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Is The Old Meetinghouse Hill Field Path The Colonial Road?
According to local legend the path from Hartford Turnpike near the red barn leading across a causeway and up the hill was the path in the late 1700's to our first Meetinghouse on the hill.
Could this be part of the original trail created by the Pequots to travel from Connecticut River villages to the summer campground at Shennipsit Lake and to the village at Stafford Springs and on to Massachusetts? The same trail likely used by Rev. Thomas Hooker in 1636 when he led his congregation to found Hartford and later used by our early Vernon settlers?
The Native American Trail
Eastern Connecticut was crisscrossed by Native American trails used for travel, trading and hunting. Vernon was Pequot territory when the first settlers arrived in Connecticut.
All the early maps of the territory show one major trail crossing Vernon from southeast to northwest. It crossed the Hockanum River near today's I-84 Exit 64 in South Windsor, followed the Hockanum River crossing the Tankerhoosen at Talcottville and then followed the ridge line separating the Hockanum and Tankerhoosen River watersheds to Tolland. This is generally the path of today's Route 30.
The Settlers Arrive
Rev. Thomas Hooker and his congregations with families and 100 cattle came through Willington, Tolland and Vernon on their way to Hartford in 1636 according to Old Connecticut Path researcher Jason Newton. With wagons and cattle they had to follow well worn Native Amerian paths. In Vernon they may have also dropped down to the Tankerhoosen River to water and graze their cattle.
Later this path and the path through Bolton Notch would have been used to travel between the central Connecticut River towns of Wethersfield, Hartford and Windsor to the settlements in Massachusetts.
In the early 1700's families began to settle in North Bolton, today's Vernon. Early towns were often settled along ridge lines so it is likely they established farms near the old Native American path.
We know that a number of inns were on this road in Revolutionary War times.
The First Meetinghouse
Vernon's first meetinghouse was raised in 1762 and initially had just 35 members. It served the town as church and community center for 63 years until 1826.
At that time the center of the new village was a half mile further east along the road than it is today, near the corner of Hartford Turnpike, Bamforth Road and Vernon Avenue. The Allis House on that corner, which would become the home of Rev. Ebenezer Kellogg, the first minister bears a date of 1690, although this seems a bit early based on other records. The first cemetery established in 1751 was just down the hill on Bamforth Road.
Allyn Kellogg (1824-1893), grandson of our first minister Rev. Ebenezer Kellogg, wrote down his memories of early Vernon for an address in 1888 to the Church of Christ in Vernon. He had a strong interest in the church's formation and early history and drew on early church and town records, some no longer available. He lived in the same Allis house.
In his address he places the meetinghouse on the highway leading westward from the Allis house. It would be logical have this important building on the main road in town as the current Congregational Church was also built on the main road in the new center of the village.
"The place where this house was erected is about half a mile East of the present meetinghouse at Vernon Centre, on the top of the hill still known to some as the "Old Meeting-House Hill." It was usual to choose an elevated place for a house of divine worship. This house stood in the most sightly place near the centre of the Society. When first built, it could be reached only from the East and the West, by the highway already mentioned. Several years later, highways were opened leading to it from the North and from the South."
This committee met on the 25th of February, and fixed upon a place "on the southward part of land belonging to Mr. Samuel Bartlett, near to the highway that leadeth westward from Mr. David Ellis's."
"This meeting-house was of the prevailing style of architecture for country churches; a
plain four-sided building, without a steeple. It fronted the highway on the South by one of its longer sides, having doors, also, in the East and West ends. It was not dwarfed by the horse-sheds and the school-house, the only buildings erected near it."
This would suggest that at the time the main road was further south than the current road passing over the top of the hill before bending back to pass by the Allis house.
Building The Turnpike
Vernon became a town in 1808 and shortly after Rockville took its first steps to harnessing the Hockanum River and becoming a prosperous mill town. The early 1800's then was a time of laying out new roads and straightening and widening old ones.
Sometime during this period the highway was routed to the north of Meetinghouse Hill. This would straighten and shorten the route and avoid the steeper slope. As the meetinghouse remained in use until 1826 the road through the field and up the hill would have still been used but minimully maintained.
Once the new church was constructed the meetinghouse was abandoned and in 1831 and 1832 was taken down and became part of the Frank Mill in Rockville.
According to town records a decision was made in 1829 to discontinue the road and sell the land. (Cole, page 780) From then on it became a cow path for the farm.
In 1880??? the field became part of the Strong Farm where it has been used to pasture cattle.
During Colonial times roads were not paved and this short section of our original highway was abandoned well before road improvements and paving were started. It remains much as was for Native Americans, our first settlers and early parishioners - the dirt road up Meetinghouse Hill.
How fortunate Vernon is to have this reminder of its past. One day the field and the path will be open for us to walk once more; to climb the hill in the footsteps of the first Americans and look out over the Tankerhoosen Valley to Hartford as our forefathers did.
Brooks, George S. (1955). Cascades and Courage. 529 pages. This is the classic local history book. The entire text can be found and searched online. Pages 10-12 include sections from the early church records and meetings from 1760 to 1762 detailing the planning of the new meetinghouse.
Cole, J. R. (1888). History of Tolland County, Connecticut. 992 pages. #
Earle, Alice Morse (1891). The Sabbath in Puritan New England, Seventh Edition
Kellogg, Allyn S. (1888). The Church of Christ In Vernon, Connecticut: An Historical Address. 50 pages. History and memories of the First Congregational Church by Kellogg (1824-1893), grandson of the first minister. Although primarily a church history includes early town history also.
Smith, Harry Conklin (1908). A Century Of Vernon, CT 1808-1908. Pages 11-15, 65. Poem 'Vernon' page 81. Prepared and published for Vernon's Centennial. Good history of Vernon's first 100 years drawing on contemporary sources. Smith was the editor of the Rockville Leader.
Smith, Harry Conklin (1908). The Connecticut Magazine, Volume 12", 'Centennial of Vernon 1808-1908'. Good history of Vernon's first 100 years drawing on contemporary sources. Smith was the editor of the Rockville Leader. The referenced story is on page 167. This same article was printed in Reference 1. Available at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford.