History of Beacon Falls
J.L. Rocky’s (editor)
“A History of New Haven County, Connecticut”
W. W. Preston & Co., 1892
Beacon Falls is one of the smallest towns in the country and next to Ansonia the youngest. It lies on both sides of the Naugatuck River, south of Beacon Hill brook, and from that locality the name was derived. Bounding it are the towns from which it was formed in 1871, namely: Naugatuck on the north, Bethany on the east and southeast, Seymour on the south and Oxford on the west. The greater part of the surface is mountainous, but along the brooks are some pleasantly located fertile lands. On the east side is Hockanum brook, flowing south into Lebanon brook, a mile east of the point where the latter empties into the Naugatuck, in the southeastern part of town. On the opposite side of the river are Sherman’s brook, in the northwest, and Hemp Swamp brook in the southwestern part of town. These streams are small, but in a few localities afford limited power.
The principal elevations on the west side are Rimmon Hill, in the southwest, and Toby’s mountain in the northwest, one of whose spurs is High Rock. This approximates 500 feet in height. Opposite Rimmon Hill and separated from the river is a bold, craggy and almost cone-shaped mound, more than 400 feet high, called Rock Rimmon. The name of the hill and the rock may have derived from the fact that these bore , in olden times, relative to the country beyond, a resemblance to the scriptural Rimmon. The plain beyond their northern bases was early called Lopus or Loper’s, but for what reason has not been clearly determined. The western and northern boundaries of this plain are the rocks of Toby’s mountain, so called from once having been the property of the Indian named Toby or Tobie, who for twelve years was a slave in the family of Captain Ebenezer Johnson, one of Derby’s prominent men and the principal land holder in this town. He secured him in New London in 1676, when the Indian was a boy, and freed him in 1688. In 1693, through the influence of Major Johnson and for a consideration of 10 pounds and a barrel of cider, the Paugasuck Indians , who were the owners of this region, sold to Toby a large tract of land, mostly mountainous, lying in the northeastern part of the town. This was legally confirmed to him in 1713. Here he lived until his death in 1734, when by terms of his will, the land became the property of white men: Timothy Wooster, Peter Johnson, Ebenezer Johnson and Timothy Johnson, all the first being sons of Colonial Johnson , his former master.
It appears singular that an other Indian slave of Colonel Johnson should be connected with a land purchase in Beacon Falls, but such is the fact. One of his maid-servants was a young squaw, Sarah, who was desired by an Indian for his wife, and she was sold to him in1709. This dusky lover was Chetrenasut, and he secured his bride for a consideration of 3 pounds, ten shillings of money and that tract of land “lying in a place called Nayumps”, bounded northerly with Beacon Hill river, easterly with Milford, westerly with the Naugatuck River, and southerly with Lebanon River”. This region was afterwards called “Nyumps” and was the northwestern part of Bethany, set off Beacon Falls when the town was formed. It includes the main part of the town, and on which are now its most costly improvements.
South of Toby’s land and the Nyump purchase, earlier purchase had been made by Captain Ebenezer Johnson, in 1678, the same being in three small parcel’s, at or near Rock Rimmon, running to Lebanon brook. On the west side of the river, south of Toby’s land and running down to lands in the present town of Seymour, purchased by David Wooster, in 1692, Major Ebenezer Johnson and Ensign Samuel Riggs. Riggs purchased Indian lands in 1700; and eight years later they divided their interests. Ensign Riggs took the land on the west side of the Naugatuck, lying south of the brook at Pines Bridge, and Major Johnson took lands north of the brook and those east of the river. These lands at Pines Bridge, Colonel Johnson divided between his sons, Charles and Timothy, in 1721, Speaking of the same as “my farm at Rimmon”. Before this time, in December 1708, Ensign Samuel Riggs, of Derby, had given to his son Ebenezer Riggs, 200 acres of the choicest lands “with houses and all appurtenances thereunto pertaining”. On these lands Ebenezer Riggs settled soon after, but died in 1712, when little more than thirty years of age.
