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Taking A Peek At The Past

Evidence Remains Of Griswoldville Mills

By TRISH DAVIS
Courant Staff Writer

July 9 2002

WETHERSFIELD -- Behind the back porches and under the streets in the southwest part of town, mills once stood. Remnants of their foundations and of the waterways that powered them can be found if you know where to look.

Martha Mayer learned where to look.

It was the street signs - Stocking Mill Road, Grist Mill Road, Old Mill Road - that clued in Mayer and her late husband, Dan, to Griswoldville's industrial past when they moved to this part of town 10 years ago from Cooperstown, N.Y.

Mayer, a former environmental consultant and chair of the Griswoldville Preservation Association's executive board, began researching the history of the town's industrial revolution about 21/2 years ago.

With help from other preservation members and the Wethersfield Historical Society, she gathered maps, letters and land records. Revealed were exact locations of a variety of mills that processed clothing, dyed wool and ground wheat.

With a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council, coupled with funds from the Griswold Family Association and private donations, four displays dubbed "Industry in Griswoldville" have been posted around town at the public library, Mill Woods Park, the Wethersfield Museum and on Griswold Road.

The preservation association will host a "Twilight Walking Tour" along old mill sites on Two Stone Brook this evening at 6:30. The tour, which starts at the intersection of Griswold and Country Club roads, will stop along one of the displays, which outlines industrial development in a mostly agricultural town from the 1700s through the 1800s.

The display also shows an 1869 town map and a 20th-century town map to explain where the mills existed and the extent of the water system that supported them.

"That is an important reason why preserving those remains is critical, because the more things change, ... the less evidence of this part of our industrial past remains," historical society Director Brenda Milkofsky said. "People can really look at their landscape and see where they are."

Along the tour are layers of stone off Highland Street that Mayer believes are portions of a mill foundation and streams connected to the 1860 reservoir that powered three mills there in its heyday. A dam built to confine water in the ponds created for the mills is still visible behind a resident's home near Two Stone Brook.

"Old Wethersfield didn't have any brooks that ran downhill ... that were strong enough to turn a wheel, so Griswoldville had these brooks, and this is why the mills were installed here at this town," said resident Richard Lasher, 83.

Researchers say people from Old Wethersfield presumably were coming up from that part of town to use the mills.

"There were mills in Haddam and other places, but these were taking care of the local people," Mayer said. "They did a lot of engineering [to build the mills and waterways]; significant when you think how they were doing it by hand and horses."

Lasher, who has lived in Griswoldville for 52 years and is honorary mayor there, agrees. The mills largely contributed to the town's economy in the early days, he said.

"On Highland Street, there were about four mills there," Lasher said. "One was a stocking mill, and it was producing ladies' underwear and cotton stockings. And there was the Griswold Manufacturing Co.; it was producing uniform material for the northern troops during the Civil War."

By the late 1800s or early 1900s, the operation of the mills in town had ended.

"These mills were so small they couldn't compete," Mayer said. "When the steam power came, and the much bigger industrial competition, they wouldn't find anybody to sell their stuff to. And then the Civil War happened."

Copyright 2002, Hartford Courant