History of Norwalk, Connecticut
Archaeological evidence suggests substantial pre-contact Norwalk inhabitancy by human beings; artifacts found near Ward Street date back 5000 years ago.
- 1 17th century
- 2 18th century
- 3 19th century
- 4 20th century
- 5 21st century
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The first recorded European contact with Norwalk took place in 1614. Dutch navigator Adriaen Block, trading fur with Native Americans along the Connecticut coast in the North American built vessel Onrust, mentioned a visit to the Norwalk Islands, which he called "The Archipelago".
Norwalk was purchased in two separate transactions in 1640 and 1641 by Daniel Patrick and Roger Ludlow. Patrick purchased areas west of the Norwalk River and east of the Five Mile River (present day South Norwalk, Rowayton, and West Norwalk) on April 20, 1640. Ludlow purchased areas east of the Norwalk river (present day East Norwalk and Saugatuck) on February 26, 1641 according to the Gregorian calendar; or February 26, 1640 on the then still commonly used Julian calendar. The later purchase by Ludlow is misleadingly depicted in Norwalk founding memorabilia (such as the WPA painting shown) as having occurred in the year 1640.
the said Daniell Patricke hath bought of the sayed three indians, the ground called Sacunyte napucke, allso Meeanworth, thirdly Asumsowis, Fourthly all the land adjoyninge to the aforementioned, as farr up in the cuntry as an indian can goe in a day, from sun risinge to settinge; and two islands neere adjoining to the sayed carantenayueck, all bounded on the west side with noewanton on the east side of the River of Norwake... for him and his forever; ... [sic]
The areas east of the Norwalk river were then purchased in 1641 (still commonly cited as having taken place in 1640) by Roger Ludlow from Chief Mahackemo of the Norwalke Indians (actually the residents of Norwauke village of the Siwanoy subdivision or “sanchemship” of the Algonquian language family).
An agreement made between the Indians of Norwalke and Roger Ludlowe: it is agreed, that the Indians of Norwalke, for and in consideration of eight fathoms of wampum, sixe coates, tenn hatchets, tenn hoes, tenn knifes, tenn scissors, tenn jewse-harpes, tenn fathoms tabackoe, three kettles of sixe hands about, and tenn looking glasses, have granted all the lands, meadows, pasturage, trees, whatsoever there is, and grounds betwen [sic] the twoe [sic] rivers, the ones called Norwalke, and the other Soakatuck, to the middle of sayde rivers, from the sea a days walke into the country; to the sayed Roger Ludlowe, and his heirs and assigns forever, and that no Indian or other shall challenge or claim any ground within the sayed rivers or limits, nor disturb the sayed Roger, his heirs or assigns within the precincts aforesaid.In withness whereof the parties thereunto have interchangeably sett their hands. Roger Ludlowe.
The deed was marked by Norwalk Indians Tomakergo, Tokeneke, Prosewanenos, Sachem Mahackemo, and witnessed by Thomas Ludlowe.
Settlement and incorporation
The two first settlers, Richard Olmsted and Nathaniel Ely arrived from Hartford in 1649. They were followed by fourteen others. Norwalk was incorporated on September 11, 1651, when the General Court of the Connecticut Colony decreed that “Norwaukee shall bee a townee”.
As of 1655, the original settlers as listed on the Founders Stone in the East Norwalk Historical Cemetery were: George Abbitt, Robert Beacham, Stephen Beckwith, John Bowton, Matthew Campfield, Nathaniel Eli, Thomas Fitch, John Griggorie, Samuel Hales, Thomas Hales, Walter Haite, Nathaniel Haies, Rev. Thomas Hanford, Richard Homes, Ralph Keiler, Daniel Kellogge, Thomas Lupton, Matthew Marvin, Sr., Matthew Marvin, Jr., Isacke More, Jonathan Marsh, Widow Morgan, Richard Olmsted, Nathaniel Richards, John Ruskoe, Matthias Sention, Sr., Matthias Sention, Jr., Thomas Seamer, Richard Webb, Walter Keiler.