It is supposed that some of the children of Colonel Ebenezer Johnson settled on their father’s land soon after the settlement of Ebenezer Riggs, and that they lived west and southwest of Rock Rimmon. At a later day Timothy Johnson, who was married to Abigail Brewster, in 1725, settled on the Naugatuck a short distance below Pines Bridge. In the same locality their son, Alexander, who was born in 1730 and died in 1817, aged 87 years. This Captain Alexander Johnson had a son Elijah, who occupied the homestead until his death, in 1847, at the age of 75 years. Sharpe, in his “History of Seymour”, states that Timothy Johnson was at first annoyed “by wild animals”, especially bears, which came from Rock Rimmon and destroyed his “crops”. This locality, and in fact other parts of town, particularly Nyumph, were also much troubled by snakes, which came from the crevices of the rocks and often crawled into houses of the early settlers. The Johnson’s were for many years numerous at Pines Bridge and around Rock Rimmon and what is now Beacon Falls and Seymour. In the latter town Benajah Johnson last lived until 1763, in the locality called Skokarat. A daughter, Zeviah, born in 1739, married Abiel Fairchild, who settled not quite a mile northwest from Pines Bridge. Fairchild was reputed a most excellent man, and was greatly esteemed by his neighbors.
Nearer Pines Bridge, on the Lopus Plains, the first settlers were Zadoc Sanford and Hezekiah Clark. The latter was the ancestor of Sheldon Clark, the benefactor of Yale College, and who left also a bequest for the maintenance of Pines Bridge.
In the Nyumph section Samuel Wheeler probably put up the first house. His brothers, Moses, David, and James settled in the same locality, but Simeon lived nearer Rimmon. They were the sons of Captain James Wheeler, who lives on Turkey Hill, in Derby. Their descendants became numerous and prominent in Bethany and Oxford. In Nyumph also lived, as a pioneer, David French and other members of his family. Moses Clark settling there later. In the course of years the population decreased, and in 1880 all the inhabitants numbered only 379.
The name Beacon Falls first appeared in the act of the assembly in 1864, when a joint school district with that title was formed out of Bethany and Oxford. Not long thereafter Beacon Falls was incorporated by the May , 1871, assembly out of portions of the towns of Bethany, Naugatuck, Seymour, and Oxford, with the following bounds:
“Beginning at a point on the old highway known as Blackberry Hill road, in the town of Bethany, which in intersected by a straight line, extending and running on and in the northern boundary line of the homestead farm of Norman Peck, in Seymour, and thence running northerly on said old highway to a point about 40 rods east of the dwelling house known as the Edward Buckingham house, then north 14 degrees, east 181 ½ rods to a heap of stones, on Perkin,s land (so called), thence north 3 ½ degrees east 422 rods, thence north 29 degrees west to a point on Beacon Hill brook, opposite the saw mill of Amos Hotchkiss, to a heap of stones, thence following said brook westerly to the Naugatuck River, thence following said river southerly to the mouth of Spruce brook, on the west bank of the same, thence following the town line northerly to a heap of stones which marks the boundary between Oxford and Naugatuck, thence running southerly to a large oak stump known as Oak Tree Corner, about 80 rods north of the dwelling house of Stiles Fairchild, thence in a straight line southwest to Hemp Swamp bridge, so called, thence in a straight line to a heap of stones on the east of Diamond rock, so called, which marks the boundary between Seymour and Oxford, said last line being in the district line of the Rimmon district, thence easterly and northerly, following the Seymour and Oxford town line to a point on Rock Rimmon, in a line with the said northerly boundary line of the home farm of the said Norman Peck, thence following in said line, which runs a little south of east, in a straight line to the point of beginning.”
The first town meeting was to be warned by Buel Buckingham, June 28, 1871, and on the first Monday in July following that meeting, the first town officers were elected, 86 votes being polled.
