The Mohegan Indians called this area Quinnehtukqut meaning ‘Beside the long tidal river’. In 1614 the Dutch were the first Europeans to explore the area and set up a trading post but it was the English who from 1633 established the first permanent settlements. In 1635 John Winthrop from Massachusetts established a colony at Old Saybrook and the Connecticut Colony was established at Newtown (now Hartford) by Puritans from Massachusetts led by Thomas Hooker. The Newhaven Colony was founded in 1638 by another group of Puritans. In 1662 John Winthrop secured a charter from King Charles II to merge the colonies. Modern Connecticut has a population of around 3.5 million. While the north and east is relatively rural, the south west is part of the New York City commuter belt.
British raid memorial sign, Essex Harbor
In 1812 the USA declared war on Britain, partly in response to a British trade embargo imposed to prevent the US from trading with France during the Napoleonic Wars. Although the USA had finally won the War of Independence in 1783, it remained fearful of the growing power of its former colonial master and also hoped that Britain was so busy fighting Napoleon’s France that the US could drive Britain out of its remaining presence in North America or at least prevent the westward expansion of the colonies that now form Canada. The US failed to make any significant gains and suffered from several British raids including the burning of the White House in Washington DC. In 1815 the war came to an end under the 1814 Treaty of Ghent which confirmed the previous borders. This sign commemorates a raid by British Marines who took the shipbuilding town of Essex, occupied it for 6 hours and burned over 20 ships. Ships and boats are still important for Essex, but nowadays mainly for pleasure.
Gillette Castle from Chester to Hadlyme ferry
Actor William Hooker Gillette was noted for his stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Between 1914 and 1919 he had built an unusual retirement home overlooking the Connecticut River. He lived in his mock medieval fortress until his death in 1937. Gillette’s will directed that the house should not fall into the hands ’of some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded’. The problem of how to adhere to this was solved in 1943 when the State of Connecticut took over the property and it became Gillette Castle State Park.
First Congregational Church, Litchfield
Litchfield was founded in 1719 and by the beginning of the 19th Century it had become a major centre in northern Connecticut. Limited water supplies and poor transport links started a decline and the town became a backwater, which helped to spare it from development. Shown here is the First Congregational Church built in 1828. It is a typical New England church, white with a tall spire. Even now church spires stand out across the New England landscape.
Valley Railroad, Essex Depot
The Valley Railroad Company was formed in 1868 and in 1871 it opened a line running along the Connecticut River Valley between Hartford to Saybrook Point. The company failed in 1876 but in 1880 line was bought by another railroad and it eventually flourished as a branch off the coastal line. After World War I the branch started a long decline and it finally closed in March 1968. The line was given to the State of Connecticut, and in 1970 they leased the track to the Valley Railroad Company who run Essex Steam Train from Essex to Deep River along the Connecticut River through typical New England countryside.
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