The settlers engaged in agricultural pursuits. The first major planted crop was corn which was soon followed by wheat, rye, oats, and barley. Community plots were located where the Pine Hill Road area is today. Cows were raised for dairy products and the first use of Calf Pasture Beach for pasturage took place as early as the 1650s. Eventually flax and hemp were grown for the local production of linen and rope. Flax production increased notably and by the early 18th century was being exported to the British Isles to provide the town with a modest export economy. The present day Flax Hill Road between South Norwalk and Rowayton is a vestige of that early important crop.
The initial settlement gathered its first Congregational church by 1652. Its first minister was Thomas Hanford (1621–1693). A meeting house was constructed near where the Ancient Country Road from Stamford to Fairfield (present day Fort Point Street) met what is now known as East Avenue by 1659. In 1677 the Thomas Hyatt house was constructed. The Hyatt house still stands along Willow Street and is Norwalk's oldest residence.
Account of a colonial traveler's night in town
Maryland physician Alexander Hamilton wrote in his 1744 travel diary about a night in Norwalk, which he passed through from August 29–30. "This town is situated in a bottom, midst a grove of trees. You see the steeple shoot up among the trees about half a mile before you enter the town and before you can see any of the houses."
Hamilton, who brought his slave with him, wrote that when he was at Taylor's inn in Westport ("Saugatick") earlier that day "children were frightened at my negro. Slaves are not so much in use as with us [in Maryland], their servants being chiefly bound or indentured Indians. Betwixt Taylor's and Norwalk, I met a caravan of eighteen or twenty Indians." In Norwalk, Hamilton stayed at a tavern run by one Beelding, "and as my boy was taking off the saddles, I could see one half of the town standing about him, making inquiry about his master."
Connecticut's state song, Yankee Doodle, has Norwalk-related origins. During the French and Indian War, a regiment of Norwalkers was assembled to report as an attachment to British regulars. The group was commanded by Col. Thomas Fitch of Norwalk (son of Connecticut governor Thomas Fitch). Assembling at Fitch’s yard in Norwalk, Fitch’s younger sister Elizabeth, along with other young local women who had come to bid them farewell, were distraught at the men’s lack of uniforms and so they improvised plumes from chicken feathers which they gave to the men for their hats.
As they arrived at Fort Crailo, New York, the British regulars began to mock and ridicule the rag-tag Connecticut troops who only had chicken feathers for uniform. Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British army surgeon, added new words to a popular tune of the time, Lucy Locket (i.e., “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni”, macaroni being the London slang at the time for a foppish dandy).
The modern-day bridge in which I-95 crosses the Norwalk River in Norwalk is named the "Yankee Doodle Bridge". Half of the bridge was closed briefly for repairs near Labor Day in 1984. After the revolution Col. Thomas Fitch V served as a Norwalk Town Councilman and assisted with the reconstruction of the town after the burning. He was buried in the East Norwalk Historical Cemetery.
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Following the townspeople’s pleas for fortifications, in the spring of 1777 six cannon were mounted in salient positions for the defense of Norwalk. Soon afterwards in April, British forces arrived to march on Danbury, the location of an important military depot. Although the British had intended to land at Norwalk, the six cannon forced a last-minute change of plans and unprotected Compo Beach at the mouth of the Saugatuck was selected instead.
Norwalkers carried out one of the war's more spectacular escapades in November, 1778. A flotilla of twenty whaleboats from Norwalk skipped past British warships anchored in Huntington Bay and stealthily discharged its passengers. The raiders made straight for The Cedars, a public inn kept by “Mother Chid,” well known for harboring Connecticut Tories. Sixteen Tories were taken prisoner and several were killed before the raiders departed.
The Battle of Norwalk
Main article: Battle of Norwalk
In 1779 British forces sought to disrupt American naval activity in Long Island Sound. General William Tryon was ordered to cripple the seaports of New Haven, Fairfield, and Norwalk. New Haven was raided on July 5, Fairfield was raided on the 7th and in retribution for resistance by the townspeople, completely burned. Residents of Norwalk, certain of what lay ahead, began to make provisions for the defense of their town, mostly by huddling up in the upper hills of the city known as “The Rocks.”