The following were chosen the first officers:
- Selectman – Stiles Clark, James L. Wheeler, Noyes Wheeler
- Town Clerk – Julius C. Coe
- Registrars – H.B. Perry, Patrick Egan
- Treasurer – J.C. Coe
- Assessors – Herbert C. Baldwin, Lucius S. Osborne
- Board of Relief – Geo. A. Twitchell, Eben F. Libby, Anson B. Rice
- Registrar of Births, etc. – Charles H. Lounsbury
- Auditors – John H. Coe, Buel Buckingham
- Grand Jurors – John C. French, John Wolfe, Albert D. Carrington, Buel Buckingham
- Constables – H.B. Perry, R.H. Griffing, Harris F. Osborne, Andrew W. Culver, Almon L. Switzer
- Sealer of Weights – J.E. Johnson
- Pound Keepers – Noyes Wheeler, Stiles Clark, James L. Wheeler, Andrew W. Culver, Sidney Baldwin
- Fence Viewers – George A. Mitchell, H.C. Baldwin, Stiles Clark, Ransom Lounsbury.
In October, 1871, settlement was made with the mother towns and from the grand list of Naugatuck there was set to Beacon Falls $11,037; from the list of Seymour $6000.; and from the list of Oxford, $53,319, making the taxable list of the new town $70,392.
Since the organization of Beacon Falls the town clerks have been:
- 1871-8, Julius C. Coe
- 1879, John A. Coe
- 1880-5, Julius A, Hart
- 1886, Charles C. Tiffit
- 1887, Emerson L. Terrlell
- 1888, Julius A. Hart
- 1889, Emery L. Terrell.
In the same period the selectmen have been:
- 1871-2, Stiles Clark, James L. Wheeler, and Noyes Wheeler
- 1873, Buel Buckingham, Wheeler and Herbert C. Baldwin
- 1874-6, Buckingham, Baldwin and Ransom Lounsbury
- 1877, Baldwin, Ransom Lounsbury and Noyes Wheeler
- 1879-80, Baldwin, Lounsbury and David French
- 1881, Baldwin, French and Noyes Wheeler
- 1882-3, Baldwin, Wheeler and Andrew Culver
- 1884-5 Baldwin, Cornelius W. Munson and Ransom Lounsbury
- 1886, Baldwin, Munson and Daniel J. Carrington
- 1887, Baldwin, Carrington and Homer D. Bronson
- 1888, Baldwin, Ransom Lounsbury and Jerome Andrews
- 1889, Baldwin Emerson J. Terrill, and George T. Clark.
By the terms of the act of incorporation the Clark Pines Bridge Fund was placed under the control of Beacon Falls. This fund was bequeathed to the town of Oxford in 1827, by Sheldon Clark, for the purpose of building and maintaining a bridge at the locality on the Naugatuck called Pines Bridge. The amount of the bequest was 100 pounds. The principal is to be intact, and the interest could be used for the designated purpose after twelve years. From the avails of the fund an iron bridge was built at that place in1888. At the village a fine covered wooden bridge spans the Naugatuck.
The town cemetery is near Pines Bridge, and in 1883 it was voted to enlarge it. This was done under the direction if John W. Rogers, David T. Sanford and Clarence Bodfish. In the old part are the graves of many of the early settlers of this section. The new part has been plotted into blocks, and many lots have been sold. Herbert C. Baldwin has for many years had the care of the cemetery. The site for this cemetery was chosen and given by Alexander Johnson, in 1880, and was the second burial place in that locality. The first was on the hill southwest and nearer Seymour. It was first used in1768, and was abandoned when the Pines Bridge place was opened. Here was buried Benajah and Sarah Johnson, the earliest settlers in the Rock Rimmon locality.
