names have their origins in northern France.  The area around Normandy had been settled by the Vikings in the early 900s, so the families there likely were of Viking origin.

The earliest that the Pierpont name has been traced is to Sir Hugh de Pierrepont who was born in the 900s.  He was the lord of a castle which had a stone bridge nearby which had been built by Charlemagne and from which the castle was named (Pierre=stone, pont=bridge).  The Chronicle of Flodoard refers to Castrum Petraepontis as an important place in 938.  You can find Saint-Saveur-de-Pierrepont in France today on the peninsula which juts out of the north side of France to the west of Normandy.  In 1066, Hugh’s son, Robert de Pierrepont, went to England with the army of William the Conqueror.

Around the same time, and not far away, there was another family (traced back to the 900’s as well), headed by Hugh Bertrand (born in 1012).  Hugh became lord of Barneville and le Rozel, thus making himself Hugh de Rozel (or de Roussel).  His castle was in le Rozel, France, a small village only 15 miles from the de Pierrepont castle.  Being in such close proximity, and both being lords of castles, it’s reasonable to conclude that the two lords knew each other.  Hugh also went to England with William the Conqueror.

Two families, two lords, two men travelling to England.

The English Years

Initially, both families settled in the southern coastal area of England.  They also both anglicized their names.

The de Roussel/Rozel family became the Russell family and settled near Dorset, in what is now called Kingston Russell, directly across the English Channel from their French home.  The de Pierrepont family became the Pierpont family and initially settled in Lewes, near Brighton, a bit farther to the east, then shortly moving to Wrentham, farther up the eastern coast.

Over time, both families also moved farther north.  The Russell family settled in Strensham (about halfway between Birmingham and Bristol).  The Pierpont family moved to Holme Pierrepont, near Nottingham, where they built their country manor house (which still exists).  Thus, both the Russell and Pierpont families still have English towns named after them.

Both families, also being upper class families, became involved in governmental affairs.  Several of the Russell family were knighted (becoming Sir ___ Russell), and served in parliament.  Several of the Pierpont family were also knighted (becoming Sir ___ Pierpont).  A few of them served as the Sheriff of Nottingham (which many may remember from the Robin Hood stories), and one was even killed in Sherwood Forest.

Two families, two place names in England, two knighted families.

Moving to America

After a several hundred years of being in England, a new continent across the Atlantic became known.  The English wanted to secure these new lands for themselves, and so many English families made the long journey to the “New World.”  The Russell and Pierpont families were no exception.  Both families participated in what was known as the “Great Migration.”  This term refers to the migration of English settlers, primarily Puritans to Massachusetts in the period 1620 to 1640.  They came in family groups (rather than isolated individuals) and were motivated chiefly by a quest for freedom to practice their Puritan religion.

The Russell family was headed by Robert Russell who arrived in 1640 and settled in Andover, MA.  The same year John Pierpont migrated and purchased land in Ipswich, MA.

Two families, having originally been only 15 miles apart, moved to England in the same year, also left England in the same year, and now are once again only 15 miles apart.

American Generations

Like most of the families who came to Boston in that time period, these two families began to spread and settle in other parts of New England.

Robert Russell’s grandson, also named Robert, moved from Andover, MA to Kent, NY, just to the west of the NY/CT border in the mid-1700s.  By the mid-1800s the family had moved just across the border to New Milford, CT.  It was there that my grandfather was born and married.  But in the 1920s he moved to Waterbury, CT as that was an industrial city that offered jobs during the depression.

John Pierpont’s son, James, got his religious education at Harvard and moved to New Haven, CT in the 1680s where he became the pastor of the Congregational Church there.  His descendants stayed in the New Haven area until 1781 when his great-grandson, Ezra, moved north to Prospect, CT, then in 1801 to Waterbury, CT.  The Pierpont family had large land holdings in Waterbury.

The Family Lines Join

In the 1940s my father was living with his grandparents in Waterbury.  He was attending the young adults group at a church just two blocks away, Mill Plain Union Church.  Also part of that young adults group were several members of the Pierpont family, including my mother, who lived less than two miles to the east.  That association led to my parents meeting and eventually marrying in 1946, following my father’s WWII service.

The two families, who had begun in northern France 1000 years prior and just 15 miles apart, who had moved to England in the same year, who had migrated to American in the same year where they were once again 15 miles apart, and via different paths had found themselves in the same city and less than two miles apart, were finally joined together.  What an amazing journey!