2,600 British troops led by General Tryon arrived t LCalf Pasture Beach at approximately 5:00 p.m. on July 10, 1779, where they spent the night. At dawn, Gen. Tryon marched his troops up what is now East Avenue while Tryon’s second-in-command Brigadier-general George Garth and his men were ferried across the harbor to what is now approximately the IMAX Theater of the Maritime Aquarium. Tryon did not see resistance until he reached Grumman’s Hill, where he met about fifty Americans commanded by Captain Stephen Betts. Far outnumbered, the Americans were soon forced into retreat.
To signal Tryon that they had arrived, the British set ablaze the buildingthat Lstood at the present-day intersection of Washington and Water Streets (where Donovan’s restaurant currently stands). Then, the British under Garth began a slow drive down Washington Street, with house to house fighting, burning as they went. A second significant skirmish took place around Flax Hill, with the British being shot at from all sides. However, the British troops had been able to drag along a cannon and were able to fire down on the locals. Eventually, the British prevailed, and began a march down West Avenue and Wall Streets, again burning as they went.
General Tryon, in the meanwhile, was sitting in a rocking chair on Grumman’s Hill, watching Norwalk burn from across the river. Tryon and Garth then rejoined at the area of the Norwalk Green, and then proceeded to clear out the locals taking refuge in “The Rocks". Here, the British dispersed of the local militia (and captured an American cannon) and drove the towns people from the hills. On the march back to the ships, Tryon’s troops almost completely destroyed Norwalk; only six houses were spared. Tryon described the burning in his official dispatch to Henry Clinton:
“After many salt-pans were destroyed, whale-boats carried on board the fleet, and the magazines, stores, and vessels set in flames, with the greater part of the dwelling-houses, the advanced corps were drawn back, and the troops retired in two columns to the place of our first debarkation, and, unassaulted, took ship, and returned to Huntington Bay."
The assault claimed one hundred thirty homes, forty shops, one hundred barns, five ships, two churches, and some flour mills and saltworks. After the Revolutionary War, many residents were compensated for their losses with free land grants in the Connecticut Western Reserve in what is now Ohio; this later became Norwalk, Ohio.
Cornelius Cook delivered the first Methodist sermon in Norwalk near the New Canaan parish line in 1787. Jesse Lee the Methodist preacher who was so successful at establishing his sect in New England that he was given the nickname "The Apostle of Methodism" first preached in New England at Norwalk on June 17, 1789. He asked a local resident if she would allow him to preach in her home and was refused. She also refused him the use of a nearby empty house her husband owned, so Lee preached under an apple tree. Lee was a circuit rider who preached at numerous locations around New England. On his next visit to Norwalk, he was allowed to preach at the "town-house". Lee eventually served as chaplain to Congress for six terms. A bronze plaque on a rock marks the approximate place where Lee's original sermon took place under the apple tree in 1789 and is in a traffic island at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Main Avenue in Central Norwalk.
In 1826 the Sheffield Island Light was illuminated by oil on what was then known as "Smith Island" in Long Island Sound off the coast of Norwalk. In 1857 the light was equipped with a fourth order Fresnel lens. Then in 1868 the lighthouse structure was rebuilt as a stone tower.
In January 1849 the New York and New Haven Railroad began operating between its nominal terminal cities through Norwalk. In 1852 the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad connected Norwalk with Danbury. The South Norwalk station was used by both railroads. The first major U.S. railroad bridge disaster occurred in Norwalk in 1853. The engineer, Edward Tucker, carelessly neglected to check the open drawbridge signal as his one hundred and fifty passenger train approached the Norwalk River. He only realized the bridge was up within about four hundred feet of the gap, which proved to be insufficient to stop the train. The engineer and the fireman jumped from the train and then the locomotive, two baggage cars (the latter also a car for smokers) and two and a half passenger cars (the third car split when the train finally came to a stop) went plunging off the tracks into the river. Forty-six people drowned or were crushed to death, and an approximately thirty people were more or less severely injured. Tucker, who survived, never overcame his feelings of guilt, and five years later committed suicide. By 1872 the NY&NE merged with the Hartford and New Haven Railroad to form the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad which lasted until its merger with Penn Central in 1969. The Housatonic Railroad leased the D&N in 1887. The Housatonic was then purchased by the NYNH&H in 1892 and the D&N became the Danbury Branch of that railroad.