The development of the town was slow and the industries were for many years limited. Farms were opened and several saw mills and tanneries were carried on. About 1836 the possibility of improving the water power of the Naugatuck was considered, and with that purpose in view Wm. Deforest secured the privileges at the natural falls, below Beacon Hill. He soon after became financially embarrassed , and nothing more was done for a dozen years. In 1850 the privilege passed to the American Hard Rubber Company, of which D.N. Ropes was the secretary. Deforest was also interested with among others G. D. & John S.C. Abbott. A good dam was built on the Naugatuck, below High Rock, and a raceway three quarters of a mile long dug to a site for the works. In 1853 buildings of the company were completed for occupancy and operations began. Vulcanized rubber goods were manufactured after the process of Goodyear and many experiments were made. Beacon Falls village was thus fairly begun, when in 1860, the Rubber Company moved to College Point, L.I. For three years the place was nearly deserted, only the Coe tannery being carried on at this point.
In September 1863 the Home Woolen Company purchased the plant consisting of water power privilege, a factory three stories high and 160 feet long, about 30 houses and considerable land. The buildings were repaired under the direction of John Wolfe and in the winter of 1863 gas were erected. Eight sets of machinery were put in and 40,000 yards of cloth were turned out per month. In 1864 the Company increased its capacity and commenced the manufacture of woolen shawls of which large numbers were made. In 1867 the mills of the company were enlarged to double the former size and new machinery was supplied. In 1870 the main mill was 330 feet long, 60and 64 feet wide, 3 ½ stories high and substantially built of brick. There were 5640 spindles and 70 looms. Nearly 13,00 shawls per month were manufactured by skilled workmen, John Wolfe being the Beacon Falls agent of the Home Woolen Company, which was mainly a Hartford corporation. The prosperity continued until December 1876 when work was suspended.
In 1879 John Wolfe became the Owner of some of the machinery. 30 tenements and 200 acres of the land formerly owned by the corporation. The following year the Home Woolen Company was reorganized and again started the mills upon which in all nearly half a million dollars had been expended. Eighteen sets of machinery were set in motion and 300 hands were employed on woolen goods. In 1884, John Wolfe retired as Agent and was succeeded by Clarence J. Bodfish. The Home Woolen Company operated until July 1887 when for nearly two years the mills were practically idle
In July 1889, the Beacon Falls Mill & Power Company of Hartford became the owners of this plant, which is reputed as one of the finest and best appointed in the State, having an aggregate water power of about 300 horse. There is also good steam power. Many buildings are connected with the plant. About the same time the mills were leased to the Standard Woolen Co. composed of Henry I. Buttery, Fred Kitchen, and Clarence J. Bodfish, who have since been operating it. Woolens are manufactured and from 50 to 80 men employed.
The first industry on the site of the woolen mills, at Beacon Falls village, was the tannery of John V. Coe, which was on the little brook in the rear of the large building. He also manufactured shoes. Selling out to the Rubber Company, he moved to a new site on Lebanon brook about half a mile below the old one. Here he began operations about 1856, and was succeeded by his sons, John A, and Julius C. These carried on rather extensively as tanners and manufacturers of leather belting and laces until some time about 1876, when they removed. In 1882 this plant, consisting of 12 acres of land and a number of buildings, became the property of John F. Bronson, who transferred to this place his brass novelty business, which had been established at Waterbury in 1839. In this business he was succeeded in February, 1884, by the Homer D. Bronson Company, consisting of John F. Bronson and his three sons, all skillful workmen.
Since 1886 the Company has been largely engaged in the manufacture of bronze piano panels and art goods in brass and other metals, producing many choice and artistic designs, which have given its work a fine reputation. The motor is water and steam, about fifteen men are employed.
The village of Beacon Falls owes its existence to the above interests, and was mainly built after 1853. The beginning was on the east side of the river, along the Seymour turnpike, and about four miles north of that village. In about 1867 the Home Woolen company, through its agent John Wolfe, laid out 90 lots on the west side of the river, but a small part only of these have been improved. The following year the Naugatuck Railroad Company opened a regular station, and since December 21, 1868, Julius A. Hart has been the agent. In the village are also several small shops, stores and the Beacon Falls Post Office, of which John Wolfe is the postmaster. Stores have been occupied by V. Buckingham, C.W. Elkins & Co., Beecher& Percy, May & Isbell and E.J. Terrell & Co. At the latter’s stand is kept the post office, which has several mails a day. Small stores were formerly kept at Pines Bridge. In 1872 Patrick Egan was Appointed a “taverner”. Small public houses have since been kept.
