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Southbury History

Southbury History by Virginia Palmer-Skok


Text and pictures are courtesy of Virginia Palmer-Skok and can be found in her books "Images of America - Southbury", and "Images of America - Southbury Revisited".

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A mere 50-some years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Southbury was settled as a part of Ancient Woodbury. The town has a fascinating history from its earliest settlers, at the time of the Laurentian glaciers to the present day. As one of the fastest growing communities in Connecticut, it has a rich and enthralling past that has changed with the times.

Southbury has seen many changes over it 300-plus years of history. In 1673, 15 families left Stratford because of religious differences and settled in Ancient Woodbury, also known as Pomperaug Plantation. This land was purchased from the Pootatuck Indians.  Many Ancestors of the original families have not left the area, including the Hinmans, Stiles, Curtisses, and Mitchells, to name a few.  As Colonial settlements were primarily along the coast, Pomperaug Plantation was considered very remote because it was on of the farthest inland settlements. Later in 1674, the small community was renamed Woodbury, meaning a dwelling in the woods.

Additional purchases of land grew the new colony. In 1679, the Kettletown area was purchased.  It is thought that it was originally purchased in 1659 for a kettle from the Pagasett tribe, who were not the rightful owners. The area was called "kitle town." Soon to follow came other purchases of land, which included parts of what was to become the future Southbury. These included the Shepaug Purchase in 1686 and the Quassapaug Purchase in 1687. In 1706, the Kettletown area was purchased for the third time.

The second ecclesiastical society of Ancient Woodbury was incorporated in 1731 and called Southbury. In 1787, the General Assembly granted Southbury incorporation as a separate town from Woodbury.

Education was important in Colonial times, and by law, the ecclesiastical societies were responsible for it. In 1770, the White Oak section of town held school in the Congregational church. In the 1760s, Bullet Hill School was built. Additional school districts were added and numbered for each ecclsiastical society. They included White Oak, Bullet Hill, Southford, Kettletown, Hulls Hill, Transylvania, South Britain, Pierce Hollow, Purchase Pootatuck, and Wapping.

Women and children in front of old house in Southbury

For more than 100 years, the community was primarily agrarian. Waterpower had a profound effect, starting in the 1800s, when manufacturing plants and mills sprung up along brooks and streams. Waterpower contributed to the growth of industries, especially in South Britain and the Southford Falls Area. Business included tanneries, clothiers, mills (cider, textile, sasso and grist), brick kilns, and distilleries. Local products were hats, tacks, buttons, brads, wagon wheels, shears, knives, silver spoons, thimbles, hoop skirts, and bustles. It is thought that in the mid-1800's, Southbury had as many as 60 small factories and shops. Many of the small businesses left when more efficient methods of industry developed in cities such as Waterbury.

Transportation advances brought even more changes to town. When railroads started running through town, people began traveling back and forth to larger communities for work and trading.

 

Train station

The town has attracted many people over its history, whether it be for religious dissension, escaping revolutions in foreign countries, employment, play, retirement, or even to just enjoy its rural charm, including stonewalls and farms. Location and major roadways made commuting distance to larger cities palatable. In the 20th century, Southbury became a haven for city dwellers looking for recreation as well as a country retreat for vacation or retirement. Many who came for vacation made summer homes permanent dwellings. A surge of people, including notables, came to buy property to be able to enjoy the respendent beauty of the area. A few who have lived here include Victor Borge, Ed Sullivan, Barbara Hershey, Polly Bergen, Rosalind Russell and Tony Marvin. In the late 1960s, a retirement community was built in Heritage Village.

The many settlers and their associated history have brought a unique flavor to the community, making it live up to its name as identified on the seal of the town, "Unica Unique", the one and only.

Bridge in Southbury