Norwalk is reputed to have been one of the stops on the northward land route of the Underground Railroad. Several trunk lines emanated from New York City, a central point in the escape route, which one passingtharough Greenwich, Darien, Norwalk, and Wilton. Several era-houses still standing have secret chambers or passageways that could have been used to hide runaways but no documentation exists that identifies one particular house or even one area. However, tradition states that a house at 69 East Avenue was Norwalk’s stop on the Railroad.
Oyster farming in Norwalk peaked from the late 19th to the early part of the 20th century. By 1880, Norwalk had the largest fleet of steam-powered oyster boats in the world, its fishermen having made the change from sails only a few years before. Although eventually overfishing pushed Norwalk's industry into a decline, a renaissance has been occurring since the later part of the last century, although eastern oyster diseases Dermo and MSX remain a problem for the industry.
In 1871 the area known formerly known as Old Well was chartered by the state legislature as the City of South Norwalk. In 1893 the Borough of Norwalk was reincorporated as the City of Norwalk and at that time both cities were wholly within and subject to jurisdiction by the Town of Norwalk.
On September 28, 1878, 15 people were killed when the steamship Adelphi exploded sue to a rupture in a furnace.
In 1913, the cities of Norwalk, South Norwalk, the East Norwalk Fire District, and the remaining parts of the surrounding Town of Norwalk consolidated into the present day City of Norwalk. After consolidation the Town of Norwalk continued its existence but it is now governed by the Mayor-council government of the City.
The Palace theater in South Norwalk was known in the theatrical world as “the theater you play before you play the Palace in New York.” The venue brought topflight entertainment to Norwalk during the roaring twenties. Comics Weber and Fields, Mae West, William S. Hart, and Harry Houdini all played the Palace. In particular, a huge multitude crowded onto the Washington Street Bridge to watch as Houdini was bound, placed in a trunk, and lowered into the Norwalk River. He emerged in minutes and the crowd breathed a loud sigh of relief.
The Ku Klux Klan, which preached a doctrine of Protestant control of America and suppression of blacks, Jews and Catholics, experienced a nationwide revival in the 1920s and had formed a Klavern in Norwalk by 1923. During that summer, Klan members set fire to a 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) cross on Calf Pasture Beach and painted a large "KKK" on the stone wall surrounding industrialist James A. Ferrell's Rock Ledge Estate in Rowayton. By 1926, the Klan was riven by internal divisions and became ineffective, although it continued to maintain small, local branches for years afterward in Norwalk as well as Stamford, Bridgeport, Darien and Greenwich.
Norwalk made New York Times front-page news for two months in 1954 during the wave of accusations exposingt“disloyal citizens” when the Mulvoy-Tarlov-Aquino Veterans of Foreign Wars Post divulged that it was turning over to the FBI names and addresses of residents whose records or activities were deemed to be Communistic.
The disclosure was intended to attract new members to the Post but it set in motion a nationwide controversy that pitted hardliners against civil libertarians. Chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee Harold Velde (with approval from Senator Joseph McCarthy) suggested that the VFW turn over names of suspected Communists to it, as well as the FBI. On the other hand the state branch of the Americans for Democratic Action condemned the VFW for not allowing those charged to answer the accusations, and the chairman of the American Veterans’ Committee, Bill Mauldin, censured that action as “vigilante tactics which violate the spirit of Americanism.” Asked at a news conference to comment on the Norwalk VFW’s stand, President Dwight Eisenhower replied that no one was could be prevented from reporting suspects to the FBI and that since the VFW was not making the names public there was no basis for libel or slander.