In 1874 Good Will Lodge of Good Templars had a flourishing existence at this place and from 1869 to 1880 the meetings of Rock Rimmon Lodge No. I.O.O.F. were successfully maintained. At one time there were sixty members and in1874 a hall was formally dedicated. The suspension of work at the woolen mills caused the removal of many members, and those remaining connected themselves with other Lodges in neighboring towns.
In addition to the 60 or more residences and the school house in the village, there is also a neat frame building, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and dedicated January 21, 1872. There are 350 sittings and the cost was about $8,000. Among the trustees in charge of the building were John Wolfe, Julius A. Hart, David T. Sanford, and Jerome Hubbell. The Home Woolen Company donated the lot on which the church stands and also aided liberally in its erection.
The first Methodist Church in the town was at Pines Bridge, and was built through the efforts of John Coe and others. It was small and plain, but was used until 1850. The meetings were then transferred to another small house near Lebanon brook, built mainly by the Coe family. This was used until the present house was occupied.
In what is now the town of Beacon Falls lived some of the first Methodists in the Naugatuck valley. Some of these were in the Nyumph section and others were at Pines Bridge. Among those remembered in that connection were Philo Sanford, Moses, David, Adonijah and Miles French, Timothy Johnson and several other members of that family. Later the Coe family was active in supporting the cause of Methodism. The first meetings were held in private houses, and the ministers were the same as those at Seymour and Great Hill.
Since being a separate charge the ministers at Beacon Falls have been the following:
1870-1 Rev. A.V.A. Abbott; 1872, D.L. Lounsbury; 1873 W.S. Morrison; 1881-2 W.R. Rogers;
1883 J.J. Moffitt; 1884-5 A. S. Hagarty; 1886 J.L. Valle; 1887 E.R. Foley; 1888-9 T.J. Chadeayne.
In connection with this church is a flourishing Sunday School of 85 members, which has David T. Sanford as its superintendent.
The rugged Naugatuck Valley is nowhere more picturesque and attractive than in the town of Beacon Falls. Entering it from the south one is charmed by impressive the impressive beauty of Rock Rimmon, whose height is 400 ft., jutting out into the valley, appears to bar further progress. On passing this hill there is a pleasant interval, several miles in extent, when the valley is again narrowed into a defile wide enough only for the passage of the river and roadways along its banks. About a mile above Beacon Falls station the hills on the west side of the river rise to a height of more than 400 ft., forming a promontory at that point and terminating in a well defined elevation, which appropriately bears the name of High Rock. At its foot and on the bend of the river is a small tract of fine level woodland, which has been further beautified as high Rock Grove. The improvement of this place for a pleasure resort was begun by George W. Beach, Supt. Of the Naugatuck Railroad company, and under his direction it has been carried on, until the place possesses nearly every requisite of a complete day resort. Among the attractions are opportunities for boating on the river, the dam of the Beacon Falls Company here affording a fine expanse of water. In High Rock Glen, formerly called Sherman’s Gorge, are cool, secluded walks, cozy nooks and many turns, abounding with picturesque effects, which may be enjoyed to the music of gurgling waters, leaping over moss-covered rocks, which vainly strive to confine them to their precipitous course. On High rock is Lookout Point, where is disclosed a view of sublime beauty. Deep forests, stern rock-covered hillsides and tilled fields, with every shape and form of verdure, may there be seen.
The railway has provided a station at high Rock Grove and the place is much patronized by those seeking the enjoyment of sylvan retreats. It is also a favorite resort of picnickers from all points in the valley.