The original story had placed the onus for sifting data and forwarding names to the FBI on a special committee allegedly formed from among Post membership of men “from all walks of life.” When the national VFW commander appeared before the House Veterans Committee he unequivocally stated there had been no committee, no investigation, no evaluation, and no discussion of suspects among the Norwalk Post membership. On NBC television the local commander stated the Post “never screened, never evaluated material, and never publicized it.” In a radio broadcast, Mrs. Suzanne Silvercruys Stevenson, founder of the Minute Women of the U.S.A. and a member of the Norwalk VFW Auxiliary, labeled the committee story a myth. She explained that a timid person had shared his suspicions about an individual with Communist leanings with the Post commander and that when the informant was reluctant to turn in the name the Post commander had done so in his behalf.
The spotlight on Norwalk was particularly embarrassingtbecause the community was playing host to a group of newspaper men from NATO countries here under sponsorship of the State and Defense Departments to visit “a typical American town”.
Over the weekend of October 14–17, 1955, 12-14 inches of tropical storm rain caused the Norwalk River, along with many other Connecticut rivers, to severely flood from the heavy rains. Some dams along the Norwalk River broke, sending walls of water surging downstream, knocking out bridges and additional dams. Several lives were lost in addition to millions of dollars worth of damage along the Norwalk River watershed alone. Norwalk's downtown area, located at the point the river flows into the Norwalk Harbor, was particularly devastated, and has yet to fully recover.
In the mid-1970s, under the administration Mayor William Collins, the city government and several local organizations started the South Norwalk Revitalization Project. Its goal was to preserve the historic architecture of South Norwalk ("SoNo") and revitalize the neighborhood, especially on Washington Street and several surrounding blocks. "The Washington Street National Historic District was established, and 32 buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places," according to the Web site for the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.
The government, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, the Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk, The Oceanic Society and the Norwalk Seaport Association all worked to start an aquarium focusing on Long Island Sound as a tourist attraction to strengthen the business climate in the neighborhood. In 1986, ground breaking ceremonies took place on the site of a former 1860s iron works factory, an abandoned brick buildington the SoNo waterfront. The aquarium, originally named the Maritime Center at Norwalk, was opened in 1988 and rounded out with an IMAX movie theater and a boat collection. In 1996 the facility was renamed the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.
In 2002 Norwalk was the location of the nationally-covered murder trial of Michael Skakel. After a four-week trial, Skakel was convicted on June 7 for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.
On Sunday May 25, 2008 the last service at the First United Methodist Church of Norwalk was held prior to a deconsecration ceremony that marked the end of the church use of the distinctive yellow brick building at 39 West Avenue. The Methodist congregation had been formed in 1789 during the visit by Jesse Lee, but is survived by three other Methodist churches in the city.
- Connecticut's 12th Senate District
- List of mayors of Norwalk, Connecticut
- List of members of the Connecticut General Assembly from Norwalk
- Lockwood-Mathews Mansion
- List of Registered Historic Places in Norwalk, CT
- Norwalk rail accident
- Mill Hill Historic Park
- Pine Island Cemetery
- Deborah Wing Ray, Gloria P. Stewart (1979) (3rd printing 2004). Norwalk: being an historical account of that Connecticut town. Norwalk, CT: Norwalk Historical Society. pp. 232. ISBN 0-914016-56-3
- Edwin Hall, ed.. (1847). The Ancient Historical Records of Norwalk, Conn.; with a Plan of the Ancient Settlements and of the Town in 1847. Norwalk, CT. page 31. As cited in Ray and Stewart
- Deborah Wing Ray, Gloria P. Stewart (1979) pp. 16-32.
- Edwin Hall (1847), pp. 168-170
-  Web page with text of "Hamilton's Itinerarium: being a narrative of a journey from Annapolis, Maryland, through Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, from May to September, 1744 / by Alexander Hamilton; edited by Albert Bushnell Hart." at U.S. Library of Congress Web site; book published 1907, pages 205-206, accessed April 6, 2007
- "Sites, Seals & Symbols". Archived from the original on 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- "History and Genealogy Unit, CT State Library. Revised 2-04. Yankee Doodle". Retrieved 2008-03-28.
- "David O. White, Connecticut State Library FitchT". Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- Debra Wing-Ray, Gloria P. Stewart (1979) pp. 44-45. The authors seem ambivalent about the credibility of the story noting: No account of Norwalk's part in the French and Indian War would be complete without reference to the Yankee Doodle story. Generations of Norwalkers have come to believe the charming tale... Appealing though this account may be its authenticity is dubious. In a footnote they also point out that Lawrence Hochheimer could not find Thomas Fitch V listed in the rolls for the French and Indian War, nor could he find General Edward Braddock in the vicinity of Rensselaerville in the summer of 1755. Unfortunately they do not draw any connection between Braddock and the rest of the "tale" so the mention of Hochheimer's research seems somewhat irrelevant. It may be worth noting that Fort Crailo is in the city of Rensselaer, New York not in the town of Rensselaerville, New York.
- Fedor, Ferenz (1976). The Birth of Yankee Doodle. New York: Vantage Press, Inc. ISBN 0-533-02047-6.
- "Fort Crailo". New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. Retrieved 2008-06-01.
- "Long Island Sound - Soundkeeper". Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- Mcfadden, Robert D. "Robert D. McFadden, I-95 Bridge Closed, Jamming Traffic". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- "Nathan Hale (1755-1776) Hero of the American Revolution" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- "Huntington Town History". Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- "David Wooster at Danbury Historical Society". Archived from the original on 2008-03-08. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Huntington, Long Island, Town Records, 3, fn., 5 and fn., 18. Town Hall, Huntington, NY.
- "Norwalk Ohio Products Page". Archived from the original on 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Edwin Hall (1847), p. 170
- "June 17: Jesse Lee; Christian History Institute". Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- "Historic Light Station Information and Photography: Connecticut". United States Coast Guard Historian's Office. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
- "Norwalk, Connecticut - LoveToKnow 1911". Retrieved 2008-06-24.
- Deborah Wing Ray, Gloria P. Stewart (1979) p. 114.
- Reed, Robert C. (1967). Train Wrecks: A Pictorial History of Accidents on the Main Line. New York: Bonanza Books.
- Connecticut Department of Agriculture. "DOAG: Oyster Diseases". Retrieved 2008-06-01.
- List of cities in Connecticut
- Deborah Wing Ray, Gloria P. Stewart (1979) p. 135.
- New York Times
- Deborah Wing Ray, Gloria P. Stewart (1979) pp. 170-173.
- "The Rowayton Historical Society - History of Rowayton". Retrieved 2008-06-05.
- DiGiovanni, the Rev. (now Monsignor) Stephen M., The Catholic Church in Fairfield County: 1666-1961, 1987, William Mulvey Inc., New Canaan, Chapter II: The New Catholic Immigrants, 1880-1930; subchapter: "The True American: White, Protestant, Non-Alcoholic," p. 82; DiGiovanni, in turn, cites (Footnote 210, page 258) Chalmers, David A., Hooded Americanism, The History of the Ku Klux Klan (New York, 1981), p. 268
- There were three major storms in that affected Norwalk in 1955: Hurricane Connie, Hurricane Diane, and an unnamed storm in October. See "The Connecticut Floods of 1955". Retrieved 2008-04-01.
- "The Maritime Aquarium: History". Retrieved 2008-08-04.
- May 4, 2002: trial held in Connecticut State Superior Court in Norwalk, CT which took four weeks with Judge John Kavanewsky presiding."Martha Moxley - The Recently Solved Murder". Retrieved 2008-06-01.
- Jared Newman (2008-05-26). "Oldest Methodist church closes after 188 years". The Hour 137 (147): A5.
- James Lomuscio (2008-05-26). "Emotional farewell for a city church". The Advocate (Norwalk) 179 (40): A1.